Oregon’s two best defenders were out with injuries as Colorado moved the ball one yard away from cutting the Ducks’ lead to seven points late in the first half.
There was 2:21 left in the second quarter when the Buffaloes took a timeout to try and find a way to get within 17-10 at the break while knowing they would get the ball back to open the second half.
Instead, there was a false start for Colorado, a five-yard completion and then a holding call that moved the Buffs back to the 11.
Steven Montez threw a pass to the end zone that Haki Woods defended and CU tight end Brady Russell tipped before Verone McKinley swooped in to grab the ball. The referees ruled it incomplete, setting up a Colorado field-goal attempt that could have gotten the Buffs within 17-6.
Upon review, McKinley kept a toe or two on the ground when he snagged the ball for an interception that secured a goal-line stand for the Ducks, who lost Troy Dye and Jevon Holland with injuries during that 12-play drive that took more than six minutes off the clock.
“We rallied as a defense and came tougher at the goal line and said that we made it through the whole drive, we weren’t going to let them score here,” Oregon safety Brady Breeze said. “That’s what we did. Guys grinded it out. We had penalties here and there and there was constant stuff going on, but we came together at a the end. ... Those are the type of moments you hope for as a defense.
“That’s fun, being on your heels with an offense trying as hard as it can to score. That is one of the best receiving groups we have faced so that is definitely a huge confidence boost for our defense.”
The defense got the ball back to the offense with 1:27 left in the first half and that was enough time to add a touchdown as the Ducks went 80 yards in eight plays before Jaylon Redd scored on a 3-yard run with 20 seconds left before halftime to put the Ducks up 24-3.
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The momentum change that seemed apparent as the two teams headed to the locker room was confirmed shortly after they returned when McKinley deflected a pass into the arms of Bryson Young to start another quick scoring drive that pushed the lead to 31-3.
McKinley added another interception that led to a touchdown before Woods deflected a pass in the end zone that Nick Pickett intercepted as the Ducks picked off Montez on four straight possessions. In the span of 6:41, CU had gone from one yard away from getting within seven points to trailing by 35.
“That was a 21- or 28-point swing,” UO coach Mario Cristobal said after Oregon finished off a 45-3 win over Colorado on Friday night at Autzen Stadium. “It certainly gave us tremendous momentum.”
Oregon kept its fifth straight opponent in single digits and did not allow a touchdown for the fourth time during that stretch as the Buffaloes finished more than 30 points below their season average.
“They had scored a lot on a lot of people, so we didn’t know what to expect,” Cristobal said. “We were doing great things on defense, but tonight was going to be the toughest test of them all.”
Woods had two deflections that led to interceptions while McKinley had his first two interceptions as a Duck to go with a career-high five tackles.
“Verone is one of the smartest players you will see,” Cristobal said. “He is a student of the game and all his hard work is paying off. He has the confidence of this team.”