So you're wondering, has he lost his mind? CU "with winning record"? On the first count, I plead guilty. They say that you lose brain cells every time you indulge in an alcoholic beverage, and since a few Golden Buffaloes have driven me to drink a few Buffalo Golds in the last several years, I would say I've lost a part of my mind. As for the second count, I refer not to Colorado's 2011 win-loss record to this point, but rather to the Buffaloes' record in games played at Husky Stadium. For many teams, Washington's stadium is one of the toughest places to play in the country, in part due to the noise generated by 70,000+ fans and then focused and directed onto the field by the unique cantilevered metal roofs covering the north and south stands. For CU teams, Husky Stadium is more comfortable than home. Colorado has only lost once there, and that was a one-TD loss to "Rich" Neuheisel's Huskies the last time the two teams met in Seattle back in 1999. In fact, the visiting team seems to have the edge in this series, as the Buffs are 1-2 against UW at Folsom Field. In light of last Saturday's experience, I thought it best to start out with something positive, so pardon my reach.
As for the Stanford game, it was clear that Coach Embree (who turns 46 on Saturday) has chosen the right team to emulate. The Cardinal are a well-oiled machine, with a balanced offense led by a once-in-a-generation scholar-athlete who would stupefy even the best defenses, and a rugged defense that wastes no time getting the ball back to that offense. Only a few teams in the country are even a match for Stanford, and a 1-4 Colorado team with a volunteer militia for a defensive backfield is certainly not one of those teams. To their credit, the Buffs never appeared to give in, fighting every inch of the way as yet another sea of red inevitably inundated them. By the way, I will always hate red teams.
The game against Washington could be the one bright spot in a haunted Hallowe'en of an October. With Oregon and Arizona State looming before the month ends, the Buffs need to make the best of this opportunity. The Buffaloes and the Huskies are fairly evenly matched, Washington getting the better results in scoring and rushing, while Colorado has the edge in passing and overall defense. As always, it will come down to special teams and special plays. Here's hoping that the Buffaloes stop caring about where they are playing and start caring about how they are playing, and that just enough Buffs make just enough big plays to get a win which will be big no matter how small the margin.
(Hit, Myth & Fixes after the jump.)
Signs of Life. Despite a blowout loss, there were signs of improvement by the Buffs. CU had its lowest number of penalties so far this year with six, the same number that Washington had against Utah. Additionally, Colorado had its best kickoff return average of the season, with 24 yards per return. Before you point out that the other team scoring seven times may have had something to do with this, keep in mind that against Ohio State, the Buckeyes seven scores resulted in a CU return average of lesss than 13 yards. Since then, Embree's emphasis on putting the best players on special teams has seen the kickoff return average move up to and stay in the 20s. Colorado also started out well in the first quarter for a change. If not for one-upping last week with yet... another... blocked... field goal by allowing this block to be returned for a touchdown, the Buffs would have had the lead in the 1st quarter and into the 2nd. CU needs to build on these successes and learn not to repeat the mistakes. And if they continue to play unrelenting football until the end as they have done so far, somebody will crack on the other side and allow CU to prevail.
CU Should Continue to Play It Safe on Defense with an Inexperienced Backfield. Since the Stanford game, CU coaches noted that they had taken less chances with the defensive alignments to make sure their inexperienced cornerbacks would be better able to play their positions and maintain coverage on pass plays. While there were fewer breakaway plays, the result was still 553 yards given up and zero sacks for a defense that still somehow leads the PAC-12 in sacks and tackles for loss. It was always going to be hard to stop Luck, but it only made it harder when there was almost no pressure on him all day. Even quick release QBs can be caught or slowed by an effective rush, but CU's defense did little beyond the first two series to pressure Luck. This week, they are going against an excellent but inexperienced QB in Keith Price who can run but rarely chooses to. They need to treat the newbies at cornerback as grown-ups and use their whole defense to pressure Price into mistakes. He is a very efficient passer when he gets comfortable, so take away his comfy chair and bring on the Inquisition!
1. Stop Their Running Game to Keep It Close. In the three games that have been close or won this year, we have held the opposition to 100 rushing yards or less. In the three games that we lost badly, the opponents have rushed for over 160 yards. Washington's Chris Polk is a strong, excellent tailback, but he can be stopped, and he must be held under 100 yards if Colorado is to win the game. As important as it is to harass Price now and then, it is more important to limit Polk's yards, so the Buffs need to play a smart, aggressive defense to slow down the Huskies' scoring.
2. Use All 4 Running Backs to Restart and Improve CU's Rushing Game. CU's rushing game was dismal, and that can't happen again this season. If Colorado is to have chance, they need to get some significant yards out of their running game. Stewart can't do it all, especially now that he is playing on every special team there is, too. We need to see more of Jones and Ford getting the ball, because their averages are great when they get the chance. And we also need to see Harrington or whoever is in at full back get a carry or two to both surprise the defense and keep them honest on running or play-action plays. CU may not yet be able to win by making the rushing game primary, but it does need to contribute to the overall offense. Without enough rushing, screen plays, play-action and even rollouts wont meet with success. And where is the end-around? Even with Richardson out, Clemons and Canty have the speed to make it work. A well-executed, imaginative running game will open up the passing game and wake up the entire offense.
3. Speed Up, Coaches! After reading an article this week about how P.Rich's replacement at wide receiver, Keenan Canty, was too fast for Tyler Hansen to get the ball to sometimes, all I could think of was one thing. If we're spending time worrying about how Canty is too fast for Colorado, let's figure out a way of making sure he's too fast for Washington and the rest of our schedule. With all of the complaining I've heard about how we don't have enough players with speed, how is it we're complaining about Canty being too fast, and why haven't we tried to use Canty's speed on offense already. I know he's been tried at returning kicks, but so far he doesn't seem to be the right kind of runner for that job. For crying out loud, let's figure out a way to get him the ball on offense. Hansen needs to look for him more quickly on short pass routes. The coaches need to get him into the kind of crossing and deep routes that utilize his speed and make then a priority. With him, Clemons and Tyler McCulloch out there, the passing offense needn't skip a beat while Richardson is out. Come on Buffaloes! Let's speed up, rise up and run Washington ragged. With your superior conditioning, run 'em into the ground until the Huskies are looking for water dishes and a doghouse to rest in!! Rough 'em up, Buff 'em up, GO CU!!!