Banged Up Buffs Coming to Town

If there's one thing someone could say about the Colorado Buffaloes, it's that they're always battle tested early on.

The Buffs aren’t afraid to take on all comers, something that has hurt the Buffaloes in their pursuit of national titles in the past and a fact that annually keeps Colorado from traveling to a better bowl.

This year is no exception, as the Buffaloes travel to take on Kansas Saturday morning, they’ve already defeated West Virginia and Colorado State while losing to Florida State and Texas. The 3-2 record is pretty indicative of the way they’ve played – this is a team that needed an interception return to beat an FCS team and at the same time a team that mostly held a good West Virginia offense in check.

If there’s a second thing someone could say about Colorado, it’s that they’ve been bitten by the injury bug. According to the weekly team press release, the Buffaloes are missing seven players who are out for the year with injuries, and have several other players listed as probable and day-to-day.

No place has been harder hit than the Colorado offensive line. Coming into the season, there was reason for optimism. The Buffaloes had the tallest tackle grouping in 6-foot-9 Nate Solder and 6-8 sophomore Ryan Miller. The line was experienced, and it was building depth. Now, three offensive linemen, including two starters, are out for the season, including Miller, one of the team’s most talented youngsters. Now, the team will start two freshmen and a sophomore along with its regular grouping. Solder is still in at left tackle, while center Daniel Sanders (6-3 315) has graded out as the team’s best lineman this year. Guards Blake Behrens (6-3 300) and Devin Head (6-4 305) round out the line along with right tackle Matthew Bahr (6-4 285).

The patchwork line has made things more difficult for the Buffaloes offense and sophomore quarterback Cody Hawkins (5-11 190). Colorado is in the bottom half of NCAA teams in most offensive categories, including passing, where Hawkins has a 120 quarterback rating – far below his peers in the conference. His touchdown to interception ratio is a stout 5-2, but Hawkins has passed for just 926 yards in five games and has completed less than 60 percent of his passes.

One of the bright spots for Colorado has been the play of freshman running back Rodney Stewart (5-6 175). Though Darrell Scott, a five-star prospect, was expected to come in and take the league by storm, Stewart has been the true freshman standout, using his 4.35 speed to break free for two 100-yard games. He leads the team with 376 yards rushing. Scott (6-1 220) is second on the team in rushing, though he has less than half Stewart’s yards and averages less than four yards per carry. He sprained his ankle against Texas, and it’s unclear how ready he’ll be Saturday. Demetrius Sumler (5-10 220), a thick power back, is technically listed as the starter, though he has just 72 yards rushing in five games. Colorado uses its fullbacks as both a lead back and a second tight end. That role goes to Maurice Cantrell (6-0 245).

Josh Smith (6-0 180) has been the main weapon for the Buffs in the passing game. Blessed with outstanding speed, Smith is a big play waiting to happen. He has 221 yards receiving and three touchdowns, including three plays of more than 20 yards. Patrick Williams (6-2 205) brings size to the equation, while former walk-on Scotty McKnight (5-11 190) is second on the team in receiving. He has great hands and serves as the holder on field goals and extra points. Tight end Riar Greer (6-4 250) can also be a factor in the passing game.

The defense has also been hit hard by injury, knocking out a starting cornerback and a player expected to create heavy pass rush for the Buffs, while slowing down several others.

The defense still revolves around George Hypolite, an All-Big 12 player. Hypolite has one sack this year, but the attention he gets opens things up for all his teammates. Nose tackle Brandon Nicolas (6-3 290) has exploited those matchups for three tackles for loss, while tackle Marquez Herrod leads the team with three sacks. Defensive end Maurice Lucas (6-4 270) has four tackles for loss and a sack on the year, while end Jason Brace (6-2 250) returns this week from injury.

Colorado typically has a solid group of linebackers, and this year is no different. Former walk-on Jeff Smart (6-0 215) was shifted to middle linebacker after three games this season. He leads the team in tackles with 51. SAM linebacker Brad Jones (6-3 230) is the big play guy – he leads the team with seven tackles for loss, and is tied for the team lead with three sacks. WILL linebacker Shaun Mohler (6-3 225) runs well and has 34 tackles.

Cha’pelle Brown (5-7 180) may be small, but he’s been a big-time player for the Buffaloes. It was his late interception return for a touchdown that knocked off Eastern Washington. To that, he’s added another interception and four tackles for loss. He’s joined at cornerback by Gardner McKay (5-11 165), a senior. Free safety Ryan Walters is the leader of the secondary, and has 44 tackles, four passes broken up and two forced fumbles. But because of an injury, he’s listed as day-to-day. D.J. Dykes (6-2 200) is the strong safety.

The Buffaloes have been the worst team in the nation in terms of kick coverage, but they’ve had some big returns of their own. Smith serves as the return man for both punts and kicks. He’s taken a kickoff back 93 yards for a score, and has returned a punt 51 yards this year. Punter Matt DiLallo is solid and averages 41 yards per kick. Kicker Aric Goodman has knocked in every extra point, though he’s been shaky at field goals. He’s just 1-5 from 30 yards or longer and his long field goal on the year is 32 yards.

As banged up as the Buffaloes are, a win at Kansas would serve as a strong jumping off point for the rest of their season and would lend more credibility to Coach Dan Hawkins’s efforts to turn the program around.

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