The Colorado Buffaloes have a chance to make some believers out of all of us tonight. A win against an athletic West Virginia team in their own back yard where they are so tough to beat would make everyone reconsider their thoughts on this years' Buffs team. Is this game a must win if Colorado has hopes of going to a bowl game? Like we talked about earlier this week, the number of winnable games is rapidly decreasing to a point where an upset in a game like tonight is probably needed. If the 17 point underdogs have any shot tonight, here are five things that need to happen for the Buffs to walk out of Morgantown with a win.
Hawkins and Co. >>>>>>>>>>>> Bill Stewart and Co.
It all starts and stops for me there. Dan Hawkins showed he could out coach Bill Stewart a little bit last year. The CU staff out-coached the West Virginia staff in the first five minutes of last year's game and held on. To win this year, Dan Hawkins and Co. need to be better in every phase the entire game. When we watch tonight, we need to say many times: "that was a great play call or I really like the blitz in that situation or the Buffs seem to be in the right spots compared to West Virginia." The Colorado Buffaloes are not that far behind West Virginia on talent level, certainly not 17 points worse. It is up to the coaches to get these players ready to go, in the right positions to exceed and out-coach the one and only Bill Stewart. Dan Hawkins has a great opportunity to change the tide of the season tonight. He has been preaching that this squad is still a good football team and that he believes they just need to make a few tweaks. If that is the case, the Buffs need to be ready to go on full cylinders tonight. Make us believe now coach!
Time to Grow Up and Be Aggressive
You ever watch a Florida or an Oklahoma and then watch the Buffs and go, "where is the intensity compared to those other teams?" I know I do. The Buffs need to start playing with an attitude tonight. Part of that falls on Hawkins to instill, which he gets plenty of heat for, but part of that falls on the players and team leaders to motivate themselves. The Colorado Buffaloes need to grow up tonight. If they come out flat, come out lethargic, they will get waxed on national television on the road like they usually do. Is this the night the team steps up and defines change in the program. A few leaders on this team need to answer the call and make sure everyone is ready to go.
It has been well documented that the West Virginia Mountaineers lost to Auburn mostly because they turned the ball over five times. West Virginia quarterback Jarrett Brown has thrown 6 interceptions in the last two weeks, five against the Tigers. On the road, winning the turnover battle is crucial and tonight in my mind, the Buffs need to be at +3 in turnover margin to come out victorious.
Jimmy Smith, Cha'pelle Brown, Jalil Brown and Ben Burney: it is time to join the party and make some interceptions. These four players need to make Bill Stewart pay if he chooses to throw the ball against the Buffs. This group in the preseason was picked to be dominant in the Big 12. Tonight would be a good time to start proving that out.
Weather the Tide Early
We know how the Buffs perform when the get behind (Toledo and Colorado State) and we know how they perform when the get ahead (Wyoming). The biggest fear tonight is that the Buffs come out lethargic, West Virginia puts up 14 points early and the Buffs go into a pass frenzy offense. In the Colorado's two losses, the opponent has scored on their opening drive.
The first four series of the game will be crucial. If the Buffs get can get the Mountaineers offense off the field twice and can show some movement offensively, maybe even get an early lead, I like the Buffs chances to keep this game close. Getting in a shoot out earlier against the 10th ranked offense will be a recipe for disaster that the Buffs won't win. Colorado needs to play a game similar to last year, keep West Virginia under 20 - 23 points.
Win the Big Play Battle
Finally, the Buffs must show that they can contain playmakers on defense and on offense, they need to show they have playmakers. The defense will be tasked with kepping Noel Devine in front of them and must pressure Jarrett Brown. Ron Collins will have his work cut out for him in trying to create a scheme for the front seven to acheive the level of containment the Buffs need to be successful (see Keys to the Game #1 above). As for the Buffs offense, the offensive line needs to play up to their full potential tonight and well, it would be nice to see Darrell Scott, Rodney Stewart, Brian Lockridge, Andre Simmons, Anthony Wright and Markques Simas be put in a position to give this offense some explosiveness.
Bottom line - Will this team answer the call or will they fold? They have a big opportunity to get back on track tonight.