Struggling Colorado Hosts Undefeated KU

Before the season started, Colorado Coach Dan Hawkins made headlines by predicting the Buffaloes would win 10 games in the 2009 season.

But after five games, the Buffs (1-4, 0-1) are on pace to lose 10 games. The faults can be found all over the field, where the Buffaloes have struggled to win the trenches, have been overwhelmed at the skill spots and have put up some of the worst statistical numbers in the league. Though the Buffaloes annually face one of the toughest non-conference schedules, the results have been a far cry from what Colorado fans expected when Hawkins was brought in.

Offensively, the Buffaloes are the Big 12's second-worst scoring offense, the second-worst rushing offense, puts up the fewest average yards per game and ranks last in the Big 12 in passing efficiency.

Heading into the Kansas game, Hawkins might have taken steps to work on the latter. Quarterback Tyler Hansen (6-foot-1 200 pounds) will likely get the start. Hansen is 3-5 for 17 yards in limited action this season, but is a more dynamic playmaker than starter Cody Hawkins (5-11 190), who has completed slightly more than half of his passes for a 1-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. But Coach Hawkins backtracked a bit later in the week about making Hansen "the guy," so don't be surprised if the duo splits time at some point.

One of Colorado's biggest disappointments has been its running game. The Buffaloes are averaging just 83.4 yards on the ground per game, a number nobody would have picked when looking at the talented runners returning in the backfield. Colorado can go four-deep, with the top back being Rodney Stewart (5-6 175), who has 310 yards and three touchdowns on the year. Darrell Scott (6-1 225) is arguably the team's most talented back, but has just 94 yards and no touchdowns on the season. Demetrius Sumler (5-10 215) is more of a power back, while Brian Lockridge (5-7 180) is another smaller, shiftier back.

Colorado's receivers haven't made much of a dent either. Only Scotty McKnight (5-11 185) is having a strong year with 337 yards and three touchdowns, while Jason Espinoza (5-8 175) is the Buffs second-leading wide receiver with 13 catches for 136 yards and a touchdown. Markques Simas (6-2 215) is probably the number two wideout behind McKnight, but he only has 36 yards receiving on the year. Andre Simmons (6-3 210) also brings nice size but limited production. He has one catch for 44 yards on the season. The Buffaloes do have consistently strong play at tight end, where Riar Geer (6-4 250) is the Buffaloes second-leading receiver. He and Patrick Devenny (6-3 240) have combined for 29 catches for 326 yards and four touchdowns.

Left tackle Nate Solder (6-9 305) has been one of the few bright spots on the Colorado line, grading out every game at 80 percent or better. Right guard Ryan Miller (6-8 320) has the next best percentage, grading out above 80 percent in three of his five games. Right tackle Bryce Givens (6-6 275) and center Mike Iltis (6-3 280) each have graded out at 80 percent once, while projected starter at left guard Ethan Adkins (6-4 305) has yet to accomplish the feat this season.

As poor as the offense has been, the defense may be just as bad. The 30 points per game the Buffaloes give up ranks as last in the Big 12, while the 170.4 rushing yards they give up per game is 11th. Colorado's pass defense has also struggled. While their yards per game is in the middle of the Big 12 pack, their pass efficiency defense ranks last in the conference.

The Buffaloes have been moving some players around on the defensive line, with defensive end Forrest West (6-1 245) slated to get the start against the Jayhawks. Defensive tackles Curtis Cunningham (6-1 275) and Will Pericak (6-4 280) have yet to record a tackle for loss this season. The Buffaloes do have one strong end in Marquez Herrod (6-2 280), who has four tackles for loss, including two sacks.

The linebacking group is the strength of the defense, led by Will linebacker Jeff Smart (6-0 225), who leads the Buffaloes in consecutive starts. He's put those to good use, making 10 tackles per game. Marcus Burton is among the Big 12's most imposing middle linebackers at 6-2 265, and he runs pretty well to boot. He's been the team's big play linebacker, making five stops in the backfield, three of which are sacks. Michael Sipili (6-1 240) supports Burton in the middle while B.J. Beatty has five tackles for loss from the Sam spot.

Cha'pelle Brown (5-7 175) has been an excellent blitzer from his cornerback spot, collecting 38 tackles, four for loss and three sacks. Jimmy Smith (6-2 205) has better size and has broken up five passes. Strong safety Benjamin Burney (5-11 195) is an interesting player who also serves as a backup cornerback, while free safety Anthony Perkins (6-1 195) has 30 tackles and a pass broken up.

Aric Goodman (5-10 190) is 4-8 from field goal range this year, with all four misses coming from 40 yards and beyond. That's not to say he doesn't have a leg … Goodman is 1-2 from 50-plus this year. Punter Matt DiLallo (6-1 205) is a strong directional punter who averages more than 40 yards per punt. Out of his 26 punts, eight have been placed inside the 20, while only one has gone into the end zone for a touchback. Lockridge and Scott serve as the kick returners, while Espinoza returns punts.

After a brutal opening stretch, Colorado's schedule does get infinitely more manageable. The Buffs host all three North leaders and have winnable games against Iowa State, Kansas State and Texas A&M. Right now, there are few seats in the country hotter than Hawkins's, but he could change that temperature, and his team's momentum, if the Buffs could sneak out a win over Kansas.

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