Colorado came out fighting and punched Oregon in the mouth on the first play of the game Saturday, recovering their onside kickoff. Coach Mike MacIntyre said
“I wanted to show our kids we came to win. We didn’t win, but we’re going to play to win. … That [onside kick] was exciting, and got ’em going. If we just went out there and played normal, we have no chance with them.”
The Buffaloes weren’t able to take advantage of the play. It just seemed to rile up the Autzen crowd, and the Ducks forced a three-and-out, then scored quickly. But even then the Buffaloes didn’t get down, denying Oregon when they tried a two-point conversion.
The onside kick was just the first part of an aggressive and clever game plan from MacIntyre. It didn’t stop Oregon from overwhelming Colorado, 44-10, but the Buffaloes loss wasn’t from lack of effort or scheming. For one thing, the Buffaloes went for it on fourth down any time they were in Oregon territory (until in safe field goal range).
They also ran each of their eight punts as fake-punt option plays. Punter Darragh O’Neil rolled to his right, ready to run wide if Oregon rushed hard inside, where Buffalo blockers were waiting to seal them off. Oregon didn’t bite, as MacIntyre acknowledged, “but then they only rushed two guys, so I said hold it as long as you can so we could get people down field.” O’Neil then kicked long, low, bouncing balls that were too dangerous to return on this wet day. One rolled for 62 yards, and two stopped inside the ten yard line.
The simple fact of having an audacious plan seemed to fire up his 2-8 team.
“I thought we battled hard. I was proud of how we fought.”
MacIntyre’s plan was a long shot, but he went for it.
“We needed to steal some opportunities from them and their offense. … What I was hoping was, get a change of possession [on the onside kick], we had some fake punt [opportunities], get a turnover or two, and get a fourth down stop cause we knew they’d try that. If I could steal four possessions from them, now they went from 12 times to 8, and somehow something could happen, we got a chance to win the football game. That was our plan, and we didn’t quite execute it, but we tried to execute it.”
As it turned out, they got a fourth down stop and recovered one of their onside kicks — another failed — but the turnovers and fake punt never materialized.
Oregon’s 44 points were not a lot for Colorado this season — every Pac-12 opponent has scored at least 36. But the Ducks’ defense shut down the usually potent Buffalo attack, as MacIntyre acknowledged.
“Offensively we just weren’t clicking as well as we usually do. They had a lot to do with it. They’re so long, they really consume the field. It really feels like you’re standing out there in an NFL game, they’re so long and big and the windows are so small.”
The crowd and the damp weather may have helped the cause, too, though the team had two weeks (across their bye) practicing for Oregon with wet balls and loud music to simulate the Autzen environment.
Colorado started backup quarterback Jordan Gehrke, and brought starter Sefo Liufau — fighting back from concussions — in after halftime. Gehrke said they the team was well prepared for wet conditions and a noisy crowd, but nontheless
“It was really wet. And it was really loud.”
The veteran Liufau was less bothered.
“I’m from Tacoma. I know what rain is like.”
In the end, Oregon was clearly just too strong, and coach MacIntyre gave the Ducks full credit. Mariota made a strong case for his Heisman bid with 323 yards and 3 TDs on 24 for 32 passing, with no interceptions and 81 yards on the ground — 65 in the first quarter alone. A reporter asked him if Mariota was better than he was last year, and the coach responded that Mariota was clearly healthier.
“If he stays healthy, I think they’re the number one team in the nation… because he’s the best quarterback in the nation. And when you’ve got the best quarterback with the talent they’ve got on that defense — there are some big boys on that defense — they’ve got chance to be really, really good. … They’re in the final four right now. I hope they’re going to win it all, I hope they really do.”
(Reported from the Colorado Press Conference by Football Correspondent Mark Saltveit for FishDuck.com)
Top Photo by Donald Alarie