Sorry for the delay, folks.
Since Hawkins arrival, we have had more trouble with Missouri than all of the other teams we've faced. All of them. Is there a chance for a little retribution tomorrow? One can only hope, because I really don't want to lose to them again. Or at the very least, I want the game to be competitive. And I feel like we definitely have a chance. I know they have looked good this season, but I believe our strengths match up well with their weaknesses, as you'll see after the jump:
**Also, I've got the perfect post-game activity, win or lose. The Haunted House is up and running and it is pretty good. If you're in town for the game (or you live in the area), the Ralphie Report discount is still active through this weekend.
On paper, Missouri looks really good. They have pretty impressive stats thus far (a big reason for their appearance in the Nat'l Rankings). Whether we win or not, their stats will definitely fall after this game.
It starts with Blaine Gabbert, who is playing as well as any QB in the conference. They protect him very well, and I'm not sure we will be able to get pressure on him. Josh Hartigan will have to step up and have another big game, and it wouldn't hurt if Nick Kasa or Marquez Herrod got in the QBs face as well. I do think we will be able to slow their running game, so it will fall on our pass defense to keep Missouri from moving the ball.
Speaking of the running game, anyone remember Derrick Washington? Well...that's a silly question, but a quartet of competent runners are doing their best to make everyone forget about him. They won't have the success against us that they've had in their last four games, but they are all very solid. Our run defense needs to play like it did in the first quarter against Georgia for the whole game. They should be able to. Ray Polk had been playing fairly well til last week, and I expect him to take a leap forward in play tomorrow. He is a competitor, and I think he's working his butt off to bounce back from the Georgia game.
The one area where Missouri does miss Washington is in the passing game. Our linebackers should look pretty good tomorrow because they won't have to spend much time covering backs out in the flats and down the field on routes. It may mean more blitzing from us to get some added pressure on Gabbart.
Matchups on the outside are what will make or break our Defense in this game. Fortunately, Missouri targets T.J. Moe and Michael Egnew most of the time. Moe is good, but he's still new to the WR position and he's the least threatening of all of the leading Missouri receivers we've faced over the last few years. He isn't a deep threat, which means we can give a little extra attention to Egnew. We have had serious problems covering Missouri tight ends recently. Again, Egnew is no Rucker or Coffman, but he can still make plays. I do think we finally will have the advantage in covering the Missouri Receivers tomorrow.
Matchups I'm watching:
-The Missouri RBs have had success running inside against teams this season. We need to stop this to have a chance at slowing down their offense. These guys have played better every game this season, and they performed well against a big offensive line last week. I think they continue to up their game tomorrow.
Jalil Brown vs. Confidence
-Contrary to popular belief, he didn't play that badly last week. Yes, A.J. Green burned him a couple of times, but Green will do that to every other CB he plays this season (besides Jimmy Smith, that is). Brown needs to make a play early in the game to retain his confidence; otherwise that side of the field is going to see quite a few plays made by Missouri.
Whole Defense vs. Missouri's 1st Quarter Offense
-So far, Missouri is outscoring opponents 45-10 or something in the opening quarter. We need to get stops early, just like we did against Georgia, while not falling apart in the second quarter like we did against Georgia. Much of that was on Green being phenomenal, and Missouri doesn't have anyone of that caliber, but we still can't afford to get too far behind them early.
We will be facing a defense that is missing its best player in Aldon Smith. That certainly doesn't hurt. Besides Smith, they've got a bunch of athletes, but nobody is sticking out. There certainly is no Sean Weatherspoon on this defense. Carl Gettis has played well at times, but he still isn't the guy that everybody thought he would be a couple of years ago.
We can run on them. If we come out playing like we have in the last 6 (or 5 of the last 6) quarters, we can run the ball on Missouri. Their defensive line (especially if it's missing Smith) is susceptible to the run, and I think our line is starting to figure out how to block out in space. If Stewart and Lockridge can both have good games, our offense will be able to move the ball against Missouri.
Additionally, if both of those guys can pass-block like they did against Georgia (I didn't do my Upon Second Viewing, but if I had, I would've commented on how GREAT Lockridge was picking up blitzing Bulldogs. Huge improvement for him) our offense won't be as predictable as it has been the last few years.
