The Hawaii Rainbow Warriors are an aggressively mediocre team, and I don't mean that as a slight. They play aggressive, physical football but will likely fall in the middle of the pack in the Mountain West, at best. In order to come away with a comfortable win and continue progressing, CU would do well to gain the upper hand in these three areas.
So far this season CU has forced only two turnovers, and they weren't particularly important. A key component of the Mike MacIntyre Doctrine involves playing opportunistically by forcing fumbles and being in position to intercept passes. One of the relative strengths of the 2013 team was its ability to force turnovers at crucial moments. The Buffs went the opposite direction last weekend, as Sefo Liufau's deep seam attempt to Shay Fields was snatched away at the last second and Michael Adkins lost a critical fumble inside his 10-yard line giving Arizona State an easy score before halftime.
Buffaloes vs. Rainbow Warriors
Through three games Hawaii has only forced 4 turnovers against 3 giveaways, but two were central to their win over Northern Iowa. A Beau Yap fumble recovery in the end zone put the Warriors up 7-0 early and a Ne'Quan Phillips scoop off of a muffed punt return late in the 4th quarter enabled Hawaii to kick a game-clinching field goal. If the Buffs can force a few Warrior turnovers and avoid crucial giveaways of their own, they could open this one up.
Field position is always important but Colorado will need to capitalize on it this Saturday. Hawaii's offense is not the explosive machine it's been in years past. They have to grind out yards, especially with star running back Joey Iosefa out with an ankle injury. If CU can lock up their kick coverage and force the Rainbow Warriors to move long distances to reach scoring position the defense will have much better odds of making stops.
Conversely, Hawaii's special teams have been something of a strong point in the early going. Australian Rules Football player turned American football player Scott Harding both punts and returns punts for the ‘Bows. He's averaging 40.7 yards per kick and 10.6 yards a return this season. The Buffs will need to hold down Hawaii's kick returners while springing Phillip Lindsay on a return or two of their own. The Warriors don't have the playmakers to overcome consistently poor starting field position; if Colorado wins this battle they'll have a very good chance of winning the game.
Colorado's Aerial Attack
As important as it is to knock a 3-4 defense back with your running game, we all know that as Sefo goes, so goes the Buffs' offense. I imagine Christian Powell, Michael Adkins, Phillip Lindsay, and Tony Jones (if fully healthy) will do enough on the ground, but the strength of Hawaii's defense is up front. For the Buffs to really create some separation they'll need to take full advantage of a sub-par Warrior secondary. I expect Nelson Spruce to meet his weekly quota, we could see more explosive plays out of Shay Fields and D.D. Goodson, and who knows what will happen with wildcard Donovan Lee. (And maybe Bryce Bobo will score a touchdown? He's still young and developing and etc...but it's going to click for him at some point and when it does, look out.) Also, don't sleep on Tyler McCulloch. He played a solid game last weekend, showing he has a nose for space.
How great is it to feel somewhat optimistic and excited about a CU offense? Here's hoping that the Buffs prove the progress shown against ASU wasn't just a quick jolt.