It looked like the Colorado Buffaloes were going to lose their second consecutive game after leading at halftime. That feeling of having a snake bitten year creeped in every fans mind after Todd Reesing capitalized on a few Buff turnovers to bring the Jayhawks back from a 24 - 3 deficit to take the lead 30 - 27. It would have been a fitting ending to a four year career that started with a win against Colorado and would have cemented Reesing as a player that Colorado fans would never forget as a big thorn in their side.
13 minutes left in the game and the Buffs needed to respond, something they hadn't done with any consistency the past four years. Enter sophomore quarterback Tyler Hansen.
CU fans were hoping that Hansen would do his best Reesing like impression, someone he tries to emulate, to lead Colorado to a win. Hansen and the offense responded.
After a five yard false start penalty on TE Riar Geer pushing the Buffs back to the 19 yard line followed by two incomplete passes, it looked like Colorado would fall short once again. On 3rd and 15, Tyler Hansen responded moving within the pocket to find Geer for 29 yards converting the long third down and getting the offensive motor started back up. Reesing has had many third and forever conversions in his collegiate career, maybe the Buffs version of Reesing had a coming out party of his own with that pass. Hansen went on to convert two more third downs, one by air, one by feet that helped the Buffs cap off a 10 play, 76 yard drive with seven points and a 34 - 30 lead.
Not a bad showing for a guy that was used sparingly a year ago in four games and was supposed to redshirt this year after Cody Hawkins was named starter in the fall. Hansen finished 14 - 25, 175 yards threw the air with a touchdown and rushed for 34 yards and another score. He did have one fumble and an interception but the defense held serve, only allowing three points on those two possessions. Rodney Stewart made up for his one fumble rushing for over 100 yards and two scores.
What you won't see in the stats are four things that separated Hansen's performance from the previous games:
1) His ability to buy time was clearly what this offense needed. Hansen showed that he can drop back and throw in a rhythm but he also had the knack to get outside the pocket, buy time and make plays. What I am excited for is when the receiver to quarterback relationships continue to develop with Hansen, those plays when Hansen gets out of the pocket will become even more potent.
2) The offense was much more fluid and seemed like they had a chance to make plays. The previous four weeks, it seemed like the Buffs needed every ounce of energy to gain five yards. Granted, the Kansas defense provides little resistance but the CU offense had plenty of plays that were over 10 yards and were able to get five receivers the ball early in the game. Hansen got WR Markques Simas on a 36 yard fade route early in the game that seemed to add another dimension to this offense. Bottom line, with Hansen at the helm the offense looked less constricted and shedded the cookie cutter scheme that led to only 127 yards a week ago. The Buffs had more rushing yards against Kansas than total yards against Texas.
3) Eric Kiesau's play calling was much improved with Hansen in there. Yes, getting an early lead helped but the Buffs ran the ball 43 times to 25 pass attempts, the ratio we hoped for at the beginning of the year. But you could tell based on the variety of plays Kiesau was able to call, he could dial up a few more things that he hadn't been able to in the past. Quarterback draws, quick hitting long out routes for 7 - 8 yards from the pocket, belly option reads, a well executed screen pass to Darrell Scott, etc. Kiesau's team looked much more comfortable.
4) The defense had to account for 11 players and not 10. Plain and simple, the quarterback made plays and was a threat to make plays all game. Two plays that ended up as drops but could have made highlight reels on ESPN this morning was the two scrambling efforts by Hansen, one dropped by Sumler and the other by Stewart deep down the field. Those plays wouldn't have had any chances to be completed a week ago.
