EUGENE — After a crushing loss to Utah, the Oregon Ducks are trying to get back up to speed. 

And while early in Colorado week was spent using the speed term in a metaphorical sense, the Ducks (2-2, 0-1 Pac-12) would literally like to play faster this week against the Buffaloes (3-1, 0-0). 

Oregon coaches weren’t happy with the tempo the Ducks’ offense was able to play at against Utah, but before the Ducks can ratchet the Ferrari back up, its got to hit first gear before jumping to fifth. 

“It’s hard to run a lot of tempo when you go three-and-out,” Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost said. “I’ve said that 100 times. We need first downs to get the thing moving and get the other teams tired.” 

Oregon’s offense ran a season-low 70 plays in the 62-20 loss to Utah. The Ducks’ 400 total yards were the lowest of the season and their 20 first downs were six fewer than their second-worst total — 26 at Michigan State. 

More telling was the way the game started. The Ducks opened up with punts on their first three possessions. The Ducks went three-and-out three times in the game — a season high. All of last season, Oregon averaged just 1.4 three-and-outs per game, with a season-high five coming in an early-season win over Michigan State. So far the Ducks have actually decreased that average — 1.25 per game — but Oregon’s five total three-and-outs have come in the losses to MSU and Utah. 

The Ducks also have two drives this season that began with a first down then went three-and-out. 

What happens when the Ducks struggle to get first downs changes many areas of the field. It’s a quick turnaround for a defense that has been struggling. It also prevents the Oregon offense from reaching that patented tempo, which often resembles a snowball rolling down the hill. It might start small, but once it gets rolling it only gains size and momentum. 

“When you can’t get the first down it’s hard to get the tempo going too much,” Frost said. “Especially if the defense is having a little trouble stopping them. We don’t want to be out there for 22 seconds and put the defense right back out on the field.” 

Obviously the Ducks’ inefficiencies are partially caused by the quarterback situation. Vernon Adams Jr. has a broken finger on his throwing hand and Jeff Lockie has yet to prove himself as a viable backup plan. On Monday, Frost said the Ducks hadn’t decided who would start this week, though he said the Ducks weren’t doing Adams any favors by not giving him time to heal from his injury. 

Maybe once that’s solved, the offense can finally navigate the gear box on that nice car. 

“I don’t think we’re searching for an identity on offense,” Frost said. “I think our team has as an established identity on offense as anyone in the country. We need to play better at quarterback. It’d be great if we could have one guy taking all the snaps, but we’re not fortunate enough to have that situation.” 

— Tyson Alger

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