It's about time... that Hits & Myths 3 shows up. A second refurb computer, several software re-installs and a few new passwords later, here are some thoughts about the last game & suggestions about the next one.
CU 24, Wyoming 0 It was sooooo good to see a win, and so great to see the defense rebound so dramatically. I'm really happy for the team; they needed this shot in the arm for the confidence that will be sorely needed in what looks to be a challenging October.
It is now the first (half-)week of what I'm calling "Octobertest" , which starts with yet another game on national television, as the (New?)CU Buffs take on the Mountaineers in the WV. Almost nobody expects the Buffs to win in Morgantown, but September proved once again that very surprising things happen every week in the 21st century version of college football. The Buffs have been at the wrong end of the surprise twice this season, so why not the right end this Thursday? But first...
1) Defense Simplified produces 1st Shutout in 2 Years - The stats only start to tell the story about the tremendous effort by a well-coached Colorado defense. Zero 3rd or 4th down conversions allowed for three quarters; seven tackles for losses including four sacks; 76 rushing yards allowed; 2 red-zone shutouts; and zero points allowed. This against a team that held its own against Texas in the first half. A tip of the cap to Ron Collins for one of the most dramatic one-week defensive turnarounds in CU's history. It was especially great to see so many seasoned cornerbacks on the field at once. Besides the usual stellar play of Chapelle Brown and Jimmy Smith, Ben Burney and Jalil Brown played lights out, with J Brown using his special teams experience to do his best Ryan Walters impersonation. Jon Major made a stellar debut with four tackles in a half (& was falsely accused of an out-of-bounds hit). The whole defensive team gave their all for all four quarters, and it was a beautiful thing to watch.
2) Rodney Stewart goes over 100 yards - It's great to see the Buffs get a 100-yd rushing performance again, & it makes sense that it would be Speedy who got it done. It helped a lot that the Buffs weren't playing catch up, that there was balance with the passing game, and that both happened largely because the defense gave the offense so many opportunities. But mostly it was because Speedy got a lot of carries and got into a rhythm. If this is Speedy at about the 80% he claims he's at, just imagine him at 100% after almost two weeks rest.
3) Steady Scotty McKnight - The most underrated player on the team was again the leading receiver, and remains the go-to guy on 3rd downs. Amidst all of the fan demand(mine included) to see our big new receivers get more passes thrown their way, we often overlook the fact that we have one of the best receivers, and perhaps the best possession receiver, in the Big 12 right here in Boulder. I say that with confidence when you consider that everybody on the opposition's defense knows Scotty is Cody Hawkins' favorite target and is the most experienced receiver on the team, and yet he still finds a way to get open, especially when his team needs him the most. And the team really needed him on the first drive of the Wyoming game, when he pounced on a CU fumble and scored the first TD. Nobody works harder or performs better at his position than McKnight, & thus nobody deserves more the CU receving records he will have by the time he finishes his senior year with Colorado. Which leads right in to...
1) Coach Kiesau should have tried to get our big wide receivers the ball every chance he got. - We all would like to see Simas, Simmons and Wright get the ball more, considering that when they do, it's usually for a long gain. In fact, there was a long pass to Marques Simas on the very first drive that resulted in a pass interference call, which was the key play in what turned out to be CU's first 1st-half TD of the season. At least one other pass was thrown Simas' way, and one was thrown to Anthony Wright as well. There certainly could have been more, and there will need to be more as we get into the Big XII schedule. However, you don't want to take too much away from your ground game when it is successful. Additionally, I'd much rather see the ball distributed to several different wide receivers, tight ends and running backs, as that usually is the sign of a successful passing offense. Against Wyoming, CU spread their passes to eight different players. That's not a bad thing.
2) We now have our starting running back in Speedy Stewart. - As well as Rodney Stewart did against Wyoming, I wouldn't be surprised to see Demetrius Sumler starting again. One reason is that the coaches have made it clear even after the Wyoming game that they don't mind the running-back-by-committee approach with their stable of four capable backs. Another is that Sumler did well against Wyoming, too, with a greater yards per carry average(4.6 vs 4.0) in his 8 carries than Speedy. And it's hard to keep a healthy Darrell Scott or Brian Lockridge off the field, given their performances this season when they got the chance to touch the ball. Expect CU to continue to play all four backs, and give more reps to the hot hand. The coaches might want to note when choosing a starter that the usually reliable Sumler did cough up the football on what could have been a disastrous first drive.