I'll probably say this a lot, but our coaches are not doing a very good job of getting our tight ends involved in the passing game. DaVaughn Thornton has been out there for a few plays each game. Have you seen him? I only see it when I go back and watch the game again. It's because they don't send him out on routes. Thornton has been kept in to block on every play he's been out there. I think they finally let him loose now that we're into conference play. He is easily our fastest and most athletic tight end. We need to start using that to our advantage.
Down the field, I think we make some plays. If Missouri wasn't already thinking about Tyler Hansen's scrambling abilities, the Georgia film will have reminded them about his feet. The difference this year, is that Hansen keeps his head up when he starts to escape pressure which means he can still make passes after leaving the pocket.
Now I have to toot my own horn here a little bit. In my last game preview, I called the focus on getting the ball out to the running backs in the flats and out wide. Missouri will have noticed that, so hopefully we take advantage of whatever they do to counter that. I think we see passes to Toney Clemons and Paul Richardson over the middle of the field when we do pass the ball early. (Since I've bragged a little, you need to remember this so you can make fun of me when we don't attempt a single pass over the middle tomorrow)
Matchups I'm watching:
CU Tight Ends vs. Everyone and everything
-So far, our tight ends have been less than stellar. Ryan Deehan had a good day receiving against Hawaii picking up first downs, but overall their performances have been average. Our best blocking tight end so far in my opinion? DaVaughn Thornton. He's made it in for a couple of plays in each game, and they've kept him in to block every time, and he's done a MUCH better job than Deehan or Luke Walters. That's not a very good sign, considering Thornton still looks to be about 225 lbs while those other guys are bigger, and yet he sustains his blocks better than the other guys. If Deehan and Walters (or Thornton if they let him onto the field more) can step their game up blocking, we should be able to hit 200 rushing yards in every game this season. Right now we're doing in spite of them.
Offensive Line vs. Too much ‘Candy'
-Missouri calls its All-Defensive-End Line its ‘Candy' formation. We run this all the time, so it's not special to us, but it is for them. They are smaller, but they've found success rushing the passer from that formation. If we can keep all of their DEs off of Hansen in this formation, they'll be forced to blitz and their coverage will be easier to break down. I don't think our line will be too flummoxed by this formation, because they practice against lines made up entirely of DEs every day. We send guys like Hartigan, Forrest West and Herrod inside all of the time.
Hansen vs. Third Downs
-We've been pretty good on 3rd down so far this season. Much of that has been Hansen's scrambling ability. At some point, teams are going to keep someone in to spy him and prevent his big open field runs. We need to continue to be good on 3rd downs because our offense still hasn't shown the ability to gain tons of yards on first down consistently. We got into a rhythm at times against Georgia, but ‘at times' won't cut it.
The biggest question is: Which CU team shows up tomorrow? Is it the team that scored some points against a pretty pitiful CSU team and then got blown out by a middle-of-the-pack Pac 10 team, or is it the team that came from behind against an explosive Hawaii offense and then beat a Georgia team that had the best WR in College Football back for the first time in their season? Because those are two very different CU teams.
We also know that our team tends to not show up early on the road. This needs to change. We can only hope the Cal game was embarrassing enough that they won't allow it to happen again. And we can only hope the performance against Georgia wasn't solely because of the presence of the 1990 Nat'l Championship Team.
These guys have to get themselves up for this game. They can't rely on a home crowd, the coaches or former Buff greats to do it for them. That's what Eric Bienemy told them before the Georgia game. Hopefully that sticks with them. We need it. If we go on the road and lose again, I think this team is too fragile to show up on the road ever again this season. If we don't show up against Missouri, I think we then lose to Kansas too.
But fortunately, I'm predicting a win for the Buffs! I was actually pretty darn close to predicting the score correctly last week, which means I will probably be way off this week. But nevertheless, I say Buffs take this one by staying dedicated to the run and limiting Missouri's big plays. CU now knows that they're capable of getting an early lead, and I think they do just that. Buffs win 33-27.
*Yes, I have conveniently not talked about our miserable special teams performances. I have simply accepted that to win games, we will have to overcome our opponents and our own special teams, so all of this is in spite of the big plays our special teams will inevitably allow.