Hits & Myths: CU vs KU - Buffs Win! Lookout, Big XII North!

CU beats Kansas!  Yes, this time it's not a dream or a half-time score.  Final Score: Colorado 34, #15 Kansas 30.

There were signs last week that things finally might be changing for the better.  Reduce the mistakes, hold the line on defense, and allow the change at QB to create a fresh start on offense, & maybe that first half at Texas could be reproduced against Kansas.  After almost reproducing too much of the Texas game, the Buffs got a score near the end that the Jayhawks couldn't reproduce, and CU held on to win.  Colorado's 34-30 victory over previously-unbeaten Kansas before a near-capacity crowd at Folsom Field came just in time to give team and fans alike hope for a successful season.

Whew!  The Reesing curse is over, along with Colorado's 3-game losing streak to Kansas.  How ironic was it to hear KU Coach Mangino say after the game, "It’s unfortunate they picked this week to take his redshirt off."  Hansen had a terrific if not error-free starting debut, and now he travels to Manhattan to see if he can continue his mastery over teams from the state of Kansas.

THE HITS

1.  Tyler Hansen  - Tyler Hansen's first 2009 start as quarterback for the Colorado Buffaloes didn't produce gaudy statistics: 14 of 25 for 175 yards, 1 TD, 1 interception, 34 net yards rushing, 1 fumble.  In fact, it was Rodney Stewart, not Hansen, who ended up co-winner of the Big XII Offensive Player of the Week.  Anyone who watched the game, however, would tell you that the stats don't tell half the story, and that Hansen was every bit as valuable as Stewart in CU's 34-point effort.  Hansen's actual rushing total, before subtracting sack yards(a record-keeping practice by the NCAA that makes as much sense as would subtracting penalty yardage  from offensive totals), was 11 rushes for 64 yards, a 5.8 yard-per-carry average.  When he passed, he threw more than screens and 5-yard passes.  Half of his passes went for 11 or more yards, pushing his average to 12.5 yards per pass.  But it was more when he ran or completed a pass that drove a dagger into the hearts of KU's defensive players and coaches.  Almost half of his runs were for first downs or touchdown(3 of them for 11 or more yards), and 9 of his 14 completions were for 1st downs(& a 10th for a TD), often after scooting impossibly away from would-be tacklers.  What's more, more than half of the first downs he accounted for came on 3rd down.  It was a clutch performance, marred by a couple of turnovers, that came down to an end-of-the-game duel with a quarterback in Todd Reesing who had started for parts of four years.  The redshirt sophomore outduelled the experienced senior, as Hansen came through to lead a winning touchdown drive that Reesing couldn't match.

2.  The Hansen Effect  -  As good as Hansen himself was, he directly accounted for only two touchdowns, one passing and one rushing.  14 points wasn't enough to win the game last week against Texas, nor would it have been this week against Kansas.  However, a dual-threat quarterback with a strong arm catalyzes the whole team, changing not only the way opposing players react on defense but the way teammates respond on offense.  On defense, opponents have to play against the run as well as the pass every time the QB drops back.  Would-be sackers have to contain as well as attack.  Pass defenders have to stay on mid- or long-range routes longer.  On offense, linemen can take advantage of the run/pass uncertainty, & backs and receivers can find more creases and space.  Receivers and linemen find themselves more often in position to do down field blocking, and they begin to learn how important that is in turning short gains into explosion plays.  The more they do it, the better they become.  That opens up the running plays, which open up the passing plays, and soon you have a more balanced, high-scoring offense that only has to pass 25 times to complement a 177-yard rushing attack.  The offense's ability to take advantage of turnovers and good field position makes the defense and special teams feel like their efforts are worthwhile, and they play better. And Hansen's success makes the coaches feel like they can use more of their playbook to adapt to different teams and adjust to different in-game scenarios.  That's known as (formerly) the McCoy Effect in Texas, (almost formerly) the Tebow Effect in Florida, (formerly?) the Reesing Effect in Kansas, and now the Hansen Effect in Colorado.  Let's hope the Hansen Effect becomes a Special Effect for the Buffs.

3.  Aric Goodman  -  The punt teams did not allow any turnovers or touchdowns this week, and Jason Espinoza remained steady in cleanly fielding every punt.  The kickoff return team continued to do an excellent job, as Darrell Scott and Scotty McKnight combined for 26.3 yards per return.  It was Aric Goodman, however,  who was the real star on special teams.  Goodman gave an outstanding and courageous performance, battling an abdominal injury while keeping his PATs perfect on the season, converting both field goals, one of which was his first FG in the 40-49 yard range, and booting every one of his seven kickoffs into(or through) the end zone, only two of which were returned.  His field-goal conversions alone proved to be the difference in the game.  Goodman was deservedly recognized by the College Football Performance Awards as the National Kickoff Specialist of the Week.

4.  Everybody else  -  There are too many "hits" to list, but suffice it to say that it was a team effort, from Rodney Stewart's 6th 100-yard game to Marquez Herrod's thrashing 3-sack attack to Riar Geer's clutch catches and nose for the end zone to excellent prep and game-day calls by coaches to blocking wide receivers to true freshman defensive linemen to senior leaders to leap-frogging quarterbacks to sophomores seemingly everywhere to the best student section in college football to faithful alumni who nearly filled Folsom to a lopsided loss by the Huskers to a beautiful autumn night in Boulder.  And, of course, to that "W" in the record.

