The Oregon Ducks may have started off on the wrong foot, but the rest of the afternoon was perfectly choreographed Saturday at Folsom Field.
A brisk breeze had more than a little autumn bite in the morning. But by game time, one would have been very hard pressed to find a nicer day anywhere else in the country. Boulder boasted a near perfect afternoon of 68 degrees, blue skies, and the University of Colorado campus sparkling in sunshine and gold Aspen trees.
A pregame unsportsmanlike conduct penalty assessed to Cliff Harris was an unfortunate way to begin the game. However, the rest of the afternoon Oregon’s play was equally resplendent in a 45-2 dismantling of the Colorado Buffaloes.
Starting in place of the injured Darron Thomas at quarterback, Bryan Bennett wasted no time setting the tone for Oregon’s offense. Bennett took the Ducks 80 yards in 1:36 for a score with their opening possession.
First De’Anthony Thomas moved the chains with a dart around right end for 13 yards. Then on a third and ten, Bennett split the Colorado defense up the middle for 43. Add 15 more thanks to a late hit penalty and the Ducks were suddenly sitting on the Colorado 12.
“That was actually a pass play,” said Bennett. “But I didn’t like what I saw, so I took off.”
Two plays later, Kenjon Barner put six on the board. Moments later, Jackson Rice, who was holding for Alejandro Maldonado’s point after attempt, made it eight on a keeper when the Buffaloes’ special teams didn’t adjust to Oregon’s overloaded formation.
A sizeable contingent of Oregon fans filled Folsom’s north end zone and pinned deep in their own territory after the ensuing kickoff. Their noise coaxed Colorado into a pair of false start penalties and Colorado was forced to punt the ball away.
Oregon’s second score came via a beautiful slip screen to De’Anthony Thomas. Barner set the stage with a 31-yard swing pass from Bennett and a 16-yard slash that put Oregon on the doorstep. While Thomas slid outside the defense and took Bennett’s throw in stride from 14-yards out, two blockers sealed the alley five yards down field and Thomas strolled through.
Smothered by Oregon’s defense at every turn, the shell-shocked Colorado defense was sent back out with the Ducks on their own 13-yard line after a three and out. They held Josh Huff to a gain of three on the first snap, but on the second the whole right side of the Buffalo defense was outrun by Barner for 84 and a score.
Once again Oregon’s defense worked a short shift, this time the Ducks taking possession on their own 20 after Colorado’s punt sailed into the end zone for a touchback.
De’Anthony Thomas shredded the Buffs twice, first for 20, then for 15. On second down and eight from the Colorado 31, Bennett zipped a rope to David Paulson over the top of the defense for Oregon’s fourth touchdown of the opening quarter.
In his second game back from injury LB Michael Clay scored one for the defense in the second quarter, intercepting Tyler Hansen’s pass on the Colorado 32 and legging it to the pylon.
“It felt good to get back in the end zone and make a difference for the team,” Clay said.
Along with the sun setting over the Front Range and the prairie that stretched to the east seemingly forever, there was more eye candy from the Ducks in the third quarter.
Settled into a well protected pocket, Bennett found Lavasier Tuinei crossing the defense for what was originally a 32-yard touchdown pass. After reviewing the play, Tuinei was ruled down at the one but no matter. Tra Carson bulled in for the touchdown and Oregon was up 42-0.
A second Cliff Harris miscue, a very ill-advised attempt to field a Colorado punt with an over the shoulder catch at his own one-yard line ended any thought of a shutout. His momentum carried him two yards into the end and Colorado smothered him there for a meaningless safety.
With that glaring exception, head coach Chip Kelly was pleased with Oregon’s ability to win a game on the road without quarterback Darron Thomas or running back LaMichael James.
Both dressed but neither saw action, Bennett apparently learning that Thomas would remain sidelined just prior to the game.
“I had an idea during the week,” explained Bennett about his first collegiate start. “But before the game they just told me ‘it’s time to go.’ It was good to get that first series, go out there and get a score.”
Bennett completed 11 of his 20 pass attempts for 156 yards and two scores and added 69 more yards with his feet. Barner filled in for James more than adequately, gaining 115 yards and scoring a pair of touchdowns on 10 carries.
From start to finish Oregon owned both sides of the ball. They tore the Colorado defense in tatters for 526 total yards (371 on the ground) while the Duck defense yielded the Buffaloes only 231 total yards and no points.
“Everybody contributed to this,” said head coach Chip Kelly. “A good effort, overall. The opening drive was really important to us. Obviously you want to go out and kind of set a tone early.”
Kelly was particularly pleased with the play of Bennett.
“I thought Bryan did a nice job running the ball and kind of keeping them off base in terms of what he can do,” Kelly stated. “The more experience he gets the better off he’s going to be. I thought he did a nice job of managing the game overall. I thought Bryan played really well for us.”
Kelly was also quick to praise Bennett’s ability to remain calm during the game.
“That’s the one thing about Brian that you like,” he said. “He’s got a lot of poise. He wants to play. He’s worked very, very hard at the preparation aspect of it in the film room and on the practice field. And you are starting to see that on game day.”
Colorado has been decimated with injuries this season and offered little resistance to Oregon’s onslaught. It is a fact that Kelly acknowledged.
“Our depth kind of wore them down as the game wore on,” he said. “But it’s get a win in this league and go home.”
The Ducks next play Washington State this coming Saturday at Autzen Stadium.
— Rick Morgan for EDN