The Colorado Buffaloes (1-0, NR Pac-12) took care of business in the Rocky Mountain Showdown last Friday and now move on to a first-ever meeting with the Idaho State Bengals (1-0, NR Big Sky). The subdivision opponent comes to Boulder after a solid 47-3 win against Canada’s Simon Fraser University Clan and will face their first of back-to-back Pac-12 conference games (at Oregon State, 9/17).
Bengals quarterback Tanner Gueller threw for a career-best 338 passing yards last week against the Clan, just two scores shy of his entire total from last season. The win was also the first career start for the Rochester, Wash native, who grew up less than an hour away from the hometown of Buffs quarterback Sefo Liufau in the Seattle-Tacoma area. Both quarterbacks are comparable in size with Gueller standing at 6’3", 230 pounds, but Liufau has an athletic advantage as a dual-threat rusher.
Going against the Buffs will be the biggest start of Gueller’s career so far, but don’t expect any upset heroics. Idaho State has never defeated a FBS opponent (0-26) in 52 years as members of the Big Sky conference. Colorado, on the other hand, is 4-2 all-time against FSC opponents with losses to Sacramento State (2012) and Montana State (2006). They’re undefeated (3-0) under head coach Mike MacIntyre with a combined score of 129-34.
Bengals head coach Mike Kramer and offensive coordinator Matt Troxel will have their hands full preparing a game plan against CU’s stingy defense, who held Colorado State to 225 total yards. Gueller will have to develop a steady rhythm in the passing game, requiring a complete effort from receivers KW Williams, Hagen Graves and Pat Carter. The Bengals are accustomed to using multiple running back and tight ends in passing formations, with nine different receivers catching a pass in their opener.
Similar to CU’s scheme, the Idaho State rushing attack has a "committee" style with five different running backs as potential options. Jakori Ford, Ty Flanagan and James Madison will split the majority of duties in the Bengals’ backfield, looking to make an impact in the flat as receivers as well.
CU’s defense should be able to minimize the Bengals' scoring opportunities, giving Defensive Coordinator Jim Leavitt a chance to hopefully use this game as a "scrimmage". He’ll be able to make adjustments accordingly before going into the meat of CU’s schedule and the much anticipated meeting with No. 5 Michigan. The Buffs defense held the Rams scoreless in the first three quarters of the showdown, along with forcing QB Nick Stevens to throw two interceptions. Leavitt’s crew has also forced a takeaway in 14-straight games, the same amount of time he has been on MacIntyre’s staff.
Chidobe Awuzie started the 2016 season without skipping a beat. The all-conference senior leads the secondary along with safeties Afolabi Laguda, Tedric Thompson and cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon. CU’s defense ranks 22nd overall with arguably the best secondary group in the Pac-12, who could be the difference against the high-powered offenses like Oregon, California and UCLA.
Buffs co-offensive coordinator Darrin Chiverini had a great debut as well. Liufau came back stronger after rehabbing a broken Lisfranc (foot) and continues to rewrite CU’s record books. The senior captain accounted for 384 of the 578 total yards for the Buffs against the Rams. The Bengals inexperienced secondary will struggle to cover the speed of receivers Shay Fields, Bryce Bobo and Devin Ross and all three could be on track for a record day. Idaho State allowed 255 passing yards last week, despite the Clan only scoring a field goal.
CU’s running backs, led by Phillip Lindsay, ran the ball effectively against Colorado State with 260 total yards. A repeat performance of the showdown might be difficult with Idaho State’s defense relying on the leadership of linebackers Mario Jenkins, Hayden Stout and Joe Martin. The Bengals held Simon Fraser to -22 yards rushing with 13 tackles for loss including four sacks. Don’t expect the same luck against Lindsay and Co.
CU ranks 17th in the nation in total offense (24th passing, 30th rushing) and has allowed just one sack thus far. The win earned the Buffs a vote in the AP Top 25 poll for the first time since Sept. 21, 2008.
Colorado opens their 2016 home schedule on Saturday, Sept. 10 against Idaho State. Kickoff from Folsom Field is scheduled at 3:30 p.m. MT. TV: Pac-12 Network, Radio: 850 AM KOA.