THE MYTHS

1.  The CU Running Game is Back  -  The 177 yards of rushing offense(again, not counting the sack-loss yardage) was a vast improvement over the 62 yards of rushing in the Texas game.  Nevertheless, the magic number for a true smash mouth rushing attack is 200 yards in a game, and when you take away Hansen's 64 yards, the remaining 113 yards is far short of smash mouth.  Yes, Hansen already came close to that in the Kansas game, but until those yards come on designed running plays for Hansen, I wont count Hansen as the second running back, and I wont believe the CU running game is back.  Two things need to happen to get to that number and prove that the CU running game is truly back: a 2nd running back needs to get 75+ yards on a day when the 1st gets 100+ yards, a running back needs to break open a long touchdown run, and these need to happen in at least two games.  Until then, the Buffs will continue to get by with their rushing attack.  I believe it will be back very soon.

2.  The Special Teams is Special  -  Aric Goodman was special on Saturday, and he already has two Kickoff Specialist of the Week awards this year.  He has usually been special this year, yet he still needs to be a little more consistent, particularly in kicking field goals.  The rest of the special teams still have a lot of room for improvement.  Matt DiLallo started out strong but has reverted back to mid-30-yard-average punt games, which caused CU significant field position disadvantages in the last game.  And the kickoff return team has been good, but they have the potential to be great.  Once or twice this year, CU will need Scott or Lockridge to break a return for six.  They've been close, but close rarely counts in football.

3.  There are too many distractions in the Denver area to get good fan support for CU Football  -  We've all heard this line trotted out for many years to explain why CU doesn't sell out its football games.  There are the Broncos, the Rockies, the Avalanche, the Nuggets, the Rapids, the Mammoth, the Pioneers, the Flatirons, Red Rocks Amphitheater, the National Parks & Forests, the 14ers, fishing, hiking, hunting, biking, running, golfing, skiing, snowboarding, driving, walking, drinking, smoking, toking, napping, etc.  Ok, so there is a lot to see and do in Boulder/Denver/Colorado.  If that's keeping people from coming to games, then explain how we ended up with 51,146 people coming to watch a 1-4 team play football on a beautiful autumn Saturday with the temperature at 68 degrees at kickoff during a down economy.  I'll tell you why.  There are a lot of people now to go around for all of those activities, and a lot of them are CU grads or know CU grads and/or have otherwise had a chance to see a game at Folsom Field in person or on TV.  They have seen the beauty of the CU campus and they know that there is nothing quite like walking through a college campus and into a stadium where you can watch a live American Bison run around a football field, see the Colorado Buffaloes play the great game of football with some of the best teams and players in the country, look up to catch a view of the Flatirons and the Rocky Mountains, and look down to see golden-yellow throngs of students pouring onto the field after their beloved Buffs have upset a Top Twenty team.  I'll take that over a night in Austin or Lincoln, in Invesco Field or Coors Field, Pepsi Center or Dick's Sporting Goods Park any day.

THE FIXES

1.  Stop the opponent's best receivers  -  While the defense is turning into a strength of the team, they are still giving up too many explosion plays, and usually to receivers.  While you can never completely shut down a great receiver, you need to box them in.  Make contact at the line of scrimmage.  Safeties need to get into double coverage more consistently when covering the likes of Shipley and Briscoe.  If you can't get to the ball, make them pay by making the hard tackle, not just the hard hit.  And when you do get your hands on the ball, act like it's yours and catch it.  If the QB favors a receiver on a certain side, get hands and bodies in front of the QB on that side and blitz them to death from the other(blind) side.  Make the quarterback and their favorite targets as uncomfortable as possible.

2.  Turn the running backs into (better) receivers  -  Get the running backs plenty of reps catching the ball, so Scott stays good and the rest of them get better.  Stewart and Lockridge each had golden opportunities for long gains slip through their fingers on Saturday.  Use Scott more as a receiver in the slot or out of the backfield, as he has the best hands of the group.  And please, please, please get Lockridge into open space - he has the next best set of hands and the fastest set of wheels.

3.  Use the clock and the snap count better  -  There was a dramatic drop in penalties from 20 to 8, but that's still a lot.  Most of them come from false starts and sideline-related issues like delays of game and substitution penalties.  These are irritating because they're so preventable.  (Please get Riar some help with the snap count.)  Having a new quarterback in there probably accounts for some of it.  Take this opportunity to work on the snap count more than usual, and while you're at it, practice quick snaps and off-cadence counts to draw opponents offsides.  Believe it or not, really working on tricking the other side will prevent your own line(offense AND defense, B.J.) from being drawn off.  And figure out a system or set of sideline personnel that eliminates the delays in getting plays and players in to the huddle.  Maybe Cody has some ideas after suffering through it for the better part of three years.

4.  Learn from past games  -  The young Buffs now know that if they can play with the number two team in the country and do it in Austin, they can play with anybody anywhere.  So a Little Apple shouldn't intimidate them.  They also need to learn that when they have a team down, they can never relax, never relent, just keep taking the ball away and keep driving into the endzone.  They need to know that everybody plays a role and that everyone needs to be ready, because someone always needs to step up.  The Buffs should know now that they can hang with anybody in the Big XII, but also that anybody can hang with them.  The difference is maximum effort on every play and smart football.  They need to constantly attack, always looking for somebody to block, for a way to get the ball, for a way to get another yard, for a way to turn a run, a catch, a return, a fumble or an interception into a touchdown.  And if they can beat a #15 team from Kansas, they ought to be able to beat an unranked purple team from Kansas.                   GO BUFFS!!!  BEAT THE WILDCATS!!!

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