As the Buffs are preparing to face our in-state rivals, the pesky Rams or Colorado State, we too are making preparations. How can one watch the Rocky Mountain Showdown (sponsored by Cinch Jeans played on Sports Authority Field which is located inside the Invesco Stadium...jeez) without knowing what to watch for?!?
Do not fear, my fellow Buffaloes (and any Rammies who know how to wade through the so-called 'inter-web'), for I bring you the key matchups!
-CU's Offensive Line vs. The Run Game
- Yes, we exploded with nearly 600 yards of offense last week, but just about all of it was through the air. Our pass protection was better, but we still could not run the ball effectively. This is the week to get that sorted out. It won't help that we've (officially) lost Jack Harris to a broken bone that may keep him out all season and that David Bakhtiari and Ryan Dannewitz are both dealing with injuries of their own. Dannewitz finished the game after spraining his knee, and Sione Tau was OK stepping in on the right side, but we're ferociously thin at both tackle spots right now. That won't help matters, but it doesn't affect the importance of figuring out how to run the ball!
Follow the jump for the rest of the matchups, plus my world famous guacamole recipe!
-Wide Receivers Not Named P-Rich vs. Picking Up The Slack
- Sure, most of the wideouts that have seen the field have now recorded at least one catch, but that won't cut it. At some point, Richardson is going to have a bad game or will be effectively bottled up by a defense. So far guys have shown up for the occasional play, but we'll need them to truly answer the call and step the heck up. Right now, only 5 WRs have caught passes, with Tyler McCulloch, Toney Clemons, Logan Gray and Kyle Cefalo having a total of nine balls caught between them. And of those guys, McCulloch has 4 receptions while Cefalo has 3, meaning Clemons and Gray each have caught one pass thus far. Yes, it's only been two games, but those two are seniors who have experience in other big-time programs.
- Last week proved that we still don't have it. What is it? Well, it's a lot of things: The ability to close out games, coming up with big plays at pivotal moments, the confidence and ability to impose your will (and gameplan) on the opponent, etc...The Buffs don't have it yet. After last week, they appear to be close, though! They should be confident after seeing how effective their passing game can be, and this week they should be able to address their running woes. If that can happen, I believe they've got a leader in Coach Bieniemy that can help to instill the killer instinct in them. And it really does have to happen this week, because we'll need it next week @ Ohio State.
- Despite the performance of our defense thus far this year and in the past, I still believe we have some very talented players. They have been unable to make plays, though, and for a variety of reasons. One of the biggest culprits in previous seasons was the defensive gameplan and last year, poor coaching (I have a feeling Cal fans will soon feel the way I do about Ashley Ambrose...). One that still seems to plague us has been inconsistent tackling. The worst part is, those not tackling have been some of our best & most athletic players including Parker Orms, Ray Polk, Derrick Webb and more! Guys have been in position to make plays this year, but have been unable to wrap up opposing players. If this can be addressed, our defense can stop the bleeding and force far more 3 & outs.
- We all know Josh Hartigan is our Jack Backer, and he has been backed up admirable by David Goldberg. The other guy outside has been Jon Major, who is playing pretty darn well, though not as well as Doug Rippy inside. There is one more spot, however, that they've yet to truly fill. So far, it has alternately been manned by Derrick Webb and Patrick Mahnke to somewhat uneven results. We all remember Mahnke's inability to bring down the big Cal tight end last week as he rumbled in for a touchdown, and Webb has run himself right out of plays and creating big holes, most recently the one that the big Cal running back hit for a TD late last week. Both of these guys need to improve, but mostly we need one of them (or even someone else) to step up and take that spot on the defense.
- No, I'm not talking about that stupid show, I'm talking about intimidation. There has been the occasional big hit by our defenders in 2011, but that isn't enough. Offenses need to fear them. Zach Maynard, the Cal QB took a couple of hard shots last week, but at no point did he look intimidated by our defense, and that's what allowed him to make that final pass to win the game (that and a blown coverage...). We need to make opposing running backs hesitate in the hole, and QBs to feel pressure when it isn't there. We have the guys on defense to make that happen, but they need to show up and bring the pain. I'm not talking about playing dirty or anything crazy like that. Doug Rippy has made a few plays that are in step with what I'm talking about. I'm talking about driving guys into the ground, hitting the QB just about every time he drops back, running through offensive players and making sure you keep moving your feet when you tackle the guy with the ball. The team we play don't dread stepping on the field with us yet, and we really need them to. We want offenses to be relieved when they have to punt the ball away. Again, this is the week to start truly being physical.