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Colorado Buffaloes vs Hawaii Warriors - Keys to the Game

Tennessee Logo

0-0, 0-0
NR (Coaches Poll)

September 3rd, 2011
Colorado Buffaloes vs. Hawaii Warriors
Where: Aloha Stadium - Honolulu, HI
8:15pm MT

Radio: AM 850 KOA
Live Stats: ESPN
Line: Hawaii -6.5
Sunny, 85 degrees at kickoff

Tennessee Logo

0-0, 0-0
NR (Coaches Poll)

Game day is finally here! The Colorado Buffaloes are set to take on the Hawaii Warriors tonight in Jon Embree's first game as CU head coach. A new era is about to start and their is hope that this era will bring the program back to prominence. Embree's words and style have resonated with Colorado fans, brought back hope and even expectations. But Buff fans have heard a lot of talk over the last few years and even Embree would tell you, he won't be judged by his offseasons but what he does on game day Saturdays.

Click after the jump for the keys to the game...

The Buffs opponent, the Hawaii Warriors are coming off a 10-4 2010 season. Hawaii, known for it's prolific offense, did not disappoint last season finishing fifth in the NCAA with over 500 yards per game. Star QB Bryant Moniz returns after throwing for an NCAA leading 5,040 passing yards in '10. It has been well publicized that one of Colorado's unknowns going into the season is at the cornerback position with safety to cornerback convert Travis Sandersfeld and true freshman Greg Henderson being named the starters. The good news for Colorado fans is Hawaii only returns two offensive starters from last season who will play in the game tonight. Hawaii lost six players from 2010 that totaled 5,828 total yards out of 7,009 or 83% of the offense. Top returning wide receiver for UH is Royce Pollard with 901 yards.

The Warriors replace their entire offensive line for a year ago while Colorado returns six defensive linemen with significant experience, especially at the defensive tackle spot. Hawaii also lost two starters in an off-the-field incident in WR Darius Bright and LB Aaron Brown over the last week.

A season ago, Colorado topped Hawaii in Boulder 31-13. Hawaii ran out of gas in the second half and threw away many opportunities to take a 24-0 lead into half time. Hawaii's offense was bad in the redzone scoring only one touchdown in five trips with two of those trips resulting in no points. Colorado was down 10-0 after the first half but then outscored Hawaii 31-3 in the second half to get the win. Colorado held the Hawaii offense to 337 yards, some 170 yards under their season average and only nine yards total on the ground. A similar defensive performance in the second half of last year's game will be needed tonight to beat the Warriors.

Another well publicized fact about the Colorado program is the 18 game road losing streak that Embree inherited from Dan Hawkins. The Buffs are trying to get their first road win since October 27th, 2007 some 1,407 days ago in case you're counting. Embree has not shied away from bringing that fact up when talking to his team and to the media and he wants to get that monkey of this team's back tonight. The last few years, the team was not focused on the road, were not mentally prepared and lacked energy. I don't think the Buffs will have that problem this season under Embree.

Keys to the Game

1) Follow Last Year's Offensive Blue Print

Yes, their was something to take away from last season. A year ago, Colorado ran the ball 52 times for 252 yards. By doing that, they wore out the Hawaii defensive line which allowed CU to score 31 points in the second half. The Colorado killed Hawaii in the time of possession battle with 35:49 compared to 24:11 for Hawaii. That's huge against a Hawaii team who averaged 500 yards a game last season. Colorado also had 20 more plays from scrimmage as well.

If the Buffs can establish a run game, wear down the Hawaii defensive line and most important, keep Hawaii's timing offense off the field and out of rhythm, Colorado will have a great chance to win this game. If CU comes out and has a few consecutive three and outs, watch out for a blow out.

2) Start Fast, Can't Play the Catch-Up Game

The first few drives of the game tonight will be very important. Even though Colorado's road record is no secret to the players, if things start bad, that 18 game losing streak will start creeping in their heads. The Buffs need to get some positive momentum on their side for once on the road, they need the coaching staff to put them in a position to succeed.

Excluding the road record issues, getting behind a powerful Hawaii team early will be a recipe for disaster simply because the Warriors can score points in bunches, especially at home. The Buffs can't match the Warriors punch for punch offensively especially in come from behind fashion.

3) Pass Rush City, Protect the Corners

I have said it all week and it might be the most important "key to the game" - getting to QB Bryant Moniz early and often is very important. Moniz cannot be allowed to sit back in the pocket comfortably against an inexperienced set of cornerbacks.

The Buffs need to get pressure from it's front four/three for tonight to be a win. If the Buffs can't get pressure from the defensive front and have to commit extra blitzing linebackers and safeties, Moniz is experienced enough to pick apart Colorado on short passes. Again, the good news is Hawaii replaces every offensive line starter from a year ago. DE/LB Josh Hartigan and DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe need to have an impact tonight.

One thing to watch early is how aggressive defensive coordinator Greg Brown will be in trying to get to the quarterback. Undoubtedly, Brown will be looking to protect his inexperienced cornerbacks.

Here is a pretty telling stat: In the five games Colorado won in 2010, they totaled 24 sacks, an average of just under five per game. In the seven they lost, the defense only had 10 combined sacks, just over one per game.

4) Turnovers, Special Teams and Penalties

When the Buffs lost in the Dan Hawkins era, usually you could attribute it to too many turnovers, bone head penalties and poor special teams play. Colorado was 85th in the NCAA averaging 6.6 penalties per game a year ago and 55th in turnover margin. These things have been a focus of Embree's all offseason, it needs to pay off tonight.

5) QB Tyler Hansen

Hansen needs to answer the call today. He has a great opportunity to lead his team to a strong season if he can put it all together. On the road, their will be times when things are tough, when it looks like the game is getting away. Colorado will face that tonight. Hansen needs to be the team leader and raise his team's level of play. This team will go the way Hansen goes. Tomorrow morning, we need to be able to point to Tyler Hansen's play as a reason Colorado won the game, something we haven't had from the quarterback position consistently in the past.