CU beats Texas! For two-and-a-half quarters, the chances were looking pretty good that we'd be reading just such a headline in the paper the next day. 1st Half Score: CU 14, Texas 10. 2nd Half Points: CU 0, Texas 28. Thanks to two seriously self-destructive units for the Buffs, the dream was not to be. The first-half win was offset by a big second-half loss. A mostly terrific effort by the defense was offset by mostly terrible efforts by the offense and special teams.
Clearly, such half-full/half-empty games were meant for this column. And now we're left with the biggest win/lose scenario of last Saturday's game and perhaps of the season: the switch at quarterback from Cody Hawkins to Tyler Hansen. What can we take from all that the CU-UT game has to offer? There's definitely some Gold(& Black) to be mined from that vein.
1) The CU Defense Shut Down Colt McCoy & the Horns - It's old news already that 21 of the Longhorns' 38 points came from long returns off of CU offensive and special teams blunders. What may be hard to believe is that CU's defense came within a few seconds of holding the vaunted Texas offense to no TDs until junktime with about six minutes left in the game. Jordan Shipley was a thorn in the Buffs' collective side all game, and never more than when he made a double move on Jalil Brown to catch a touchdown pass from McCoy with 0:46 left in the first half. While holding the UT offense to 17 points, Colorado became the only team so far this season to hold McCoy & the Longhorns to under 400 yards in total offense, & were 14 lost yards away from holding them under 300 yards. If CU finds a way to stop that half-ending Texas TD, the momentum might have carried CU not only into a happier locker room but maybe into a much better half of football. Still, this loss was not on the defense in any way, shape or form. Not when the offense ends up with 127 total yards in the game. Hopefully, the team as a whole can build on what the defense accomplished against one of the very best teams in the country.
2) Scott/Lockridge 1-2 punch on Kickoffs - In what was the only bright spot for special teams, the kickoff return unit continued to excel. Between a healthy Darrell Scott's 3 returns and Brian Lockridge's one, they averaged over 30 yards per kickoff. Keep those two back there on kickoffs and they'll break one sooner rather than later. Doesn't it make you wonder what they could do as a 1-2 punch in the backfield?
3) Michael Sipili at Linebacker - It was good to see Sipili back there again. He's a hard hitter and can be quick to the ball when he's on his game. His 4 tackles and two assists contributed to a great effort by the Buff defense. Seeing Sipili as well as the youngsters Kasa, West and Bonsu gives you a good idea as to just how deep in talent Colorado has become. The good news is that the depth and talent is starting to show up and execute on the field.
1) Texas Out-Talented Colorado - Everyone knows the state of Texas is full of football talent. The state is huge, is favored with good weather most days of the year, and loves football like no other. Their high-school games are better-attended than most college games in the rest of the country. The big school in Austin gets the cream of the crop from the Yellow Rose State. But there is plenty of Texas talent to go around, and plenty of equivalent talent in the rest of the country. The fact is that Colorado's athletes on defense made UT's great athletes look pretty ordinary on Saturday, such that the Longhorn offense outscored a Buffalo offense hampered by poor play in both the rushing and passing game by only a 17-14 margin. The Buffs lost because of one poor pass on offense and poor execution on two plays by the special teams. They also lost because one Texas player, Jordan Shipley, stepped up twice to score touchdowns on offense and special teams. He showed that one player can make a difference. If Shipley doesn't step up like he did, and(even with all of the other mistakes made by CU) one third-quarter pass produces a TD by CU instead of a "pick six" by Texas, the Buffs win 21-17. Texas didn't win with superior talent; they won with better execution and because one player (though he was not the only one) in particular stepped up big time.
2) Cody Hawkins Was The Main Reason For CU's Failures - CU's starting QB has not performed up to expectations this year. His accuracy was supposed to be one of his strengths, but a 50% completion rate and a 1-1 ratio of TDs to interceptions show it to be a weakness instead. The Pick Six thrown in the Texas game was the last straw. Nevertheless, a meager rushing attack and a failure to get wide receivers not named McKnight more involved in the passing game have just as much to do with the offense's failure as their quarterback does. Ultimately, I still have to point the finger at Hawkins, only I don't mean Cody. Ten penalties in a game is considered a mediocre job. When a team sets the school record for number of penalties at the astronomical figure of 20 and has the most yards in penalties in 50+ years, it's inexcusable, and such a failure should be laid at the feet of the coaches. If Dan Hawkins loses his job someday soon, he can look back, ironically, to this Texas game, where his team achieved something seemingly impossible - getting more yards assessed against them in penalties than they gained in total offense - as the place where the wheels fell off the wagon for him.
