Colorado's Offensive Line vs. Hawaii's Front Seven
CU showed significant improvement across the field during their Saturday night outing against the 16th-ranked Sun Devils, but perhaps most striking was the growth manifested in the rushing attack. The offensive line looked cohesive and even commanding in opening consistent holes for the Buffs' tailbacks, who tallied up 232 yards on the evening. The offense as a whole gained a total of 545 yards, finding much of that production on long, explosive plays both on the ground and through the air.
Continuity has been a key component to this group's advancement. The linemen themselves have talked about how crucial continuous game reps as a unit are to their performance. So it was another promising sign that freshman Jonathan Huckins was able to slide in for an injured Jeromy Irwin on the left side and play like he'd been there all along. If Irwin is unable to go at any point against Hawaii, Huckins will again be called upon to step up and provide consistent protection on Sefo Liufau's blindside.
For all of the positive flashes shown, this offense still has some critical bugs to work out. Liufau still gets hit far too hard and far too often, to the point where Mike MacIntyre inserted Jordan Gehrke in the final few minutes of the contest. That move was clearly more about about spelling Sefo than it was about getting a live-action look at Gehrke.
Additionally, the offensive line continues to have serious problems generating a push in goal-to-go situations. Phillip Lindsay up the middle may not have been the most creative play call in that particular 4th and goal situation late in the 3rd quarter, but he had been running like a maniac all game. The offensive line has to be able to move the bunch there and at least give their ball carrier a chance. Instead, Lindsay was immediately shoved back into his quarterback and the play was blown dead while he was still on his feet.
Hawaii brings a fairly stout defense into Boulder. Thus far their 3-4 scheme has held Washington's offense to 17 points and reeled in a pass-happy Oregon State squad keeping that game close until the end. They did allow a couple of late scores to Northern Iowa last weekend but were able to hold on for a 27-24 victory.
The Rainbow Warriors' front is anchored by 300-pound nose tackle Moses Samia, who is in turn backed up by 320-pound junior Calen Friel. The Buffs will likely have to consistently commit two linemen to stopping this tectonic inside push. On the edges are senior Beau Yap and sophomore Kennedy Tulimasealii, who leads the defensive line with six tackles for a loss this season. These two are capable of getting around the corner and producing pressure. Hawaii's linebacking corps suffered a significant loss following the OSU game, losing junior leader Jerrol Garcia-Williams to a torn ACL. Senior Julian Gener has stepped up in his absence, leading the team in tackles while quarterbacking the middle of the defense.
The Rainbow Warriors have both the speed and size to effectively operate their four linebacker look, and they've already made strides under new defensive coordinator Kevin Clune. In order to get around this mobile unit, CU's offense is going to need to capitalize on misdirections and zone reads. If they're able to spring Christian Powell and Tony Jones through the middle and freshman revelation Donovan Lee around the edge, they can unlock this defense. The play-action pass became very effective against ASU and I don't expect that to change this Saturday.
After playing two Pac-12 teams close, Hawaii has shown that they can toughen up and get stops when they have to. They're athletic and they fly to the ball. However, Colorado's offensive line is finally playing with some assertiveness and the tailbacks are running downhill with a purpose. The Buffaloes will likely to be able to move the ball on the run, opening up gaps for their receivers in the Warriors' 3-4 coverage. I think they come close to matching last week's offensive output on the strength of numerous gashing runs and mid-range play-action throws. The offensive line needs to control this one from the beginning and continue to expand upon last week's encouraging returns.