3) Things have changed. - Not by a longshot. A convincing win against Wyoming was a breath of fresh air in a disappointing September. Now comes Octobertest, a challenge for even a 3-0 CU team, and a steeper climb for a 1-2 team. Certainly things seem to have changed for the defense, and the fact that there is so much youth on the team bodes well for the rest of the season, as they, along with the coaching staff, seem to be learning quickly. The offense is still a work in progress, as evidenced by the multiple O-line line-ups from one game to the next. The good news on that front is that everyone is healthy and ready to contribute, including Max Tuioti-Mariner, a starter last year at the constantly-shifting guard position. They and the new wide receivers will need to grow up in a hurry, as the Big XII looms, where every team CU faces in 2009 is scoring in big chunks so far this season.
1) Involve all of your wide receivers this week. - With plenty of practice time since Wyoming, the "bigs" should be up to speed. If they're not mostly there by Thursday, there's nobody to blame but the coaches. Maybe some simplification might work there as well. Despite what I said above about spreading it around, there should be more than three wide receivers with catches, and there should be more than three passes thrown to the "bigs" during the course of a game as "big" as this one. I love the reliability of McKnight and Espinosa, but if they continue to get half of Hawkins' throws, defenses will eventually catch on.
2) Don't buy in completely to Running-Back-by-Committee. - It's true; we have a talented bunch of running backs, any of whom can contribute greatly towards a successful running game. However, there are at least three things to consider before abandoning the idea of narrowing the carries to one or two primary backs. One is that you wont know who can handle 20-35 carries a game until they get the chance to do it. Stewart has had his chance and done well with it(& DON'T take this as a suggestion that Stewart is NOT the man to continue to get the same 32 carries he got against Wyoming), but I'd like to see Scott and maybe even Lockridge get the chance if they have the hot hand in any given game. The second thing is that Scott and Sumler, having the more physical builds, are more likely to be able to consistently handle a large number of carries. Third, a number of teams have been very successful with the "thunder & lightning" approach - a hard, pounding, physical back for a quarter or a half followed by a lightning-quick, hard-to-find back for the next quarter or half. Whatever the method, we need to have the running game ramped up to a high level, and, frankly, it will probably have a lot more to do with the O-line. Nevertheless, the O-line feeds off a running back who is reeling off long gains. Let's use the ones that can take it to the house.
3) Go for broke but reduce mistakes. - Almost nobody outside of the CU locker room thinks the Buffs can win an away game against West Virginia, so why not go for broke, try some wild things, and remember that this is the last game heading into the brutal Big XII. Regardless of the outcome, CU still has everything ahead of them to achieve their goals. But while they're going all-out, they need to limit the mistakes, which means playing much better than they did against Wyoming, especially on offense. Four fumbles and four mistakes on delays of game wont cut it. The Mountaineers coach and QB are mistake-prone, so take advantage of their mistakes, avoid your own, and you might just steal one. Heaven knows, the Buffs need to learn how to win on the road(last road win was in 2007) to be a success in the Big XII. GO BUFFS!!!
P.S. Coach Hawkins, I love ya, and I love your fire, but the next time your team wins, act like you've been there before. I'm not a member of the media, really, and some of those who are members irritate me, too, but that's no reason to stoop to semi-personal attacks on their life experiences and situations. Just because many of them are young doesn't mean they don't have families, too, and probably all of them have been challenged in life one way or another and have mostly succeeded. I really don't mind some of these guys being taken to task now and then for their all-too-frequent diatribes against college kids. Nevertheless, your anti-media comments would be easier to put up with if you had just pulled a major upset. Beating Wyoming in your own stadium for your first win in 10 months doesn't qualify. Watch your kids' backs, but keep it professional. TM