3) New Starting Quarterback Tyler Hansen Will Solve the Offense's Problems With His Performance - I expect that Hansen will perform well against Kansas, with a higher completion percentage than we've seen this year and some important yards gained on the ground. Such a performance will not save the CU offense. What might save the offense is Hansen's inspiration. The offense gets to start over, and with better focus and execution, they may be able to put the four losses behind them. The offensive coaxhes also get to start over, and with a fresh approach that takes advantage of Hansen's skills, they might be able to turn things around. It will take a total team effort, not a new quarterback, to right the ship that is the CU offense.
1) Tough Love - The penalties have to stop, and if that means practicing the offenders until their butts are dragging, then just do it. I'd like to see the coaches of the unit that commits the most penalties in a game running wind sprints with that unit's players. Then maybe they'd figure out a way to get the players to focus more during a game. The coaches need to drill into the players that stupid mistakes, as opposed to mistakes coming as a result of appropriately aggressive play, will not be tolerated. The other part of tough love is for Coaches Hawkins and Kiesau to stick to their guns by benching Cody and playing only Hansen(barring injury or complete disaster) at QB. The comments Hawkins made about Cody staying involved have been taken somewhat out of context this week, and I'm relatively convinced that there is no plan to alternate quarterbacks during a game. Coaches H & K need to make certain there is no such plan. Hansen needs to be given the chance to get into a rhythm and give the rest of the offense a chance to adjust to him. It may hurt to keep their son(actually, "like-a-son", in Kiesau's case) off of the field, but the two coaches could lose the trust not only of their quarterback but of the entire team if they don't give Hansen a full chance by playing him the rest of the season. After all, they said he earned that chance.
2) Get the Bloody Running Game Going! - We're all tired of having to say the same thing week after week. Where's the smashmouth football? Where's the running game? If the offensive coaches can't find it in an offense led by a QB who has the legs to be a serious ground threat and the arm to open up the defense, then they probably can't find much with both hands. With the combined rushing talent we will have available in the backfield, what an opportunity! We all know from the scoring sprees last year that the Big XII is chock full of porous defenses, and CU's next opponent is a Rock-Chock example. Kansas allowed Iowa State, generally acknowledged as the worst team in the league, to gain 512 total yards against them, 219 of them on the ground. The Jayhawks have beaten the Buffs three years in a row. It's time for CU's offensive line to shove them all the way back to Lawrence without another win.
3) Give the Special Teams a Swift Kick - While special teams alone didn't cost CU the game, they came close. Except for the kickoff return team, they all need a quick kick in the pants. Speed up the actual punt, and maybe bring some challengers into the competition. I can think of one CU punter in particular that might make the opponent's punt return team a little indecisive if he's "back" there. How about giving someone else a chance to return punts the way the kick return team is doing it. I can't say I'm whole-heartedly for a switch, as I like Jason Espinosa's dependable hands, but we need a threat back there that can take it to the house the way Shipley did. We already have two swift kick returners; how about a swift punt returner?
4) Keep It Up, Defense! - CU has played Kansas close the last two years. With a little bit better offensive effort in 2007, CU would have won that game in Boulder, because the CU defense shut down a potent KU offense for the most part, holding them to 19 points. If the defense can build on a great foundation laid in Austin, then perhaps the offense and special teams can build on a solid Buffs defense. If every Buff steps up and plays a focused, steady, aggressive game, one or two players will rise up and make a huge, positive difference in the outcome. Perhaps it will be a new starting quarterback, maybe a seldom-used running back. Octobertest continues, but maybe this time with a fresh #2 pencil. GO BUFFS!!! ROCK THE JAYHAWKS!!!