The Colorado Buffaloes are trying to get over a tough loss to UCLA by welcoming a Top Ten team in the Stanford Cardinal. To find out more about the Cardinal we sat down with the Stanford blog, Rule of Tree. You can see our answers to his questions here.
Christian McCaffrey is absolutely tearing it up in Palo Alto, and while he didn’t really shock anybody by picking Stanford, many Colorado natives sorely wish he stayed home. How important is he to the offense and how, if at all, can CU hope to stop him?
McCaffrey truly is a game-changing player. He's incredibly important to the offense whether or not he's putting up gaudy numbers, as defenses must pay special attention to him at all times. CU can definitely stop McCaffrey if they focus in on him like WSU did on Halloween. That said, he can be just as valuable as a decoy, opening up different methods for Stanford to score should defenses key in on him. WSU was successful against McCaffrey by stuffing the box and selling out against the run. As we saw, Stanford (eventually) adjusted and Kevin Hogan was able to break off some long runs while everyone focused on McCaffrey. I'm sure this will be a lesson to Colorado's coaching staff who will design a game plan to prevent McCaffrey from running wild but also won't leave the backside wide open like WSU did. Stanford will have to throw the ball more, and their success in this department will largely be dictated by McCaffrey's presence.
Stanford’s defense lost a lot of starters heading into the year, and they don’t have the gaudy numbers of old. How is David Shaw dealing with new players and are some cracks starting to show in the foundation? How do the Buffs put on points against this unit?
There has definitely been a dropoff after losing 9 starters a year ago. It is still an incredibly talented unit, but the team is young in spots and shallow in others. On the defensive line, there are essentially three players taking the majority of the snaps. They are all very talented but it hasn't quite come together yet, standing at 93rd in the nation with a mere 13 sacks. They're solid at stopping the run, but still require the backers close attention to avoid big gains and due to the lack of depth, get tired as the game wears on. The secondary is very talented but young in places, leading to some big gains due to miscommunications and broken coverages. The Buffs can put up points if they keep a clean pocket and force Stanford to put guys in the box against the run and thereby forcing single coverage on the outside. It'll also be important for the Buffs to keep the score close. As Stanford has gained big leads, opponents haven't been able to run the ball, allowing Stanford to key in on the pass and making defense a whole lot easier.
What’s the perception of Colorado from the top team in the conference (for now)? Are they still seen as a doormat or are teams worried about coming to Boulder?
With the Pac-12 (and college football in general) having so much parity and being wholly unpredictable, I don't think anyone takes Colorado lightly. Yes, you're 1-4 in conference and very much a work in progress. But putting up an effort that easily could have resulted in a win at UCLA and staying in most of your Pac-12 games shows the Buffs have the talent to compete. Add in the fact that this is a 10am start, on the road in a colder place, a week after a narrow win, and I think this is a game Stanford must take very seriously. Colorado's record isn't the best, but they haven't been a pushover this year either. Also, being in the Bay Area, we are familiar with Mike MacIntyre (which by the way is the hardest name to spell in world history) and respect what he can do as a football coach tremendously. I think he's a fine hire and while it can be a slow climb, the program seems to be moving in the right direction.
Who’s a player to watch on offense and defense that CU fans might not know about?
Offensively, the guy to watch is Bryce Love. Love is a true freshman but he might be the fastest and most elusive guy on the team. If you had the pleasure of seeing McCaffrey as a true freshman, you'll be reminded of his bursts when you watch Love. Coach David Shaw typically eases guys into the mix, especially offensively, so almost every time Love is in the game he gets the ball or is used as a decoy. He's routinely put in positions that allow for big plays, showcasing his speed and quickness. Defensively, there hasn't been a single guy making the big plays week in and week out. Last week, Quenton Meeks, another true freshman, picked off two Luke Falk passes and saved the game for Stanford. It's hard to say who will make a big play this week, but the talent is there for numerous guys to do it. On the line, Aziz Shittu is a force to be reckoned with and will likely make some huge stops in both the run and pass game. Blake Martinez is well known, but watching him find the ball on almost every play is a thing of beauty. Peter Kalambayi is also an underrated linebacker, so keep an eye out for him and his nose for the ball.
What’s your prediction for the game on Saturday?
I think both teams will get out to a rather slow start and it'll be a close game come the second quarter. From there, Stanford will rediscover its offensive identity and put up some points going into the half. Like most teams, Stanford benefits from having the lead which allows them to establish the run game and control time of possession. Colorado will put up some points on Stanford's defense as they play to prevent the deep ball, allowing Colorado to take advantage of holes in the secondary. By that time, it'll be too late and Stanford will continue to roll on offense: 38-21, Stanford.
Would you rather lift 100 lbs. telekinetically or 10000 lbs. physically?
This is easily my favorite question, but I have essentially wasted the entire day thinking about it. As a sports lover with a tragic lack of athleticism, my mind immediately jumps to the possibilities on the court or field. I have some logistical questions regarding the precision of my telekensisis (can I just take a basketball and make it go in the basket?) which leads me to settle on 10000lbs physically. If I could lift that, I undoubtedly could make my way onto a pro sports team and soak up all the glory that comes with it. What would my role be? I'm not exactly sure. Maybe I boom every punt out of the stadium, maybe I throw the hardest fastball in baseball, maybe I'm an absolute animal on the offensive line. Either way, I'm sure I can use that talent to find my way onto a pro sports roster. Right?
Three Key Stats
Rushing S+P- Stanford Offense-120.4, ranked 21st. Colorado Defense-87.0, ranked 107th.
Adjusted Sack Rate- Stanford Rate- 73.5, ranked 105th. Colorado Defense- 113.3, ranked 44th.
Adjusted Pace- Stanford- -3.7, ranked 97th. Colorado- 11.1, ranked 6th.
These stats don't show well for the Buffs. The first stat to look at is a pretty simple, and it shows how good they are at rushing the ball, and how bad CU is as defending it. The Cardinal have one of the best backs in the country in Christian McCaffrey and one of the better offensive lines. They will line up and try to beat you straight, and they will likely succeed. However, if the Buffs can somehow force Stanford to a few 3rd and longs, bringing pressure on Kevin Hogan might yield some great results. Washington State generated some great pressure last week, and it gave them turnovers and a grate chance to win.
The sack rate shows a line that struggles with pass protection, and the Buffs have a surprisingly competent pass rush (thanks, Coach Leavitt). As I mentioned over at Rule of Tree, the front four (including McCartney) will have to play like they've never played before for CU to be comfortable in winning this game. Shedding blocks and making individual tackles will both have to happen up front, both of which are very hard against the Cardinal. It will be a tough challenge. Stanford, as is well-documented, are masters at playing their game and making the other team adapt.
Their pace shows their preference towards the time of possession, as well as their ability to actually use it. CU, on the other hand, likes to play fast, at least by play count. They did a fantastic job of controlling the clock against UCLA, but they had precious few points to show for it. They can't leave any points on the field against Stanford, and they'll have to take a few of their own as well. My uncle Tom, the Stanford fan that he is, is coming up for this game, and it would be really nice to send him home with the loss. Make it happen, Buffs!