WILL A #10 OU on SATURDAY RESEMBLE A (DIFFERENT) #12 OU in 1980?
For most college football teams trying to contend for post-season play, November is the crucial month. Losses in November weigh more heavily than those earlier on, so wins are critical. While CU will not be contending for a 14th game, November will also be critical for a reeling Colorado football team. It will be their season in a microcosm of four weeks, an oasis of winnable games after crossing a desert of little opportunity. That the Buffs will be winless in October is a foregone conclusion, the ultimate result of a pattern established by the previous regime. In the last five years, November has been nearly irrelevant because October has been the cruelest month. The last time Colorado had a winning record in October, Gary Barnett was in his last year as head coach. (He was 4-1 in October, but a 1-2 November, punctuated with a 63-point loss in CU's last Big XII Championship game in December, was his undoing.) With one exception(2-2 in '07), CU gathered only one victory per October under Dan Hawkins, so that by the end of that month, Buff players usually knew a bowl game was not a realistic possibility. Old habits die hard, so when a core group of players riddled with self-doubt are also saddled with injuries to key players, a steep learning curve for a new staff, and the most brutal part of the toughest schedule in Division 1-A, the results are what we saw last Saturday in Seattle.
Washington is clearly a much-improved team, with quarterback Keith Price still their best-kept secret in spite of some of the best QB numbers in the nation. Yet even for a Colorado team with a defense patched together from twigs and buffalo hide, everybody expected more from CU than allowing six Huskies scoring drives in a row to start and then finish the first half. And just when we thought we were making progress in the running game, we get 62 net yards rushing and a total offense just under 270 yards. Yet what stood out to me is that the Buffs just kept playing. Colorado came out in the second half and acted like the first half never happened, which is the only thing a tough, well-disciplined team would do. The result was that the Buffs played the Huskies to a tie in the second half, both teams scoring 14 points. Yes, Washington wasn't playing as many first-stringers, but neither was CU given the injuries before and during the game. In a season like this, one takes the victories, or ties, as one can get them.
So now comes the green and yellow horde from the land where cities with Boulder-like political tendencies are sprinkled liberally if not evenly throughout the entire state. Oregon comes to Folsom Field to face a Colorado team that won't have their basic 3 R's: Rodney, Richardson and Rippy. Perhaps the only real suspense about the Oregon-Colorado game is which of their 843 uniforms the Ducks will don for the game. The Buffaloes will still play Oregon tough, and Ducks may be panting like Daffy in a Warner Bros. cartoon once they get into the 4th quarter, bur there is little doubt that OU will be all they are "billed" to be when the game comes to an end. The Buffs have a comeback in them for this game, and while that will prevent Oregon from getting into the 80s like Oklahoma famously did in 1980, it wont be close enough to prevent a sound Oregon win. The only question is will the Ducks fans get to the game in time to see Ralphie run, or will they still be sitting in their rental cars at some Boulder gas station, waiting for someone to pump their gas? Here's hoping only the Oregon team, and not the scoreboard, will be uniformly ugly. (See Hit, Myth and more after the jump!)
Penalties are Way Down. It's hard to find a hit among many misses in a bad loss last Saturday. Nevertheless, after leading Division 1-A in total penalties for most of this season, the Buffs only committed three in the entire game, half as many as Washington. While this obviously is not enough to change the outcome in a lop-sided loss, it does show that the Buffs are able to learn from their mistakes and make progress even in the midst of such a loss. It's a sign that mostly good new coaching is slowly overcoming the lingering effects of 5 years of mostly bad past coaching.
Having Recruits at the Oregon Game Will Hurt Recruiting.. As optimistic as many of us die-hard Buff fans can be about our team, we know that there is little chance for Colorado to beat Oregon tomorrow. So as we read that some big-time recruits are scheduled to be present at the game, including Elite 11(#7) QB Shane Dillon and two other four-star prospects, some are saying this is not the game for them to come to. Even if we or the coaches had a choice as to when they come, I'd say this is the perfect game. First, the weather should be autumn-perfect, 63-67 degrees with a slight breeze and no chance of precip, fall colors still abounding on a beautiful campus. Second, we don't recruit dumb kids. They expect that CU will be beaten by 30-50 points because they know CU is bad and OU is great right now. They will get to see first-hand how CU plays under extreme adversity, and the Buffs will show them the attitude and toughness the coaches have helped give them. They'll see a team playing tough until the end of the game, and that's what will impress them. Third, they will notice how many freshmen are starting on both sides of the ball, and for that matter how many seniors who wont be here next year, and know that they'll have a chance to play right away on a Jon Embree team. Fourth, they'll get the game experience. Instead of hearing a score that probably wont be too impressive, or seeing a game on tv that doesn't really give the whole picture, they will be sitting behind the CU bench as Ralphie leads the team onto the field. They will see the banners for a National Championship and for past CU football stars including a Heisman Trophy winner, and see some of those stars standing on the sidelines for Homecoming. They will see an example of the kind of teams Colorado plays on a regular basis. And after the game, CU will have more solid recruits than they had before.
1. Surprises. CU has nothing to lose in this game, and a big talent and experience gap. Altitude will not have much effect on Oregon's offense considering their scoring drives last a half-a-minute to 2 minutes most of the time. So on defense, the Buffs need to force Oregon out of their usual game. That means blitzing from different places, rotations between positions, bringing in lesser-known players and placing them where the Ducks aren't sure what position they play, and maybe trying a suggestion I make below. On offense, that means more misdirection, running from passing sets and vice versa, naked bootlegs, and a few trick plays. And at about the time Oregon starts holding off to see what the offense is doing, start slamming the running game down their throat.
2. Twins. CU has no depth at many positions, but considerable depth at others. That means time to change the game plan to adapt to their situation. On offense, there are only 2 tailbacks, 4 wide receivers, and few backups at o-line. However, we have 8 players with experience at fullback and tight end. I suggest taking the "twin" receivers idea and applying it to the tight end position, and maybe even to the fullback position. Double tight end "Robust" sets are too ordinary; try more 3-tight-end "RoBuster" sets or even 4-tight-end "SupeRobust" sets. Report tackle-eligible plays almost every play, but throw to them only once or twice and only when you stick TE/T Alex Lewis or another lesser-used tight end in at tackle. On defense, we have only 8 somewhat healthy defensive backs for 4 positions, or 5-6 positions if we have a nickle or dime package in. Yet we have 9 players for 3 defensive line positions, and ample depth at linebacker. Oregon likes to use the entire width of the field, and their starting QB is better at running than passing. CU should "twin" the defensive ends and/or outside linebackers to take away the outside rushing game and force their option play inside. This defensive set is also ideal for blitzing to stop the passing game before it starts and throw off the running game. CU can't stop the Ducks' offense, but maybe, just maybe, they can disrupt it.
3. Knock 'em Around. Maybe it's the qwacky(new word) uniforms, but for all their speed, the Ducks don't look that big. See if they can take a constant pounding. Hit each one of them hard (and legally) every play. Punish every receiver or blocker that comes out. Play offense like your attacking on defense, and play to the whistle. LET'S GO BUFFALOES! GROUND THE DUCKS!! IF THE ALTITUDE DOESN'T GET THEM, THE ATTITUDE WILL!!!