Week 4 is quickly approaching, and this season is already flying by. This week sees the Buffs matched up with Hawaii, fresh off a 27-24 win against Northern Iowa on the island. After a strong showing last week, many in Buff Nation, including myself, expect a dominant win. Let's start with that ASU game.
Matt Sparkman, as always, has a great summary of the game, but I'll talk about a few specifics. First, the offensive play-calling took a huge upswing this week. How far we have come from the constant read-option up the middle during the CSU game. There were end-arounds, fullback off-tackles, and tight end (sort of) seam routes. It really was a gorgeous display of variation and strategy. Except the red zone. The damn red zone. 4th and 1 with Lindsay is not ideal, and it showed. Enough of the nitpicking though, there are plenty of good things to be excited about in this game. For all of the talk that Coach Mac can't recruit, his defensive players have balled out this year. Chidobie Awuzie, Tedric Thompson and Addison Gillam all look fantastic, Gillam a little less so. Awuzie and Thompson represent a very bright future for the Colorado secondary, and Gillam as well as Tim Coleman, Eddy Lopez and others have the look of a menacing front seven. On the offensive side, we moved the ball fantastically well. Shay Fields, Nelson Spruce, Bryce Bobo, DD Goodson and Tyler Mucculloch all got involved, and Christian Powell, yes, THAT Christian Powell, busted out some long runs. But enough of that game, let's look forward.
The Rainbow Warriors rely heavily on the run game to get their offense going. Ikaika Woolsey set a career high in passing against Oregon State with 236 yards, just to tell you how little they throw. This team moves on the back of the run game. Fortunately for the Buffs, Joey Iosefa is out with a seemingly minor injury for this game, so the bulk of the carries will go to Stevan Lakalaka, who performed well in Iosefa's stead last week with 124 yards. Both backs are bigger than all the backs CU has faced this year, and Lakalaka seems to lack the quickness to really break off a long one against this one. On the rare occasion that Hawaii decides to throw, Woolsey will have two big boys to throw to. Quinten Pedroza and Marcus Kemp are over 6'1, and both have caught over 10 passes for the Rainbow Warriors and look to be in the mold of possession receivers. However, as previously mentioned, this offense's engine is the ground game, and they will go as far as the ground game goes. CU's strength is in the secondary, so the little throwing Hawaii does attempt should be shut down. As far as running goes, Colorado has had the most trouble with runs to the edges. While they certainly could attack our edges with Woolsey and some misdirection, I doubt that Lakalaka will have much success out there, as our team speed should swarm to the runs before they get going.
This Hawaiian defense has held its own through three weeks. The late touchdowns it gave up to Northern Iowa were the first touchdowns scored against them in the fourth quarter. Granted, there are some extenuating circumstances, as Washington didn't have their starting quarterback, and OSU stopped trying after the third, but if the Buffs waited until the third game to give up a fourth quarter score, I certainly would be proud. Up front they have the size many Colorado fans have pleaded for. Beau Yap is the lightest of the bunch at 260 pounds, and is also the most active. Rounding out the front is fellow end Kennedy Tulimasealii (280) and Moses Samia (300). There's obviously a lot of stoutness in those three, with Tulimasealii being the best at getting in the backfield. It doesn't stop there. Simon Poti is the quickest linebacker in the 3-4 (also the lightest, at 220 pounds), and he shows up on the stat sheet often. He cleans up the mess, like the mike linebacker in the 3-4 should. CU should be able to pass at will against this secondary. Ne'quan Phillips and Dee Maggit man the cornerback positions, with experience being their selling point. Thus far, teams have not had trouble passing effectively, and the surprisingly potent CU passing game should have no trouble here. I expect a large amount of screens and off-tackle runs with Lindsay, using our speed to our advantage.
CU's Oline vs. UH's Dline - Advantage: CU. The Buff's Oline had their best showing of the year against ASU until Jeromey Irwin went down. I expect them to continue that trend against Hawaii. Their defensive line should get little push and even smaller pass rush.
UH's Oline vs. CU's Dline - Advantage: Push. Hawaii has had their way a little bit against their opponents, and CU's defensive front isn't the most intimidating. One thing we do have is speed, in bunches. Expect McCartney and Gilbert to bend the corner early and often for the Buffs. Watch out for Chatfield product Ben Clarke at LT.
CU's QB vs. UH's DB's - Advantage: CU. Even with his two interceptions against ASU, Sefo Liufau has looked mighty impressive in this young season. I expect him to keep this trend going against the slightly less athletic DB's of the Rainbow Warriors. Also, we all know he will take the benching near the end of the 4th and try to prove he didn't deserve to get benched.
UHs QB vs. CU's DB's - Advantage: CU. This is the matchup that's most in CU's favor. Hawaii is not a passing team, and Colorado has the speed and athleticism in the back 4 to make Woolsey pay. Expect a few turnovers in this game.
CU's Skill Players (WR, TE, RB) vs. UH's Back 7 (LB's and DB's) - Advantage: CU. Nelson Spruce is a bonafide star now, and his supporting cast isn't too shabby either. Shay Fields has come on really strong at the beginning of his collegiate career, and Christian Powell has re-emerged near the end of his. I expect them to show out again against Hawaii, using their speed to run around the Rainbow Warriors.
UH's Skill Players vs. CU's Back 7 - Advantage: CU. There's not much to this one. Hawaii lost their best skill player, while Gillam is finally regaining form and the rest are rounding into theirs (Thompson, Awuzie).
Special Teams - Advantage: Push. Even after the 0 return game from ASU, I am hesitant to give this unit any benefit of the doubt. Prove me wrong, Mr. Neinas. No returns again, plus another big one from Lindsay and we'll be in business.
CU has a lot to build on from that ASU game, and the team has something rare around Bouder in the past decade: fight. Two games in a row they have battled back to make the game interesting, with one having a slightly better outcome than the other. The next test is to see if they can take that positive momentum and not have to battle back. This game SHOULD be thoroughly won by CU, but with this young team, who knows what will happen? I think a 27-20 game sounds about right, with the scoreline being a misnomer. I expect Coach Mac to prepare his team to win all 4 quarters of this game instead of the last 3, and I expect this game to show a team that's ready climb out of the cellar it has inhabited for so long.