What a night! If CU fans had to once again put up with too much of the color red staining Folsom Field and marring a blackout night, at least the Colorado Buffaloes drained the color of its irritating brightness with a big win over the Georgia Bulldogs of the overhyped SEC. Spurred on generally by the emotion of the National Championship 20th Anniversary Weekend, and specifically by an emotional speech from that team's Eric Bieinemy on Friday, the Buffs vanquished their foes with vastly-improved games from their offense and defense. CU overcame a One Dog Night from A.J. Green to hang on to their best win so far this season by increasing sacks and forced turnovers and decreasing penalties, mistakes and first-half sluggishness. Coaches and players alike are to be commended for a superb game-plan executed nearly to perfection by a fired-up, focused and unified CU team.
The questions now become whether the confidence gained in playing six quarters of excellent football can be carried over into Big XII play, and whether the focus and fire that now seems to come so easily at home can be summoned on the road. Perhaps confidence combined with a little bit of vengeance can not only keep the Buffaloes from being led to slaughter, but can actually lead them to victory. Opening Big XII play for the fifth year in a row against a ranked team, CU must show that they have improved in every phase of the game in order to overcome recent history and beat Mizzou.
1. We're still rushing! For the second game in a row, CU had more than 200 yards rushing. After watching Brian Lockridge start in his place, Rodney Stewart made the best of his time off the bench by getting his tenth 100-yard game. Tyler Hansen's legs joined the party in a big way with 65 rushing yards, including a crucial quarterback draw for 39 yards on the first drive of the game and a heady dive into the end zone in the key 3rd quarter. All of this was accomplished against a Georgia defense ranked as one of the best in the country against the run before the game. CU's offensive line wouldn't take no for an answer and opened huge holes throughout the game. Speedy's 65-yard run in the third quarter not only was the longest of his career, but was the longest running play of the Hawkins era. By emphasizing the run and imposing the will of CU's huge offensive line on their opponents, CU has found success.
2. CU Defensive Firsts: The Buff defense seemed to regain much of their swagger in this game. After going without any in their first three games, the defense forced two fumbles, one of which decided the outcome of the game. They sacked the Georgia QB 3 times, with Josh Hartigan's quick moves enabling him to get two of the three. And despite being victimized for 2 TDs by the amazing A.J. Green, Jalil Brown grabbed the Buffs' only interception of the night, with a catch in the end zone just about as amazing as Green's that prevented a Georgia score. (Incidentally, Green's one-handed catch, amazing as it was, was aided by an obvious elevating push-off with both hands on Brown's shoulder.) It was all capped off by B.J. Beatty's tremendous and timely rush into the Georgia backfield, forcing a fumble recovered by the ever-alert Jon Major, heads-up play by two fantastically aggressive CU linebackers who stepped up when the Buffs needed it the most.
3. Tyler Hansen shows he's the real deal. Hansen matured before our eyes on Saturday, and he will only get better. #9 did his best Colt McCoy imitation, eluding a talented defensive rush, knowing when to throw and when to run. His passes were perfectly placed nearly every time, his timely runs gained first downs or TD whenever they were needed, and his pitches to Speedy Stewart were perfect. He seemed totally in command every time he stepped on the field, exuding a contagious confidence that inspired the offense. He also apparently refused to tolerate mistakes, as the offense committed no penalties the entire game. Really. No, I'm serious. Medic! CU Fan has just gone into cardiac arrest due to extreme shock!
(See MYTHS & FIXES after the break.)
1. CU was fortunate to escape with a win. Wrong! Fortune had nothing to do with it. If anything, it was Georgia who was fortunate that the game was that close. Their one turnover came from an interception that resulted when Ryan Deehan stuck a hand out at a pass which bounced right into the Georgia defender's hands. They could have given up another fumble forced by Hartigan except that the ball bounced right back to QB Aaron Murray. The side judges didn't bother to watch the sidelines all day or they would have noticed that Green stepped out of bounds after gaining only 11 of the 40 yards he was credited with on that 2nd quarter reverse, and that Branden Smith also stepped out of bounds after nine yards of his 36-yard punt return later in the same quarter. The refs not only ignored Green's previously-mentioned push-off, but they completely blew the call on the 20-yard "incompletion" to Paul Richardson at the Georgia 1-yard line in the 3rd quarter. Given that Richardson maintained control of the ball while both feet hit the ground and while being hit by the defender, and that he didn't relinquish the ball until the ball hit the ground, there were only two possible calls: completion or fumble. That one didn't hurt the Buffs as they scored two plays later, but the officials also missed two facemask grabs on two CU running backs by Bulldog defenders.
