Given that the Q&A was a little nontraditional this week, I’ve resorted to talking to the numbers rather than an actual person about the Ducks. And the numbers are not nice. However, there is a path to victory if CU wants it. Let’s take a look.
Warning: Numbers are skewed in Oregon’s favor due to the weight of 2015 results on the advanced stats.
First, the overall S+P difference jumps out at you. So far this year, the Buffs have shown the numbers enough improvement to jump them up 19 spots in the S+P rankings, from 86 to 67. Meanwhile, Oregon has jumped from 25 overall to 17. Everyone and their mother could tell you that CU has improved, but the Oregon rise is a little more inexplicable. Based on my light watching of the UC Davis and Virginia games, as well as the slightly disgruntled fanbase right now, I have to assume the Ducks took a step backward. Defensively, they are grading out a little stronger, but the offense misses that sweet Vernon Adams magic. Not that Dakota Prukop is struggling, by any means. Offensively, they are the 4th ranked team in the country, with CU coming in at 69th. The script is flipped on defense, as the Buffs are ranked 49th and the Ducks 69th. There is some explanation for the very highly-ranked Ducks offense. One, Prukop has yet to face a tight defense, with Nebraska offering the closest thing to resistance so far. But we all know how absolutely terrible Nebraska is at everything. Oregon’s rushing attack has been able to job to 8 yards a carry, and even without Royce Freeman, it is a potent rushing attack. Prukop, the grad trasnfer quarterback, is second on the team in rushing yards, and it looks like the backfield is deep enough for everyone to get a touch. Specific players CU needs to key on: Prukop (dual-threat), Tony Brooks-James (too fast), and Taj Griffin (wayyyy too fast). Unfortunately, Michigan exposed the edges of the D, so Oregon has a blueprint of where to go with the ball.
The good news is that CU should have a good chance of stonewalling the passing attack. The raw stats are not that impressive because they frankly haven’t had to thrown the ball yet. However, the passing success rate also doesn’t look great, at 43.2%, good for 54th in the country. That moves down even further on passing downs, landing at 27.7%, or 91st in the country. However, as you all well know, they are explosive every single play. They are the number one team in the country in terms of explosive plays on passing downs, and the 35th most explosive team overall. Every one of their skill position players has the ability to house it when they want to. Fortunately, the Buffs acknowledge this ability, and the secondary should be more than up to the task. The defense only allows a 23.8% success rate passing the ball, good for 5th in the country, and that plummets to 12.2% on passing downs. If CU can somehow hold the Ducks’ backfield to less than four yards a carry, that should set up some nice 3rd and longs, which is where this defense lives. When they set up the offense to fail, they can pounce and try to create turnovers, which is the third key to this game.
CU needs to have a positive turnover margin in order to win this game. They need to limit Oregon’s chances to score and give themselves as many as possible. Sounds like common sense, and that’s because it is. Luckily, under Jim Leavitt, CU can force turnovers every week. Their overall turnover margin this year is +3, with most of these turnovers coming off of genuinely good defensive plays rather than poor offensive ones. CU’s turnover luck only comes out to a 1.08 point per game advantage, while Oregon enjoys a 1.73 point per game boost due to turnover luck. They are also positive overall in turnover margin, at +2, but the Buffs need to go at least +2 in this game to win, in my opinion. It’s doable, and Cu needs to take all the chances it can to make it happen.