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Colorado Offensive Players to Watch vs. No. 7 Oregon

The Buffaloes have struggled to move the ball all season long, but a few players stand out as candidates to make a big impact.

Colorado's offense has been historically bad this season. The Buffaloes average just 238.1 yards of offense per game, which, if the season ended today, would be the lowest per game average by a Power 5 program since Wake Forest averaged 216.3 yards per game in 2014. It would be the fewest yards of offense per game by a Pac-12 team since Stanford put up 231.9 yards per game back in 2006 (both stats according to ESPN).

Despite the lack of consistent offensive production, the Buffaloes still have some players that can put up big numbers. Here are a few players you should know before Saturday's game.

1. Jarek Broussard - Running Back

Colorado running back Jarek Broussard (23) runs down the sideline for a big gain.

Colorado running back Jarek Broussard (23) runs down the sideline for a big gain.

You'd think that the reigning Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year would come from a team with a lot of offensive firepower like Oregon, Arizona State, or Washington State, but Jarek Broussard currently holds the title after a breakout freshman season in which he put up 895 yards and five touchdowns in just six games.

This season, he's not off to the same start as he was last year when he tallied four straight 100-yard games in a row to start his career, including a 301-yard performance against Arizona. The Dallas native has 337 yards and two touchdowns so far in his sophomore season and has yet to produce a 100-yard game.

Broussard has not had a run of at least 20 yards since the season opener against Northern Colorado. Oregon's defense was stout against UCLA's fantastic duo of Zach Charbonnet and Brittain Brown, and Tim DeRuyter's group will need to contain another promising back in Broussard as he could still break out for a big day if he gets a good amount of carries.

If the Buffaloes want to get the most out of Broussard, they need to feed him the ball. He carried the ball at least 25 times in all but one game last year which allowed him and the offensive line to find a rhythm. However, the offensive line has not been as good at creating holes for the run game as it was a year ago, so the play up front will have to improve as well.

2. Brenden Rice - Wide Receiver

Colorado wide receiver Brenden Rice (2) runs with the football.

Colorado wide receiver Brenden Rice (2) runs with the football.

The passing offense has been nearly non-existent for the Buffaloes this season, but one of the few players that can spark some life into it is Brenden Rice. Rice, the son of Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice, has been the best receiving threat for the Buffs, averaging 14.8 yards per catch.

The freshman had his best game against Arizona when he churned up an impressive 111 yards on just three catches — one of which went for a 62-yard touchdown. If the ball is thrown in his direction, chances are the 6-foot-3 receiver is going to make the catch.

He's also a speedster in the return game, as he had an 81-yard punt return for a touchdown last season and has multiple 40+ yard returns this year, averaging 29.3 yards per kick return.

DeRuyter praised Rice on Monday and made it an emphasis to point out how dangerous he can be.

"Rice is a guy our guys have to know about," DeRuyter said. "He's gonna be the guy that we believe they're gonna target to take their shots, to make their big plays. He's done it all year long. We gotta know where he's at."

A big reason why he has just 12 catches this year is because of the lack of pass protection from the offensive line and the struggles that quarterback Brendon Lewis has had this year, completing just 54.8% of his passes. But if Lewis has time, his first read should be to Rice because he is a solid route runner with track speed that can take the top off of the defense with the ball in his hands.

3. Offensive Line

Members of the Arizona Wildcats line up across from the Colorado Buffaloes.

Members of the Arizona Wildcats line up across from the Colorado Buffaloes.

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No team in the Pac-12 has given up more sacks than Colorado, who has allowed 22 sacks in seven games. As a result of the struggles up front all year, Colorado relieved offensive line coach Mitch Rodrigue of his duties.

Not only has the pass protection been poor, but the Buffs have only been able to run for 3.3 yards per carry — down from 4.0 last year and 4.1 the year prior.

The Buffaloes will face Kayvon Thibodeaux on Saturday in a matchup that could look like Lawrence Taylor going up against a college offensive line. Thibodeaux has been on an absolute tear in the past two games and appears to be in his best shape since Week 1.

After terrorizing the Cal offensive line in the second half and changing that game completely, Thibodeaux feasted against UCLA and put up a career game with nine total tackles, two sacks, 4.5 tackles for loss and forced a fumble.

Brandon Dorlus, Popo Aumavae, and Keyon Ware-Hudson, among others, have also stepped up the pressure in the past couple of games, especially in the second half of games. If the Colorado offensive line cannot defend the Oregon defensive front, those sacks and yards per carry numbers could plummet even further.

Bonus: Brady Russell - Tight End

Colorado tight end Brady Russell (38) celebrates his touchdown against Utah on Nov. 30, 2019.

Colorado tight end Brady Russell (38) celebrates his touchdown against Utah on Nov. 30, 2019.

Brady Russell has been a reliable target for Buffaloes quarterbacks throughout his career, although he has never been the No. 1 option in the passing game. Russell is one of the more experienced tight ends in the Pac-12, but he's due for a big day.

In Colorado's blowout loss to USC on Oct. 2, Russell caught three passes for 87 yards, showing his speed, strength, and soft hands, including on a 65-yard reception. The Buffaloes could really use his services as a blocker as well to chip guys off the edge and to help create holes in the run game.

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