Usually, we take the approach of discussing the keys to the game but today, the Colorado Buffaloes have to answer. Questions immediately start to swirl when the Buffs leave the state to play on the road. And they aren't necessarily football questions but questions about the makeup of this team. It is time for the Buffs to take the first step and answer those questions about their mentality, their toughness and their dedication to football. Today, a road win against a 5 - 5 Iowa State team in Ames where the Buffs have lost the last two games in heartbreak fashion would be a first step in the right direction.
1) Who is the player(s) in that locker room who will step up and lead today?
It has become clear that the coaching staff has not been able to motivate and prepare this team on the road. It is now time for the players or a player to lead this team and to me, the best leader in this situation is one who gets it going on the field. The Buffs need their big three - Tyler Hansen, Markques Simas or Rodney Stewart - to get things established early and lead the way.
The Buffs also need players to emerge as team leaders and get everyone focused before the game. No more excuses about energy today. No more excuses about not being ready on the road. Someone needs to step up and fix it.
2) Has the Offensive Line taken the criticism to heart and plays with a fire today?
Cut the sack total anyway you want, whether you think it is the running backs' fault or the quarterback's fault, the first line of defense is the offensive line. If they have pride today, they will take that blame, not divide it up among anyone else and play their best game of the year. They need to attack an undersized defensive line and establish dominance on the first snap of the game. Again, watch the first series, is Iowa State getting a push or are the Buffs getting after it up front. We will know very early if this unit is playing with motivation today.
To help the offensive line, the Buffs need to challenge the middle of the field where the linebackers reside. Using the tight end Riar Geer early will soften linebackers and take the multiple looks away from the Cyclones. Challenge the heart of the defense all day long.
3) How tough is the Colorado Buffalo defense?
Iowa State isn't flashy on offense, they aren't a big play team. What they are is a team with a good offensive line who has one of the better running games in the Big 12 while protecting the quarterback extremely well. They try to play "pound it" football while limiting mistakes. Can the Buffs answer the call up front against an Iowa State team who wants to run the ball? If Colorado can styme the running game and get pressure on Austen Arnaud when he passes, he has shown the propensity to turn the ball over and has been less than efficient this year.
It really is a game where the team who plays the best in the trenches should win. Are the Buffs's physically up to the challenge?
4) Are the Buffs focused enough to limit the mental mistakes?
The issues with special teams play, turnovers and piling up penalties have been well publicized this year. On the road, Colorado has averaged 10.5 penalties a game. The Buffs are 117th in the nation in penalties this year. Colorado is minus-4 on the road this year in turnover margin. At Austin, Colorado gave up 21 non defensive points (two special teams touchdowns and one interception for a score) while committing 20 penalties. At Morgantown, the Buffs' defense forced four turnovers, only for the Buffaloes' offense to give West Virginia the ball back three times. They also missed three field goals in that game. Against Toledo, Colorado turned the ball over four times and missed a field goal. In Manhattan, the Buffs missed an extra point and turned the ball over four times.
Simply put, the issues on the road are easily defined by turnovers, poor special teams play and an abundance of penalties.
5) Do the coaches feel the urgency of winning on the road and come out with one of their best game plans in the past four years?
I don't think much commentary is needed. Backs are against the wall, how will coaches prepare this team for a very winnable road game? Do they resort back to the past or is a change made today?