Exiting Folsom Field Saturday, many thoughts entered my mind as the Colorado Buffaloes beat the Kansas State Wildcats 44-36. First and foremost, congratulations to the seniors for stepping up and leading the team to victory. Can't say enough about QB Cody Hawkins (202 yards, 3 scores), WR Scotty McKnight (74 yards, 2 scores), OT Nate Solder (RB Rodney Stewart had 195 yards), CB Jimmy Smith, CB Jalil Brown, LB BJ Beatty and all the other seniors who performed well yesterday. That is how seniors are supposed to go out and play on senior day.
But the overwhelming thought leaving the Big 12 home finale was the games against Texas Tech, Baylor and Kansas. I look at how the Buffs are playing now and start to wonder if a coaching move at the beginning of the season would have this team sitting at 7 or even 8 wins right now, 5-2 in conference play going into Nebraska. The Buffs left some wins out there this year considering how they are playing football right now. Saturday against Kansas State, CU dominated the game and if wasn't for a few, dare I say, lucky fourth down conversions, the contest would have been a blow out. Kansas State stayed in the game with a few big plays here and there but Colorado dominated the Wildcats' defense and stopped one of the country's best running backs in Daniel Thomas, holding him to just 58 yards.
More impressive to me is looking at how this team has changed in three categories: penalties, turnovers and third down conversions. Colorado struggled mightily in those three categories under Dan Hawkins. Yesterday, the Buffs had no turnovers, converted on 9-14 third downs and were flagged only twice for five yards. They only allowed one fluke sack, converted all four red zone attempts into touchdowns and have shown great offensive balance.
Right now, the Buffs are an effective and efficient football team, running the ball well on offense and stopping the run extremely well on defense.
One has to wonder.
Now on to some quick hitting thoughts after the jump...
-Interim coach Brian Cabral has made a statement and everyone will have to take notice. If he can go into Lincoln and win, it will be hard not to give him the job. That being said, if the Buffs want to bring in another head coach, hopefully they can lock up Cabral as the defensive coordinator. What he has done with this team over the last two weeks has been special. Love the energy, love the discipline.
-Keeping with the coaches, offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau might need to be on the keeper list as well. What I saw yesterday was some exceptional play calling. A little of the Boise State we thought we would get with Dan Hawkins was on display yesterday. After a Kansas State fumble, Kiesau dialed up a halfback pass - Rodney Stewart to Toney Clemons - for a 22 yard score to give the Buffs a 16-14 lead and all the momentum. The Buffs also introduced the Wildcat with WR/RB Will Jefferson as the point person. Two times yesterday, the wildcat with Jefferson running produced the bulk of Jefferson's 73 yards rushing on five carries. We also saw Kiesau draw up a picture perfect play call on a fade route from Cody Hawkins to Paul Richardson. For the first time in many years, it looks like the Buffs have control over the defense and the defense is confused by the game planning. Like I said above, this is a balanced offense (225 yards passing, 251 yards rushing) which is keeping the defense on it's heels.
-It's clear that injuries have caused some issues covering the middle of the field on defense. Kansas State, a non throwing team, was able to work the middle of the field. A ton of youth & inexperience in the middle of the field in Terrel Smith, Deji Olatoye, Ray Polk, Liloa Nobriga, Derrick Webb. What didn't help the youth trying to cover the receivers was a lack of a pass rush for a large part of the fourth quarter.
-DT Will Perciak played a heck of a game: 8 tackles, two for loss. He was a big reason for Daniel Thomas having his lowest output game of the year with just 58 yards. Also have to mention DE Josh Hartigan who had three sacks including the game ending sack on fourth down.
-The player's energy level also says something. At times yesterday, you saw the defense dancing on the field, getting the crowd pumped up, high fiving each other. Paul Richardson receiving high fives by all of his teammates after a big play. Rodney Stewart running like a crazy man down field after he threw a touchdown pass, Toney Clemons and Will Jefferson joking with each other. This team is having fun, playing loose and enjoying football. I have been to a lot of games the last five years and yesterday was the most energy I have seen from the players.
-Rodney Stewart continues to stake his claim for one of the first team All Big 12 running back spots. It is hard for me to name another Big 12 player more important to his team than Rodney Stewart is to the Buffs. With his 195 yards yesterday, Stewart has 1,230 yards on the year, good for 13th in the nation, four yards ahead of KSU's Thomas. Stewart also has 271 yards receiving to Thomas' 163. RB Kendall Hunter has probably locked up one of the first team All Big 12 spots, it will be hard for Stewart to get the nod over Thomas and DeMarco Murray of Oklahoma but he is definitely in the discussion.
-Over the last two weeks, Iowa State and Kansas State, two running teams, have run the ball 64 times for just 95 yards an average of 1.4 per carry. Next week, the Buffs play a run oriented Nebraska team with their playmaker in QB Taylor Martinez battling a gimpy ankle. That being said, the Huskers might not be full strength in the running department. Martinez has only attempted more than 17 passes in a game twice this year and has a 59.5% completion percentage. The last three weeks, Nebraska has beat Iowa State by just one point (Colorado dismantled Iowa State), only scored 20 against a bad Kansas team and scored 6 points against Texas A&M producing just 306 yards of offense. Of course Nebraska's defense is extremely good and will be tough to crack but if the CU defense can continue to dominate against the opposition's running game, the Buffs might be able to keep this one close going into the fourth quarter.