It is always hard to start these stories after a loss and for the last few years, their have been many more losses than wins unfortunately. This one is particularly difficult. So I am just going to start it generically.
Behind the feet of QB Bryant Moniz, the Hawaii Warriors upended the Colorado Buffaloes 34-17 in Aloha Stadium. Moniz rushed for a career-high 121 yards and three touchdowns. Last season, Moniz ran for only 102 yards total so expecting the Hawaii quarterback to beat the Buffs with his feet was, well, unexpected. It was a surprising performance for Moniz, who last year surpassed 5,000 yards passing. Moniz was average throwing the ball Saturday, going 20 of 33 for just 178 yards, close to 200 yards below his average last season.
From my perspective, I thought the Colorado defense played relatively well. If you would have told me beforehand that CU would hold Bryant Moniz to 178 yards passing, sack him five times, cause a turnover and hold the Hawaii running backs to 46 yards on 16 carries, less than three yards per touch, I would have said the Buffs win by two scores.
Colorado could have adjusted a little better to stop Moniz as well as made a few tackles that the quarterback ran through but it is apparent this defense needs some more speed to not allow a quarterback to run 57 yards for touchdowns, especially one not known for his running ability. Colorado was aggressive on defense and it paid off except for when Moniz tucked it and ran.
The inexperienced cornerbacks - Greg Henderson, Travis Sandersfeld, Parker Orms and Deji Olatoye - more than held their own against Hawaii, a positive that should be taken away from this game. Other players who impressed were DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe, who had 1.5 sacks as well as a forced fumble, DE Josh Hartigan, who had a sack and LB Doug Rippy, who looked like the fastest Buff on the defensive side of the ball.
Now to the offense. In the pre-game "Keys to the Game," I highlighted three things the offense needed to do to win
First off, the Buffs couldn't start slow, they had to move the ball and keep Hawaii's offense of the field to avoid playing from behind. The Buffs offense was horrific in the first half. Five possession, five punts with three three-and-outs. They fumbled quarterback-center exchanges, went 1-6 on third down and only crossed mid-field once.
Hawaii jumped to a 17-0 at intermission and the Buffs couldn't catch up.
Second, last year Colorado established a powerful running game that wore out the Warriors in Boulder. Colorado ran the ball 52 times for 252 yards in 2010. They dominated the time of possession and ran more plays than Hawaii. Saturday night, Colorado had 52 yards at halftime and when it was all said and done, they had 78 yards gained, 17 net when you include the seven quarterbacks sacks allowed. All offseason, the offensive game plan was to bring back power football to Boulder, establish the run and control the tempo of the game. Honestly, the Buffs failed miserably to do so in game one.
Which brings us to the offensive line play. I don't know if offensive line coach Steve Marshall will be doing grades like former offensive line coaches did in year's past but if he does, I would be surprised to see any Buff lineman grading high. As we stated above, the Buffs had 17 net rushing yards, allowed seven sacks, punted the ball on the first five possessions and totaled just 240 offensive yards. To put that in perspective, Colorado's worst offensive performance last year under Dan Hawkins was 241 yards. Colorado's worst rushing performance was against Texas Tech where they finished with 28 net yards. 240 total offensive and 17 net rushing yards would have been season lows a year ago. Hawaii isn't exactly a world beater on defense either. They finished 51st in the NCAA last season in total defense and lost one of their top linebackers before the game due to suspension. Hawaii had one game a year ago where they sacked the quarterback seven times or more and that was against lowly San Jose State.
Colorado's inability to run the ball on first down put the offense behind the eight ball all game. CU attempted to run 12 times on first down and only totaled 13 yards, just 1.1 yards per carry. Second and long led to third and long. Colorado finished the game 2 of 12 on third down with ten of the those third downs being longer than six yards for a first down. Colorado was 0 for 10 when it was third and six-plus yards. The Buffs closed the gap to 24-17 with 14:51 left in the fourth quarter after a strong third quarter where CU emerged from the locker room to gain an impressive 157 yards. But after that, Colorado totaled negative 17 yards of offense in the fourth quarter including a turnover.
The loss of LT David Bakhtiari to an undisclosed knee injury was big for the Buffs. With Ryan Dannewitz replacing Bakhtiari, Jack Harris at right tackle and the combination of Daniel Munyer/Gus Handler at center, the Buffs had a lot of inexperience on offensive line and it showed. Tyler Hansen was pressured from all angles and had little time to get comfortable in the pocket. Similar to year's past, it felt like Colorado operated in a 5 yard by 5 yard box with limited stretch to the offense. That is always going to be the case when you can't run the ball and aren't protecting the quarterback.
Where do we go from here? First and foremost, offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and offensive line coach Steve Marshall have to get the front guys playing better for this season to have any success. Then Bieniemy has to find some set of plays and players to put some fear into the defense. Opposing defenses aren't worried about the Buffs beating them deep. It was difficult to evaluate Tyler Hansen's play last night with the seven sacks, ten tackles for loss and three additional quarterback hits.
It was apparent, though, that unless they get Rodney Stewart some room to run and target Paul Richardson double what they did against Hawaii, we can expect more sub-300 yard offensive performances in the future.
As Buff fans, we knew 2011 was potentially going to be a difficult season. Colorado has a brutal schedule both out and in conference. New coaching staff transitions always have their growing pains especially given the lack of success from the prior regime. We all expected the Embree debut to be better than it was and I am sure the staff did as well. It's still very early and now we know that patience will be need to get this thing turned around. Keep the faith, I believe their are brighter days ahead.
What is important now is that the Buffs show game over game improvement, something we didn't see over the last five years.