What's Wrong with the Offense?

Over the years, offensive coordinator Shawn Watson has been adept at adapting CU's offense to fit make-shift personnel in crisis situations. Now that the Buffs are playing with a full arsenal of weapons, however, the offense is misfiring. What's the problem?

Maybe Watson is overthinking things.

Against CSU, Joel Klatt and the Colorado passing game came out firing on all cylinders. Unlike in years past in CU's season-opener, so did the run game. With what they thought was a comfortable lead, the Buffs went conservative and turned to that run game.

The strategy backfired. While Colorado State stormed back, CU's offense went limp in the second half.

Against Washington State, Coach Gary Barnett said the Buffs were trying too hard "to be perfect" on offense. Too many checks for the offensive line and quarterback to go through each play. Too much to think about.

Colorado tightened up and stumbled through one of the poorest offensive showings in recent memory.

Watson has worked miracles in past seasons when key players have gone down with injuries and been replaced by players with lesser skills. Or when the CU offense has been forced to play inexperienced players, Watson has been able to scheme around the deficiency.

In 2001, Watson coaxed just enough out of backup quarterback Bobby Pesavento and the passing game to keep opponents off balance as CU won its first Big 12 title.

A year later, the Buffs turned what looked like a disaster season into another appearance in the title game. That season, Watson coached up an undersized and underskilled replacement QB. He was able to utilize Robert Hodge's ability to throw the long ball, and hide the fact that Hodge had great deficiencies in other areas of the passing game.

Last season, Colorado played with an inexperienced offensive line, and, after Bobby Purify went down with an injury, a running back, Brian Calhoun, who never met a hole he didn't hesitate to run through.

"There really wasn't much we could do," Barnett said about 2003. "There wasn't anybody else we could put in there. So we had to scheme our way through last year."

Two games into 2004, what's different about CU's offensive situation is that there are problems, but they're not coming in the form of injuries to key players, or inferior talent or experience. The squad is stacked.

"I see us having the potential to protect everything, throw the ball accurately and have receivers get open and do something with the ball, and have a running game," Barnett said Tuesday. "Going through camp, I didn't see an area we knew we were deficient in. That's why it's a little bit hard for us to solve this puzzle."

Several clues point to Colorado trying to solve its offensive puzzle this week by simplifying it.

On Tuesday Klatt said, "We need to get back to some basic things we know how to do; get back to the base offense. …simplify things. … take the onus off the guys to think so much and just play fast. …focus on mentally slowing the game down."

And on paper, North Texas is a perfect opponent for the struggling Colorado offense. The Mean Green defense is well-coached and features one stud in DE Adrian Awasom. But this is a Sun Belt team. Since 1998 when Coach Darrell Dickey took over the program, UNT is 2-16 vs. BCS teams, its wins coming against TTU (1999) and Baylor (2003).

Another thing the Buffs need to do is use fewer skill position players. Through two games Klatt has thrown passes to 12 players, and handed the ball to seven on run plays. With so many players in the mix at receiver, running back and tight end, you have to wonder if there are enough reps in practice to go around in order to get players past the point of thinking, and to the point of reacting within the game plan— especially in the passing game, where timing between quarterback and receiver is such a crucial factor.

Klatt needs to develop a couple of favorite targets among the receivers, Watson needs to recognize that and scheme to support that. Hopefully that will begin Saturday.

"We're still getting comfortable with each other," receiver Tyler Littlehales admitted this week, adding that the offense's confidence level is still high. "We still think we can be a really productive unit — the wide receivers and the quarterback. I think we can come around, and I have a feeling this could be the week we do it."


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