EUGENE, Ore. | The last time Colorado played the Ducks, Steven Montez was making his first start and a bit of Buffaloes history.
Montez, then a redshirt freshman subbing for injured quarterback Sefo Liufau, threw for 333 yards and three touchdowns and also ran for 135 yards and another score in a 41-38 upset victory over Oregon back in 2016. He was the first Buffalo with as many passing and rushing yards in a single game.
Afterward he said: “That’s the most fun I’ve had in football in a while.”
Now a senior, Montez said that game is kind of a blur to him. But he remembers enough to compare that team to the No. 13 Ducks of today, especially from a defensive perspective.
“I think they are a lot more talented this year than they were three or four years ago when we played them. I think their front is really good. They don’t need to bring a ton of pressure because their front gets enough pressure as it is,” he said. “Their DBs are good and they have good linebackers. They also have a real stud at linebacker, Troy Dye, and he’s a real good football player.”
Montez and the Buffaloes (3-2, 1-1 Pac-12) prepared this week for their first trip back to Autzen Stadium since that 2016 upset to face the Ducks on Friday. Colorado is coming off a 35-30 loss at home to Arizona but is still in the thick of the Pac-12 South race.
Oregon (4-1, 2-0) got by resilient California last week 17-7 but failed to score in the first half. The Ducks are nonetheless still undefeated in Pac-12 play, and they’ve gotten four straight wins since the season-opening loss to Auburn. Oregon sits atop the standings in the Pac-12 North.
Coach Mario Cristobal is wary of Montez, given his history at Autzen.
“You’re looking at a quarterback that’s got a ton of experience, has had great success here before as well and he’s complemented by some really, really good players and a really good scheme,” Cristobal said. “We know that we have to be at our best to play the type of game we want to play on Friday night.”
Montez said he’s learned a lot about being a leader since that game three seasons ago.
“I just like to stay calm and keep people level. You lose focus when you get too high and you do things that are uncharacteristic of yourself, and when you get too low you do things that are uncharacteristic of yourself as well,” he said. “It’s good to just keep everybody right at zero, right at even.”
Other things to consider when the Ducks host the Buffaloes on Friday night:
SHENAULT STATUS: Colorado junior receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. is still considered day-to-day heading into the game. He strained a core muscle against Arizona State on Sept. 21 and missed the loss to the Wildcats. However, he was practicing with the Buffaloes this week. Fellow receiver K.D. Nixon was also day-to-day with an undisclosed injury that forced him to leave the game against Arizona.
QUARTERBACK IMPRESSES: Oregon’s Justin Herbert continues to put up impressive numbers in his senior season. He has a streak of 33 games with a touchdown, the longest in the nation among active quarterbacks. He has thrown 15 touchdowns over the last five games, the best stretch in school history, and those TDs tie him for seventh nationally.
“He’s one of those players that can do everything. It’s going to be hard to find holes in his game when he moves on to the next level,” Colorado coach Mel Tucker said.
CUMBERLANDER OUT: Oregon defensive end Gus Cumberlander will miss the rest of the season because of a knee injury he suffered during the game against California. The loss of Cumberlander likely means a greater role for freshman Kayvon Thibodeaux, a five-star recruit who has nine tackles this season, including 2.5 sacks.
MUTUAL ADMIRATION: Cristobal and Tucker were on Alabama coach Nick Saban’s staff when the Crimson Tide won the national championship in 2015. Both speak highly of each other.
“I really like watching Mario coach. He’s very, very intense. He’s a physically imposing guy, he’s got a passion for the game, and he’s a very accomplished offensive line coach,” Tucker said. “He’s got great leadership ability and his guys always play hard for him.”