Brooks: Buffs’ Sweet Start Snuffed By No. 2 Ducks

BOULDER – Colorado had its early moments Saturday afternoon against No. 2 Oregon, but the Buffaloes couldn’t make them last into the evening. The night belonged to Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, his hurry-up offense and his cadre of super-fast skill players.
Shrugging off early 3-0 and 10-8 deficits that might have offered Buffs fans a flickering glimpse of a shock-the-universe upset, the unbeaten Ducks won in a walk, 57-16, before 45,944 at Folsom Field.
CU coach Mike MacIntyre said he was pleased with his team’s aggressive start and its perseverance: “Our young men fought from the very beginning (and) we didn’t lay down . . . we dove right in the pool and started swimming. Of course, we got beat 57-16.”
MacIntyre called Oregon “a very good football team . . . Oregon is extremely good every way you turn and look.”
CU dropped to 2-2 overall and 0-2 in the Pac-12 Conference. The Buffs travel to Arizona State next Saturday (8 p.m. MDT, Pac-12-Network).
Oregon won its 17th consecutive road game and beat an unranked opponent for the 32nd straight time, improving to 5-0, 2-0 and staying on track for a possible shot at the BCS Championship.
The Ducks have the quarterback to make it happen. Mariota’s night was finished midway through the third quarter, but he put together a full-game worth of stats: 16 completions in 27 attempts for 355 yards and five touchdowns. He also ran seven times for 43 yards and two scores.
“Their quarterback’s a great player . . . a special player,” MacIntyre said.
Offered Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, the former CU offensive coordinator: “Marcus is a stud. He’s such a great person first and foremost and he’s – by the way – an incredible football player.”
But Oregon has several more of those. Tailback Byron Marshall ran 23 times for 122 yards, and two of Mariota’s receivers – Bralon Addison and Josh Huff – each turned in a 100-yard receiving game and caught two TD passes. Addison had five receptions for 158 yards, while Huff snared five passes for 103 yards.
In their first two Pac-12 games, the Buffs have surrendered 11 touchdown passes. Oregon State’s Sean Mannion torched CU for a school-record six TD passes and 414 passing yards last weekend in the Beavers’ 44-17 win.
Meanwhile, CU quarterback Connor Wood, attempting to rebound from a subpar performance at Oregon State, finished 11-of-33 for 205 yards, with two interceptions – his second straight two pick game.
MacIntyre said Wood “was better (Saturday) than at Oregon State, for sure,” but added, “Yeah, we could have made some more plays.” The Buffs failed to convert any of their 15 third-down attempts.
CU receiver Paul Richardson caught five passes for 134 yards and completed one pass for 75 yards and his team’s only TD. The Buffs’ leading rusher was Christian Powell, with 20 carries for 78 yards.
Helfrich called Richardson “impressive, a very good football player.”
Oregon, which entered the game averaging 59.8 points, rolled up 757 yards in total offense. The Ducks have outscored the Buffs 172-32 in their last three meetings.
MacIntyre’s hope was that his team would be close when the second half began. The score at intermission was 43-16 – and believe it or don’t, but CU did play a fairly decent first half.
The Buffs’ 16 first-half points were the most the Ducks have allowed this season, and CU headed for the locker room with 318 total yards (374 for the game). On the darker side, Oregon had 415 total yards and scored on six of its eight first-half possessions.
Two of the Ducks’ scoring possessions required only 38 and 12 seconds, but they were also “pushed” into their most time-consuming scoring drive of the season – 3:38.
Didn’t matter; Oregon rolls either way – fast or moderately fast, but seldom slow.
MacIntyre went unconventional from the opening kickoff, calling for an on-sides kick that the Ducks recovered. But the Buffs forced a three-and-out, took possession and drove 69 yards to position Will Oliver for a 33-yard field goal that gave CU a 3-0 lead.
All around Folsom Field, cameras and cell phones took aim at the scoreboards. The Buffs were up on the second-ranked Ducks . . . a rare photo op indeed.
But that CU advantage lasted all of 1:49 – the time required for Oregon to score on its next possession. Mariota capped the 75-yard, nine-play march with a 2-yard run, then tight end Pharaoh Brown took a direct center snap and ran for the 2-point conversion.
Oregon 8, CU 3.
But it was still early enough for the Buffs to be undaunted. They responded with a 75-yard pitch-and-catch from Richardson on a flanker reverse pass to receiver D.D. Goodson. Oliver’s PAT gave CU its second lead – 10-8 with 9:35 left in the first quarter.
MacIntyre, noted corner Greg Henderson, “wanted us to dive right in and play hard from the start . . . we did what we were supposed to do, but we didn’t capitalize on some things and they did.”
The rest of the quarter – indeed, the rest of the half – belonged to the Ducks. An ill-advised Wood pass under pressure was picked off by Oregon corner Terrance Mitchell, resulting in a short (43 yards) seven-play drive and a 2-yard scoring run by Thomas Tyner.
The Ducks went ahead 15-10, and MacIntyre’s dream of being close at the half was beginning to disintegrate. A 75-yard Mariota-to-Addison scoring pass shot Oregon in front 22-10 and preceded Wood’s second interception. Mitchell got this one, too, and the Ducks quickly capitalized, with Mariota hitting Keanon Lowe for a 17-yard score that capped a 34-second possession.
CU cut into Oregon’s 29-10 lead with another pair of Oliver field goals (22, 31 yards) to pull to within 29-16. But while the Buffs were getting three points a drive, the Ducks were doubling that. Their longest scoring possession of the season – 3:38 – resulted in another Mariota scoring run and a 36-16 advantage with 6:04 before intermission.
And Oregon added another TD – this one on a 4-yard Mariota-to-Huff pass – to take its 27-point (43-16) halftime lead.
Had the Buffs executed better in the half’s final 51/2 minutes, MacIntyre might have had his close game entering the third quarter. But trailing only 15-10, Wood suffered his two interceptions and the Ducks finished out the half with three late touchdowns while the Buffs managed two field goals.
It was not the kind of tradeoff that eventually produces an upset, and the Buffs’ chances of doing that were done.
“I don’t think we’re down, we’re disappointed,” said Henderson, who ran his seasonal interception total to four with a pair of picks. “We came out hard and fought hard . . . we have to learn from this. There’s still a long season ahead.”
Oregon further blew it open by scoring on its first two second-half possession, with Mariota hitting Addison for a 44-yard score, then finding Huff for a 26-yarder. With 6:50 left in the third quarter, the Ducks were cruising 57-16 and had comfortably entered name-your-score mode.
CU freshman linebacker Addison Gillam, who finished with 15 tackles, a sack and two tackles for loss, said Mariota and the Ducks were “not so much tricky, just fast. They capitalize on your mistakes . . . the little things they noticed (in the Buffs lining up) they capitalized on.”
A fumble recovery by CU linebacker Derrick Webb at the Oregon 10-yard line offered the Buffs a chance for a third-quarter score, but they couldn’t take advantage. CU also got an end zone interception by Henderson but Wood and his offense were foiled after that turnover, too.
The game ended with Oregon’s reserves poised on the CU 1-yard line, looking at first-and-goal with under a minute to play. Reserve QB Jeff Lockie (Oregon also used Jake Rodrigues in relieve of Mariota) took a knee and let time expire – no doubt a gesture of sportsmanship from Helfrich.
“I didn’t really think about mercy,” Helfrich said. “That’s a good program, a proud program. We’re not in the embarrassment business. We’re not in the statistic business and we don’t think about individual awards. That’s not our deal.”
Contact: BG.Brooks@Colorado.EDU