Backup plan works as Oregon routs Colorado 45-2
Only safety on punt returner Harris prevents shutout
BOULDER, Colo. - Using its backup quarterback and running back, the Oregon Ducks pasted Colorado 45-2 Saturday on a beautiful day at Folsom Field.
The shutout attempt was lost when Cliff Harris was tackled in the end zone for a safety on an attempted punt return late in the third quarter.
The Ducks led 29-0 after one quarter, even with starting QB Darron Thomas and running back LaMichael James suited up but not needed against the lowly Buffaloes, a new member of the Pac-12 Conference.
The Ducks turned back Colorado's offense three times in the second quarter, scored on a defensive touchdown by linebacker Michael Clay and added to CU's tough day by knocking QB Tyler Hansen from the game.
Oregon (6-1, 4-0) won its 16th consecutive league game.
The Ducks will return home to play Washington State at noon Saturday, Oct. 29 at Autzen Stadium.
Saturday's game wasn't expected to be much of a contest, and it wasn't much of a contest. Colorado (1-7, 0-4) has a multitude of injuries, and its talent level doesn't quite rate with the rest of the Pac-12, yet.
Backup QB Bryan Bennett ripped off a nifty third-down run and hit on some early passes, including two for touchdowns, while backup running Kenjon Barner went a career-long 84 yards for one of his two first-quarter touchdowns.
With that, like in its blowout wins over Nevada and Missouri State, Oregon had put the game away early. The Ducks led the Buffs 35-0 at halftime, after Clay's 32-yard interception return for a touchdown.
"It was a good (first) quarter, good (first) half, we came out and did what we were supposed to do," said Barner, who had 115 yards rushing on 10 carries.
The Ducks' top two offensive players missed the entire game, and the team didn't miss them.
"It shows our depth and how hard everybody works during the week," said Bennett, who went 11 of 20 for 156 yards, and added 69 rushing yards on six carries, after being told before the game that he would play and Darron Thomas would sit. "We're all out there working our tails off, day in and day out. When one person goes down, the next person step up. That's what we preach as a team."
Tra Carson scored on a third-quarter touchdown, and Alejandro Maldonado added a 36-yard field goal.
The UO defense worked on a shutout in the second half, even with substitutes in the game. The Ducks' last league shutout was against Stanford, 35-0 in 2003. The last league shutout on the road was against OSU, 7-0 in 1992.
But the shutout possibility went up in smoke when Harris was tackled in the end zone by Terrell Smith on a punt return, making it 45-2 with the safety. Harris fielded the punt at about the UO 2, and his momentum took him back into the end zone, and even Colorado had enough talent to tackle Harris for the safety.
What should Harris have done?
"Not catch it," coach Chip Kelly said. "We don't field punts inside the 10 (yard line)."
Of the lost shutout, Kelly added: "We don't care."
The Ducks had 527 yards offense to CU's 231. The Ducks topped 300 yards rushing for the fifth consecutive game (371), with Carson adding 80, Ayele Ford 54 and De'Anthony Thomas 50.
Said Kelly, of Bennett: "I thought he did a nice job of managing the game. ... He's got a lot of poise. He just wants to play. He's worked very hard at the preparation aspect of it."
The Ducks found little resistance in the first quarter, which started with Harris nailed for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty before the kickoff. Kelly claimed not to know what the penalty was for, and Harris hasn't talked with the media all season.
On third down on UO's first possession, a hole opened up in the line of scrimmage and Bennett dashed through it, picking up 43 yards, and the Ducks tacked on more yards with CU's personal foul penalty. Barner soon scored on a 4-yard TD run, and holder Jackson Rice just got into the end zone on the conversion run.
Said Kelly: "The opening drive was very important for us, you want to set the tone early."
A Josh Kaddu sack and two Colorado penalties led to a Buffaloes' punt, after which Bennett hit Barner on a 31-yard screen pass on third down. Another screen pass, Bennett to true freshman De'Anthony Thomas, resulted in a 14-yard TD play. Bennett says the TD play was the favorite of his two screens.
The Ducks forced another punt and, on the second play of the possession, Barner rambled 84 yards for the touchdown. Barner ran out of steam near the end zone, and a Colorado player tackled him, earning a personal foul penalty.
Then, De'Anthony Thomas and Tra Carson carried the ball, as Barner took a breather, and Bennett hit David Paulson on a 31-yard TD pass play, Paulson making a nice, juggling catch on the receiving end. The score was 29-0 with 1:13 left in the first quarter.
Colorado marched into UO territory three times in the second quarter but failed to come up with points:
On the first drive, CU punted on fourth-and-6 at the UO 43. On the second drive, the Buffs got whistled for delay of game on fourth-and-9 and punted. On the third drive, backup QB Nick Hirschman sailed a fourth-down pass.
The Ducks added to their lead in the second quarter, as Clay stepped in front of Hansen's pass for the interception and scooted to the end zone. But Maldonado missed the extra-point kick, ending his 38-for-38 streak.
"He threw it right to me, I had to take it to the house and not get caught," said Clay, who missed some games with a lower leg injury. "It's nice to make a difference for the team."
It was UO's seventh forced turnover of the season, and the second one turned into a touchdown (Bo Lokombo returned an interception 67 yards to paydirt against Nevada).
OREGON 29 6 10 0 -- 45
COLORADO 0 0 2 0 -- 2
OREGON -- 1st, 13:24: Kenjon Barner 4 run (Jackson Rice run)
OREGON -- 1st, 7:06: De'Anthony Thomas 14 pass from Bryan Bennett (Alejandro Maldonado kick)
OREGON -- 1st, 4:05: Barner 84 run (Maldonado kick)
OREGON -- 1st, 1:13: David Paulson 31 pass from Bennett (Maldonado kick)
OREGON -- 2nd, 8:10: Michael Clay 32 interception return (kick failed)
OREGON -- 3rd, 11:51: Tra Carson 1 run (Maldonado kick)
OREGON -- 3rd, 6:25: Maldonado 36 FG
COLORADO -- 3rd, 1:32: safety, Terrell Smith tackled punt returner Cliff Harris in end zone