The Buffs did most of their damage in the second quarter scoring 24 points, 14 of which came off two Todd Reesing turnovers forced by the defense. You couldn't have asked for a better defensive performance in the first half from Ron Collins' squad. They allowed ten points to a top five offense in the first 30 minutes of play and really controlled the line of scrimmage. Reesing and Co. got going late in the first half and the third quarter but the Buffs came up big the last two drives of the game when they needed it. The only trouble the Buffs had against Reesing was when they dropped 8 and limited the pass rush, especially the last drive of the first half or when Reesing would improvise, heave one up to Dezmon Briscoe and the All American duo would come up with a miraculous play. Many will be worried about the 431 yards passing but a ton of those yards were just great plays that Briscoe and Reesing made a play on, not long run and catches that plagued the Buffs the first three weeks of the season. That is why Reesing is a Heisman mention and Briscoe, along with Jordan Shipley, should be considered two of the top four receivers in the nation. Kansas needed a few trick plays to dent the Buffs defense as well but in the five big drives that Kansas had, the Buffs only gave up six points. Three turnovers, the Colorado defense responded only allowing six points (two field goals) and shut down the Jayhawks on the last two possessions of the game.
Kansas also did the Colorado Buffaloes a favor, not establishing the running game at all. In an unbelievable stat, the Colorado defense held the Kansas Jayhawks to -8 yards rushing on 22 attempts. Strip out Reesing's negative fourty yards and Jake Sharp still only gained 29 yards on 13 carries. Talk about a turnaround. Through the first four games of the year, Colorado's defense gave up 205 yards a game on the ground. The last two weeks against arguably the two favorites to play in the Big 12 championship: 19 yards per game. That defensive line anchored by three true freshman, Curtis Cunningham and Marquez Herrod have improved greatly.
There are plenty of reasons to also think this offense and defense can get better. Briefly, turnovers and penalties still plague the offense. The Buffs turned the ball over twice deep in their own territory, the defense held but to continue to rattle off wins, you can't lose the turnover battle and expect to emerge victorious. It is the most important comparative statistic in football. Luckily, the Buffs scored 14 points on Kansas turnovers and Kansas only scored 6 points on the three Colorado giveaways.
Also on the offensive side of the ball, the Buffs continue to be one of the most penalized teams in the Big 12. Eight infractions, mostly false starts consistently put the Buffs at a disadvantage. We saw it last week with Nate Solder, this week Riar Geer, who had a solid receiving game including a touchdown, had the issues with the snap count. Those two players are two of the more veteran players on the team. They know they can't have those penalties. Some of the issue might be getting used to a new quarterbacks' cadence. The penalties need to be cut in half.
Darrell Scott is doing a good job returning kick offs, maybe we should give him a shot at punt returns. I get the idea for a sure handed returner back there now with Jason Espinoza but he has not provided the burst and big game potential the Buffs need. He is the complete opposite of Josh Smith last year, being little risk and no reward although last night Espinoza almost muffed the ball himself. I think if Darrell Scott is only getting a few touches on offense, this might be a good spot for him in the future. Espinoza does a great job not fumbling but I would sure like to get more out of the special teams game.
A great win any way you cut it after the past few weeks of the season. It is a whole new ball game in the North with Missouri, Nebraska and Kansas all losing yesterday. Kansas State, the Buffs next opponent, sits on top of the North after dismantling the Texas A&M Aggies 62 - 14. That game now looks to be more competitive than once expected and could have some ramifications come seasons end if both teams can maintain their level of play. Remember Phil Steele predicting Kansas State to finish tied with the Buffs at second in the North? He might not be that far off if both teams play like this for the rest of the season and the other teams in the North continue to struggle. What a difference a playmaking quarterback is!
A few quick hitters I noticed:
-Jimmy Smith had strong support and good physical play in the first quarter. Seems one step slow on a few occasions but extremely talented. Marquez Herrod's sack in the first quarter was a direct result of Jimmy Smith's great coverage on Briscoe in the red zone.
-Forrest West and Nate Bonsu have the potential to be great.
-Kansas never really tried to run the ball, were never committed and it made it easier on the defense.
-Rodney Stewart just hits the hole hard, gets up in there, hardly ever tackled for a loss.
-With protection, I love how Hansen drops back, plants and goes forward with the ball. He works in a good rhythm if he can stand in the pocket and the ball is not late out of his hands.
-Defense is hitting well and tackling well.
-Ben Burney does very well coming up to the line of scrimmage and making tackles. Looks good as a safety.
-First half defense was great, good mix of blitzes and coverage schemes.