2. CU has turned the corner. No, still not yet. They are most of the way around that corner, but remember CU's achilles heel during the Hawkins era: road games. First, they've won only two of them since 2006. Second, they've never won a Big XII North game on the road while Hawkins has been their coach. Third, Mizzou has beaten CU four times in a row, and none of them were close. The margins were 15, 45, 58 & 19. Finally, we know the results of the only road game so far this season. Until CU wins any game on the road, and until it can show that it can actually vie for the North Division title by beating some of their North brethren, they can't be said to have turned the corner.
3. CU has no chance against Missouri. No, that's not right either. Most of the Tiger teams that had their way with the Buffs featured the likes of Chase Daniel, Kerry Maier, Jeremy Maclin & Derrick Washington, among others. The 2010 edition is a very different team, though still highly-talented. More importantly, the Buffaloes are an entirely different team. Personnel-wise, they now have the receivers they need to produce a successful air game, and they now have some continuity on an offensive line that finally seems to have gelled. Mentally, they have a full grasp of the systems in which they are playing on both sides of the ball, and they seem to have learned some lessons about maintaining focus. Emotionally, they have displayed that confidence and fire that all teams look for but only a few really find, thanks in part to their exposure to a group of hard-nosed champions from twenty years ago. They are in position to take that next step, but this time they must do it on the road.
1. Keep doing what you're doing right. Keep rushing the ball. Keep throwing downfield. Keep throwing in surprises. Keep sacking and taking the ball away. And most of all, continue to focus on avoiding mistakes. There can be no relapse into bad old ways. While I don't expect only three penalties on the road, they must try to stay at or below six, and they must avoid more than one turnover. It is especially important that the O-Line avoid costly penalties, as their penalties have been the real drive killers.
2. Special Teams has GOT to improve. There were many times last Saturday when CU fans at the game verbally expressed a desire to look away every time the CU special teams were on the field. Any kind of kick coverage was spotty at best. Both Brande/ons for Missouri were killing us, Branden Smith on punt returns and Brandon Boykin on kickoff returns. Each had an identical 36-yard average on returns for the day, with Boykin's 72-yard return in the first quarter setting the stage. Zach Grossnickle was outkicked by Mizzou's Drew Butler, averaging only 40.5 yards per punt. Aric Goodman only kicked two touchbacks out of five kickoffs in his home stadium, and missed the only field goal attempt that counted. The only good play was the two-pointer, and I still question the wisdom of that one given the eventual two-point margin of victory. And whatever happened to those blocked kicks that seemed to happen every day in fall practice. I'm glad to see them gone when we're kicking, but can't we get some kind of blocks when we're receiving? It's time for some Buffs to step up and do something special on special teams, and this is the game we need it in.
3. It's Payback Time. Going into Columbia, the Buffaloes have so many monkeys on their back, they must feel like they need their own section at the zoo. Can't win a road game. Can't beat a Big XII North team in that team's backyard. Can't even keep a Missouri game close. They're also getting some new breeds of animal back there, too: the native Missourian Backbiters and Potshotters, probably escaped from the Ozarks. The Backbiters have been around for 20 years, complaining that CU didn't deserve a win or any championships because of the infamous 5th Down. They don't explain how that was CU's fault, they just complain. At least one of the Potshotters has taken up residence in the Governor's mansion in Missouri, claiming that Colorado is just dragging the Big XII down, and that the Big XII will be better off without Colorado. If all of that abuse isn't enough, keep in mind what the motto of the state of Missouri is: the "Show Me State." Ok, Buffaloes, haven't we put up with Mizzou for long enough? Without losing your focus, it is time to wreak some vengeance. Let's just shake the whole menagerie off all at once. If you can do this to Missouri, then things really have changed, and you will have turned the corner. It's time to show the Tigers who the REAL Black and Gold is. IT IS ON! SMASH MIZZOU IN THE MOUTH AND DON'T STOP!! GO BUFFS!!!