KICKOFF: Saturday, 7:20 MDT
SITE: Gaylord Family Memorial Stadium, Norman, Okla.
RECORDS: Colorado 3-5, 0-3; Oklahoma 6-1, 2-1
POLLS: Oklahoma (11 AP, 11 USA Today)
PREDICTION: Oklahoma 34-17.
KEYS TO THE GAME:
-- For Colorado: Buckle down against Oklahoma's running game. The Sooners probably will be eager to regain its swagger in the ground game after being held to 99 yards by Missouri. Hitting long plays would help the offense, but Colorado is good at ball control and is not explosive.
-- For Oklahoma: Capitalize in the red zone. Last week, the Sooners scored three times in six tries after getting inside the 20-yard line, throwing an interception, losing a fumble and missing a field goal on three other occasions. Also, Oklahoma must be better in the fourth quarter. The Sooners were outscored 16-6 in the fourth quarter by Missouri and have been outscored 67-30 in the fourth quarter this season.
SCOUTING THE TEAMS:
-- With a change at quarterback resulting from the injury to Tyler Hansen, Colorado will not be able to improvise as much. Cody Hawkins does not pose as great a threat as a rusher, which means the line needs to ramp up protection after allowing 18 sacks through seven games. An even greater need exists, too, for RB Rodney Stewart to produce in the run game, enabling Hawkins more openings through the air off play-action. Stewart averages 93.1 yards per game, but among Big 12 rushing leaders, his 4.2-yard average per carry is the lowest.
The fortitude and resiliency of Colorado's defensive unit seems to be challenged each week because of the injuries that have claimed six starters. With LB Jon Major out, the Buffs must work through a lack of experience at linebacker. Major and S Anthony Perkins were leading the team in tackles when they went out with injuries. Colorado remains respectable on defense, allowing 380.7 ypg to rank fifth in the Big 12. But depth is a growing concern. Devising a solid plan against versatile opponents such as Oklahoma, which features a strong passer (QB Landry Jones), rusher (RB DeMarco Murray) and receiver (WR Ryan Broyles) is even more difficult.
Trying to get a handle on Oklahoma's offense is so hard because the team is so hard to figure. The loss to Missouri is the latest example, as Oklahoma picked up 301 yards of offense in the first half but only 101 in the second half.
The addition of RB Roy Finch could be a game-changer, though nothing will matter much if QB Landry Jones continues to throw crushing interceptions. Strictly by the numbers, Oklahoma is averaging 450.6 yards per game and 5.3 yards per snap. The Sooners have a great receiver in Ryan Broyles, a great dual-threat back in DeMarco Murray and a quarterback who's shown the ability to play great games. Still, it has to come together on the field. Consistency remains a huge issue.
The Sooners took a great leap forward defensively against Iowa State two weeks ago but took as big a step backward against Missouri, allowing 486 yards, 178 of it on the ground, and almost 100 of it on the ground in the fourth quarter, all against a team that hadn't run the ball very well coming into the game. For the season, the Sooners are allowing 390 yards per game and a way-too-high 5.5 yards per snap. The Sooners must tackle better and they must, again, limit big plays.
Buffaloes: In addition to losing QB Tyler Hansen for the remainder of the regular season after he ruptured his spleen against Texas Tech, Colorado has lost six defensive starters to injuries. The latest was LB Jon Major, who tore a medial collateral ligament in the loss to Texas Tech. He is out indefinitely. ... With Hansen hurt, the promotion of QB Cody Hawkins as Colorado's starter was not altogether encouraging for Oklahoma. Hawkins engineered a 27-24 upset of the Sooners as a redshirt freshman. Oklahoma was ranked third in the nation at the time. Hawkins completed 22 of 36 passes for 220 yards. ... Colorado leads the Big 12 in time of possession, holding the ball for 33:30 on average, but the Buffs are not producing points, averaging just 20.0 ppg to rank 11th in the league. They rank first in third-down conversions with a rate of 48.7 percent. ... Two of Colorado's earlier victims this season are enjoying turnarounds. Hawaii has won five in a row since losing to the Buffs, and Georgia has a three-game winning streak.
Sooners: Oklahoma has a 34-game home winning streak. ... The Sooners aren't scoring nearly enough points in relation to the first downs they're picking up on the field. Against Missouri, the Sooners scored 27 points on 22 first downs for a ratio of 1.23 to 1. This season, the Sooners have scored 243 points on 187 first downs for a ratio of 1.3 to 1. Last season, even with five losses and injuries up and down the lineup, the ratio was slightly better, 1.34 to 1 (404 points, 304 first downs). Two years ago, when the Sooners played for the national championship, the ratio was 1.85 to 1 (716 points, 386 first downs). ... Problems at the kicking position persist for Oklahoma. Against Missouri, Jimmy Stevens missed a 30-yard field goal from the right hash, pulling it left, across the goalposts. Currently, the Sooners have four scholarships invested in placekickers, which is four more than some programs. ... Oklahoma has not intercepted a pass since the Texas game, in which the Sooners picked off one pass. Also, against Missouri, they did not sack QB Blaine Gabbert even once. Doing one might make up for not doing the other, but not doing either is a bad sign for the Sooners' pass defense.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
RB Rodney Stewart -- He was limited to a season-low of 34 yards on 20 rushing attempts in the Oct. 23 loss to Texas Tech. Stewart remains respectable in short yardage, converting all but one third- or fourth-down carry this season when 1 yard is needed to move the chains.
CB Jalil Brown -- Any leadership provided within the depleted Colorado defense is critical. Brown can offer that help as a lockdown corner. He has three interceptions.
WR Scotty McKnight -- With QB Cody Hawkins moving in as the starter in place of injured QB Tyler Hansen, McKnight serves as a dependable and familiar target. He continues to pad the longest streak of consecutive games with a reception, raising that mark to 43 with five catches for 50 yards against Texas Tech. McKnight needs four catches to reach the 200 mark for his career.
QB Landry Jones -- He completed 32-of-50 passes against Missouri, but he threw two horrible interceptions and did not complete a pass in the fourth quarter. His coaches have grouped his issues with those of the offense as a whole. Still, Jones needs to play a good game, if only to create some momentum heading toward the rest of a very tough schedule.
DTs Adrian Taylor and Stacy McGee -- The duo is getting about two-thirds of the snaps at the positions. A rotation that includes Daniel Noble, JaMarcus McFarland and Pryce Macon takes care of the rest. But coming off a Missouri game in which the Sooners put no pressure on the quarterback, the play of the men in the middle will be magnified until the Sooners begin to put a rush on opposing QBs.
Buffaloes: QB Tyler Hansen (ruptured spleen, out), LB Jon Major(knee, out), Toney Clemons (ankle) probable.
Sooners: DE/LB Ronnell Lewis (knee, possible), WR Ryan Broyles (ankle, questionable).