Midseason report

The Colorado Buffaloes have reached the midway point of a difficult 2008 regular-season schedule with a 3-3 record and hopes for improvement in the second half of the season. It's a good time to take a look at what has gone right and wrong for one of the youngest teams in the nation.

RUSHING OFFENSE

The Buffs rank 97th in the nation and last in the Big 12 Conference averaging 3.1 yards per carry and 115 yards per game.

Fans are still waiting for a breakout game from heralded freshman Darrell Scott, but the No. 1 running back recruit in the nation in the 2008 cycle hasn't been healthy much of the year.

While Scott has struggled, fellow true freshman Rodney Stewart has picked up the slack and is putting together what could be an historic season among true freshmen running backs at CU. His 453 rushing yards are already the fifth most by a CU freshman.

While there have been glimpses of potential, the Buffs have struggled to find consistency in the running game behind an offensive line featuring three starters who didn't figure to be on the field much this fall when training camp started and a total of four new starters from last season. The inconsistency in the group has effective every aspect of the offense.

PASSING OFFENSE

The Buffs rank 86th in the nation and last in the Big 12 in passing with a 195-yard average per game. CU is completing 57 percent of its passes and has scored on 12 touchdown passes

The Buffs are somewhat unusual among Big 12 Conference teams in how much they use pre-snap shifting and play-action passing. Without a consistent running game, this part of the offense has been less effective.

The offensive line also has struggled to protect the passer and quarterback Cody Hawkins has paid a stiff price, taking a lot of hard shots. Hawkins started the season completing 70 percent of his passes through the first three games, but his completion rate has fallen below 60 percent during a three-game losing streak.

Hawkins is the first to say he hasn't played well in the first half the season. He has thrown for only 1,016 yards and has made some costly turnovers and bad decisions such as taking a safety against Kansas.

The offense is heavily dependent on the speed of wide receiver Josh Smith for its playmaking. No other receiver has demonstrated the ability to consistently make big plays. Losing fellow sophomore Kendrick Celestine was a blow to a unit that lacks speed.

Some would like to see Hawkins benched or at least forced to share time with one of his backups, but it's unlikely to happen because Dan Hawkins doesn't subscribe to that approach. He prefers to go with one guy until it becomes clear that there is a better option. Neither Matt Ballenger or Nick Nelson has shown enough improvement in practices to merit Hawkins awarding them with the starting job or a part-time role.

RUSHING DEFENSE

The CU defense has given up a big play in just about every game and the unit's ranking here (85th nationally and 168 yards a game) reflects it. If the Buffs can stop the big plays in the second half of the season, it would be an important step toward making a bowl game.

The Buffs have played several teams that are adept in the running game and struggle to throw, it hasn't helped their numbers. They are giving up 4.3 yards per carry and have allowed 12 touchdown runs.

The Buffs pride themselves on stopping the run and have to make some dramatic improvement here to get back into the top-half of Division I run defenses.

Linebacker Shaun Mohler has been a solid edition to the defense and is a tough guy against the run. Safety Ryan Walters has been best this season in providing run support.

PASSING DEFENSE

CU ranks 50th in the nation allowing 195 passing yards per game.

The Buffs won the Eastern Washington game with an interception for a touchdown and have been pretty solid against the pass throughout the season, despite concerns in spring and summer about inexperience at cornerback

Cha'pelle Brown, Jalil Brown and Gardner McKay have done well much of the time and Jimmy Smith is beginning to get more playing time. He is probably the most gifted defensive back on the team, but has been bothered by chronic back problems.

Linebacker Brad Jones and defensive end Marquez Herrod have been a pleasant surprise in helping a pass rush improve over last season, but there is still plenty of room for further improvement. Those two players both have registered three sacks so far.

The Buffs are on track to sack the quarterback 22 times. That's not enough in a league filled with the kind of prolific passing offenses that exist in the Big 12.

Seniors George Hypolite, Brandon Nicolas and Maurice Lucas have combined for a disappointing four sacks.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Return man Josh Smith ranks 12th in the country with a healthy 29-yard average on kickoffs, but he has also cost his team on several occasions with fumbles and poor decisions.

Smith should only get better here because he really had no experience in returning kicks prior to this season.

Punter Matt DiLallo ranks 31st in the nation with a 41-yard average, but the CU punt team is 57th in the country with a net average of 36 yards. Plenty of room for improvement here, too.

The Buffs have allowed two kickoffs to be returned for touchdowns and went into last week ranked last in the nation in kickoff coverage. They have done relatively well aside from the two big returns.

Place-kicker Aric Goodman has been inconsistent. He was awarded a scholarship after booting the game winner against West Virginia, but missed three field goals against Texas. He has missed his last four attempts and is only 3-for-8 this season. He needs to find his confidence once again or coaches might have to give freshman Jammeson Davis a crack at the job.

INTANGIBLES

The Buffs still aren't getting kicks blocked at the rate Hawkins and his assistants enjoyed while coaching in Boise and they are losing the turnover battle once again. The Buffs have given it away 12 times and taken it away 10 times. That ratio has to turn around in the second half of the season or this team might be home for the holidays once again.


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