Hello, Buffalo Fans!
David here, beginning a series about each of the 13 (yes, thirteen) opponents we will face during the 2011 football season. It is an exciting time for The University of Colorado, our athletics program and our football team. We no longer have Dan Hawkins and his staff at the helm. So many changes! In his first year as head coach of the Buffaloes (or anywhere), Jon Embree is looking to turn things around. While we all want that to show up in the win column, that won't be the first place we see the impact of our new coaching staff. We have a heckuva year ahead of us:
Follow the jump to find out what I'm talking about!
Thirteen straight games.
Five teams that won 10+ games last season.
Nine conference games (oh right, new conference! That means 100% new gameplans, new research, new everything).
One non-conference game against a conference opponent that slaughtered us last year.
One visit to the Horseshoe (No matter what they've been through, Ohio State is a TOUGH place to play).
One afternoon game in the blazing, Hawaiian sun.
One set of first-time coordinators & head coach.
Phew, you still with me? Thanks for bearing with me through all of that. Now on to this years opponents!
Hawaii (Rainbow) Warriors
Last year, Hawaii went 10-3 with a loss in the Hawaii Bowl to Tulsa. They lost to USC and CU in their non-conference slate, and their only conference loss was to...you guessed it, Boise State. That's not bad at all, but what should have ended as a pretty good season for them, didn't. The loss to Tulsa was disappointing, especially because they graduated three of their top-four receivers, their top two running backs and five contributing offensive linemen off of that explosive offense, not to mention a number of key defenders.
In 2010, they led the NCAA in passing yards per game with nearly 400 per outing, and 10th in points per game, scoring nearly 40 each time they hit the field. They lose a few key contributors, but not the man that led them to all those points and yards, quarterback Bryant Moniz. The Junior is back and I have a feeling he will want to rid himself and the team of the bad taste that Tulsa loss left in their mouths. Not to mention the loss to our Buffs. If you remember, we enjoyed a great, come-from-behind victory. The Warriors, however, feel like they gave up a lead, made mistakes and sputtered down the stretch in that game (but at least they didn't play Kansas...right?).
Last season in the game against us, the Warriors rushed for seven total yards. Yes, just seven. And they lose both RBs that played last year, plus four of the five offensive linemen that started that game (and possibly the fifth if his appeal of an NCAA suspension is denied). They didn't have much success on the ground against, us, but they did as the season went on. Fortunately for CU, they're starting over this year with their running game.
The last time we played them, Moniz threw for an easy 330 yards. Now, I'm going to say something here that might upset some CU fans (and now possibly some Cal fans), but I don't care. Ashley Ambrose was not a very good coach last season. I know people were sorry to see him leave, but I was not. He took a very experienced defensive backfield and squandered it. They regressed under Ambrose. If not for some very good individual play by Jimmy Smith, Jalil Brown and occasionally Anthony Perkins, our numbers would have been even worse. They did not play well as a unit.
I don't see Moniz throwing for quite as many yards this year. Not just because our defensive backs will be playing together better, but that will certainly have something to do with it. I know that everyone is concerned about losing our two starting CBs, but I don't think we're going to be worse than we were against the pass last season. Sure, we might see some more completions on the outside, but I think the middle of the field will be much better defended and help will be there when someone does beat their defender. And if Ray Polk can finally make some strides in his development, I think we might actually be a solid team against the pass this year.
Which brings me back to Hawaii. They return wide receiver Royce Pollard who nabbed 64 passes for 901 yards and a guy they are EXTREMELY excited about in Darius Bright. You'll know him when you see him. Pollard should start on the right side, while the 6'4", 230 lb Bright should start on the left. And yes, I know what you're wondering: Bright is also fast and can jump. He is going to be one of the toughest matchups outside we face all season. Trial by fire, eh? Hawaii places a lot of expectations on their slot-backs as well, so it will be interesting to see who starts the game there for them. Fortunately, the crafty Salas has moved on, which means our nickelbacks won't look completely lost all game.
The Warriors return the leader of their secondary, Strong Safety Richard Torres, which means they will have plenty of veteran leadership in the defensive backfield despite some turnover (much like Anthony Perkins coming back for the Buffs). Not long after the CU game last year, Hawaii went to a nickel defense as their base package. There is a good chance they continue to play the nickel this season, as it served them very well.
The biggest difference on Hawaii's defense, however, should be how they line up in the front seven. They have been trying to get more aggressive, so they are going to use a much less static alignment up front. This begins with the position they call the 'elephant'. It is a hybrid DE/LB spot that is still up for grabs (not because they haven't found anyone, but because they have a few very promising candidates) that will allow Hawaii's defense to make adjustments to take advantages of mismatches along the line of scrimmage. It sounds like their plan this season is to blitz, blitz again and then blitz some more. I have a feeling we're going to know very quickly of any deficiencies in our offensive line this year.
The key for them (and for us) will be how well they are able to stop the run and how well they handle screen passes. If we can establish the ground game and counter their blitzes with the occasional screen or pass out into the flat, we should have no trouble handling the Warriors and their elephant. With both Embree and Bieniemy coming from the NFL, I have a lot of confidence in their ability to do this. That's the name of the game over there in the pros.
This might be the one game of the year where the Buffaloes have an advantage going into it on special teams. The Warriors are starting over with a new kicker, and their coverage units have been terrible of late. They lose one of their best ST weapons in Greg Salas returning punts, and so they figure to be breaking in a lot of new people. I say we have an advantage, because we all know it's impossible for the Buffs to be as bad as they were last season, and we return our specialists (even if they weren't great last year). Again, this will be a nice test for Brookhart's ST units, and if we're going to see a returner break one for a big gain early in the season, this is where it will happen.
Last year we had both Rodney Stewart and Brian Lockridge go for 100 yards on the ground, we had a great half of offensive football (the 2nd half) and our defense held them to the second fewest points they scored all year. We brought solid pressure all game long, and they are starting over on their offensive line, and we prevented a good number of scoring plays even though that was smack dab in the middle of our rash of DB injuries (That was the game that Vigo went down). Hansen was still the starter for this game, so he has faced these guys before, and he played fairly well. We still have a number of players for whom this will be a homecoming. This will be a fun game, and while it won't be easy, I do see this as a CU victory. Instead of tiptoeing around the issue like Hawk, Coach Embree has made overcoming our road losing streak a priority. As scary as it sounds, this 10-win team from a year ago is one of the weakest we play all year. I'm not sure we hold them to less than 300 yards passing, but I do think we'll be able to limit the number of points they score again. And they didn't see much of Paul Richardson last season.
I won't be guessing the score in these previews, leaving that for our week-of posts, but I do think we're going to win this one by at least a couple of touchdowns.