Needing a win more than ever, the Colorado Buffaloes delivered. It is one we should definitely enjoy, it has been a turmoil filled start and finally being able to celebrate a Buffs' win wherever you were watching the game was a relief. It wasn't the prettiest of victories but there are certainly a few takeaways from this game that hopefully continue to improve as the year goes on.
The defense for the most part played fantastic. You must first start with the energy level that the team displayed in the early going. Players were ready to go and played with little apprehension, something we saw the last two weeks that made the defense look slow and confused. Clearly, the goal today was bring pressure from the linebacker spot. The Buffs also made a very strategic move to put CB Ben Burney at the safety spot, instantly adding some experience and more leadership to the team while keeping two of their best players on the field in CB Cha'pelle Brown and CB Jimmy Smith. Defensive coordinator Ron Collins said that the eleven best players will play this offseason and getting more experience back in the safety spot was a step in that direction. Burney looked like another linebacker out there as he was often around the ball, something we can't say about the performance of the safety position the last few weeks.
LB B.J. Beatty finally played in a role that we expected him to be in this year as a replacement for last year's sack leader LB Brad Jones. One of the keys to the game was playing in the Wyoming backfield and Beatty led the charge, sacking the quarterback twice and causing much more havoc as a rush end than anyone has all year. Finding a constant pressure guy is important going forward and for the Buffs to be successful for remainder of the season, B.J. Beatty will have to continue to play as he did today. Defensive linemen Marquez Herrod and Curtis Cunningham also played well. Herrod had four tackles and a sack while Cunningham was second on the team in tackles with six and also had a sack. Whenever their was push in the backfield, numbers 90 and 68 were usually the instigators. Also, great to see LB Jon Major get in and make some plays on the defense. After battling back from an injury a year ago, Major had four tackles.
In total, Colorado's defense held the Dave Christensen-led offense to a feeble 3.2 yards a play, 0-2 on fourth down, 4 - 18 on third down, 24 minutes of possession, 13 first downs and only 230 total yards. That's a big improvement over the week before as Toledo gained 624 yards on the ground and averaged 9.9 per play. Of course, this was a bad offense in Wyoming that hasn't scored a touchdown since third quarter of the Weber State game, which was a full two games and a quarter ago. Wyoming has little in terms of playmakers but considering the defense's play the first two weeks, credit must be given to Ron Collins and the defensive staff for dialing up a good game plan that was successful. Collins will still need to get this unit to improve as the schedule now gets exponentially tougher with West Virginia, Texas and Kansas all down the pipeline. Not to scare Buff fans but those three teams are ranked 12th, 13th and 3rd in the nation in total offense, all averaging over 482 yards of total offense. The real test for this defense will start against West Virginia.
But Saturday was a start for the defense. Great move to get Burney on the field and establishing some confidence in Beatty to get things done in the opponents backfield. The Buffs didn't allow the big play and the corner back play looked much more settled. Again, it was against the 99th ranked offense but we will take it.
As for the offense, it is still very much a work in progress. On a positive note, the return of RB Rodney Stewart, although not entirely healthy, proved beneficial. Although only averaging 4.0 yards a carry, Stewart was a workhorse scoring twice.
The offense also did it's job, scoring first just one minute and thirty seconds into the game, giving the Buffs their first lead of the year and allowing the defense to play with the lead, something that hasn't happened this year. The offense held the ball for over 35 minutes by running the ball 45 times. WR Scotty McKnight continues to be the the main target that Cody Hawkins looks for and the main target offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau works around. McKnight caught five balls for 77 yards, good for 15.4 per reception. Through the first three games of the year, McKnight already has 20 catches for 227 yards. If he continues on this pace, McKnight will have an 80 catch year which will destroy his 46 catch total of a year ago.
The Buffs only allowed one sack and just one turnover, improvements over the first two games.
But this offense still lacks any threat of explosiveness. Fast and atheltic defenses, which the Buffs will be playing in the immediate future, are going to have a field day if Colorado cannot loosen up the defense with some ability to go down field. WR Markques Simas supposedly started but rarely received a look in the passing game. WR Andre Simmons was no where to be found as was WR Anthony Wright. The only receiver to have a double-digit yards/catch average yesterday was McKnight. In a game that the Buffs had a comfortable lead early, I was disappointed that the Buffs didn't try to incorporate Simas, Simmons and Wright in the offense more. It is time to see what these players will do on the field. A slant route, a fade route, a bubble screen...anything to get them in the rhythm of the offense.
Colorado has three receivers in Simas, Simmons and Wright that can have the playmaking potential that is much needed for the rest of the year. The Buffs coaching staff has 12 days before they head to Morgantown to play West Virginia. The offense needs a similar make over like defense showed against Wyoming and that change is a commitment to becoming an offense that can stretch the field and add a little imagination to a stagnant unit.
The defense showed some explosiveness, the offense needs to follow suit for the Buffs to have any success with the remainder of the schedule. Colorado needs more consistency from Cody Hawkins, he needs to capitalize and make a few passes downfield that will change the game. Still too many mental lapses and missed opportunities. The Buffs' offense needs it's players to make plays and it's coaches to put them in a position to be successful.
At this point, I speak for most Buff fans in that a win is a win and we will take it any way. This team still has a lot of issues but let's enjoy this one for the time being.