Did anyone at the start of the season picture the Toledo game being this important? Better question, did anyone think they would be this nervous heading into the Toledo game? No disrespect to the Rockets as they have fielded a very competitive program over the past years, handing plenty of BCS programs upsets including two Big 12 schools in the past few years. But let's be honest, after the Colorado program was supposedly turning the corner in 2009, the first three games of the year were seen as stepping stones to the West Virginia game, the first big road game of the year against a BCS opponent.
Five days and one dismal performance later that sort of thought process is gone. After laying the proverbial egg against Colorado State in every phase of the game, the Buffs have a lot to prove to their fan base and themselves on whether this team, this coaching staff is the right group to get the job done. Of course, beating Toledo, again no disrespect to the Rockets, isn't a sure fire sign that the Buffs are still on the rise but a dominating performance as a defining response showing that the Colorado State game was an anomaly would go a long way, even if it isn't against Nebraska or Kansas. But if you took a straw poll among Buff fans, many will secretly tell you "just win," get out of there with a win regardless of how it's done. Considering Dan Hawkins' road record while at Colorado, that might not be a bad wish.
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But are the Buffs capable? Are they tough enough on the offensive line? Tough enough for a road game? Do they have enough playmakers? Do the coaches know how to use their playmakers? Can they generate a pass rush? How motivated is this team? Is the coaching staff's message to the team resonating and mentally preparing the team? Can the quarterback position turn into a strength? Are the Buffs focused?
All questions that have been unanswered the past three years and one game during the Dan Hawkins era. All questions Buff fans will be eagerly watching for this game and the rest of the season in what has now turned into judgment year in many people's minds, even more than before the season started.
We know what happened against Colorado State, no need to rehash that anymore. Tonight, we hope the Buffs can take a step in the right direction.
From a scheme standpoint, Toledo wants to play quick and uptempo on both sides of the ball. Once again, the Buffs will face a top tier team in terms offensive line experience, something that Colorado dealt with last week against the Rams unsuccessfully. The Rockets offensive line protected the NCAA leader in passing yards through week one, Aaron Opelt, very well, not allowing a sack. Opelt threw for 423 yards against the Boilermakers in the quick hitting offense. The rush offense for Toledo never materialized as Purdue went up 14 points early and Toledo resorted to using their top playmakers on the edge as their leading rusher from last season is suspended. Just how up tempo is the Toledo offense? Last week, they got off 91 plays. The Buffs had 61 last week, not a horrible number. The Rockets threw the ball 61 times. That is an impressive pace especially when you consider the game was on the road. I expect the pace to be even more hectic as new coach Tim Beckman plays his first game at home in the Glass Bowl. Once again, the question for the Buffs' defense will be the front seven and whether defensive coordinator Ron Collins can get the Buffs playing on the Rockets side of the field and not on their own. Watch the defensive line the first few series of the game. What side of the ball do they end up on? Could be a long night if they allow Opelt time to sit in the pocket.
Opelt has three great wide receiver targets that should make Colorado Buffalo fans envious. The leader at the wide receiver spot is an NFL prospect in Stephen Williams. The 6'5" 200 pound wideout, deemed by CB Jimmy Smith as one of the best receivers the Buffs will face this season, led the team with 15 receptions, 185 yards and 2 scores a week ago. For his career, the senior has hauld in 165 passes for 2,222 yards and 18 touchdowns. True freshman Eric Page is the other big wide receiver threat in the slot. Not as big as Williams (5'10 160 lbs) but thrives in the matchup game out of the slot. Last week in his first collegiate game, Page brought in 12 receptions for 128 yards.
The Buffs defense will need to get pressure to have a chance tonight against an uptempo offense. You also have to wonder about the depth along the line for Colorado. Toledo is going to try and get 1/3 more plays out of this game tonight in a no huddle spread offense. Do the Buffs have any horses up front? A few things are for sure; three and outs on defense, winning the turnover battle, not allowing the big play, and a Buffs' offense who is able to run the ball and take the air out of the Toledo offense is a must tonight.
On the defensive side the ball, the Rockets had their fair share of problems in week one, specifically on the ground. Purdue scored 52 points, rushed for 315 yards (8.1 yards per carry) and totaled 535 yards of offense in 67 plays, good for a whopping eight yards per snap. The Toledo offense average a three full yards less than the Boilermakers although they racked up close to 500 yards. That is a huge number from a Purdue team that is slated to finish in the bottom fourth of the Big 10. The stat of the day was mentioned yesterday: Toledo's defensive line is tailored to be quick, gap players but they are undersized. The Rockets average 255 pounds across the front while the Buffs offensive line averages 297. That is a big difference coupled with the rushing yards of last week given up and the talk of Darrell Scott getting more touches should mean a heavy dose on the ground, the perfect counter to the high tempo Toledo team. Once again, the Buffs' offense needs to help it's defensive unit out tonight.
The front four for the Rockets only registered one sack and two tackles for loss against Purdue a week ago.
The player to watch on the Toledo side of the ball is S Barry Church. The 6'2" 219 pound senior is considered a top 10 safety when the NFL draft rolls around next year. Church led the team in tackles last week with six along with linebacker Beau Brudzinski.
Cody Hawkins might have to loosen up the defense early as Toledo's defense will probably load up the box after last week's dismal showing against Purdue up front but I expect a heavy dose of the running backs tonight. It will also be interesting to see how the Buffs use WR Andre Simmons tonight. Simmons had a 1 reception for 44 yards in limited duty last week but if he is able to give the Buffs 30 - 35 snaps tonight, that would be a big addition to the talent at wide receiver.
Keys to game to follow.