The Colorado Buffaloes (3-1) invade Faurot Field on Saturday evening (6:00 P.M., FSN) to take on the #22/#24 Missouri Tigers (4-0), in their final Big 12 conference opener. The Buffs are coming off of an impressive, hard fought 29-27 win over Georgia in Boulder last Saturday evening.
Colorado used the Georgia game as a platform to honor their 1990 National Championship team, a championship that included a bizarre victory over Missouri on Faurot Field in which Colorado scored the decisive TD on 5th down! Many Missouri fans will tell you that the Colorado ball carrier never got into the end zone anyway, even on the 5th down.
The Buffs have struggled against Missouri in recent seasons, but this year's squad from Boulder appears to be much improved, as they demonstrated Saturday night against Georgia. On Monday, Coach Dan Hawkins addressed Missouri's recent dominance over his team.
"They've done a great job," said Coach Hawkins, with a laugh. "They really have. They've done a great job scheming, you know, the technical portion of it. And, they've out-executed us. So, it's definitely something we're going to have to try to improve on................. We have a tremendous amount of respect for Missouri, and so we're looking forward to getting better."
Coach Hawkins sounds very positive about the way his team has played the last six quarters, including the second half against Hawaii, and the entire Georgia game. He pointed to increased stability and experience on this year's Colorado team, especially up front, and at the QB position, as strong factors in their improvement as a team.
"I think we have an older team, a more experienced team, a deeper team," explained Coach Hawkins. "So, I think all that stuff kind of leads to where we are............... We're just trying to maximize our level of play, and improving each week."
Even in their wins, Colorado has struggled with turnovers, and turned the ball over five times in their loss at California. The Buffs' offense revolves primarily around three players, QB Tyler Hansen, TB Rodney Stewart, and WR Scotty McKnight.
Hansen 6'1" 205 lbs. is a true dual threat who now has a couple of years of experience under his belt. The junior QB is the Buffs third-leader rusher, with over 8 rushing attempts per game, and 3 rushing TDs on the young season. He's very athletic, and has quick feet to escape the pass rush. He's a threat to turn every pass play into a long run. Hansen has completed 63.8% of his pass attempts, for 6.8 yards/attempt. His favorite target is the 5'11" 185 lbs. senior, McKnight, who has averaged 4 receptions/game, for 11.1 yards/reception, and has caught 2 of the Buffs 5 passing TDs this season. However, Hansen has spread the ball around to 11 different Colorado receivers.
Missouri Head Coach Gary Pinkel talked about Colorado and their junior QB.
"(Colorado) is playing very, very well," said Coach Pinkel. "(They had) a very impressive win over Georgia. They're a team that's playing very, very well. They're very good on the defensive side. They're 18th in the nation in rush defense. I think they're 5th in the Big 12 in sacks. They've really done an excellent job! Their QB, Hansen, is really doing well. I'm very, very impressed with him, and how he's quarterbacking now. You can just see the experience take over. He's using his athleticism, his quickness, and his speed. He puts a lot of pressure on the defense in many, many ways. He keeps drives alive. He converts third downs. I'm just very, very impressed, as he's matured. They're running the football well. That's what they believe in doing, and playing good defense. That's got them off to a very good start this year."
So, although Colorado has been pretty efficient throwing the football, their identity is in their rushing attack. Colorado runs the ball on 63% of their plays from scrimmage, and that means the 5'6" 175 lbs. junior, Rodney Stewart. Stewart's 86 carries represent almost half of Colorado's total rushing attempts, and when you add in his 7 receptions, Stewart has had the ball in his hands on exacly one-third of the Buffaloes' offensive plays. This is for good reason, too. Stewart is very productive. He runs tough, and is both quick and fast. His 4.67 yards/attempt, 100.5 yards/game, and 3 rushing TDs rank him among the leading ground gainers in the conference.
Defensively, Colorado's led by a trio of future NFL defensive backs, in senior Jimmy Smith 6'2" 205 lbs., senior Jalil Brown 6'1" 205 lbs., and junior Anthony Perkins 5'10" 200 lbs.. Perkins, who is listed on the Buff's roster as a CB, leads the team in tackles (33) from his strong safety position, and he and Brown lead Colorado in take-aways.
Sophomore LB Jon Major 6'1" 225 lbs., who's fumble recovery sealed the Buffs' win over Georgia, and senior LB Michael Sipili, 6'1" 245 lbs., are productive defenders for Colorado, ranking second (23) and third (21) on the team in tackles, respectively. It appears that the strength of the Buffs' defense is in their secondary, and in their back seven, although eight different Colorado players have registered at least one QB sack. Strangely enough, Colorado's been much more effective against the run (18th nationally) than against the pass (99th in pass efficiency defense).
This is a much improved Colorado team from recent editions, and they're coming into the conference opener playing well, and playing with confidence. They're much improved at the QB position. Rodney Stewart is dangerous. And, the Buffs' have a trio of game-changing, talented players in their defensive secondary. A big key for Colorado, on the road, will be to win the turnover battle. And, it will be important to create some big plays of their own, on either side of the football. The Buffs have shown the ability to come from behind at home, but on the road, they probably need to keep it close.
[NCAA Ranking in Brackets]
431.50 [32nd]___ Total Offense___ 348.25 [81st]
154.00 [63rd]___Rushing Offense__ 169.25 [53rd]12___________TDs Rushing___________ 7
277.50 [24th]___Passing Offense__ 179.00 [91st]
133.33 [56th]__ Passing Efficiency__ 127.27 [67th]
5____________TDs Passing____________ 5
37.75 [17th]____Scoring Offense____ 22.75 [85th]
320.50 [35th]___ Total Defense___ 336.75 [48th]
146.25 [58th]__ Rushing Defense__ 100.75 [18th]
3_________ TDs Allowed Rushing_________ 1
174.25 [29th]___Passing Defense__ 236.00 [83rd]
96.53 [7th]____ Pass Effic. Defense__ 141.05 [99th]
3_________ TDs Allowed Passing_________ 8
14.00 [10th]____Scoring Defense___ 23.75 [61st]
+1.50 [7th]___ Turnover Margin___ –0.50 [81st]
7 / 4________ Fumbles/Lost________ 7 / 4
3_________ Interceptions Thrown_________ 5
8_________ Interceptions Gained_________ 5
17.55 [114th]__Kickoff Return Avg.__ 20.50 [83rd]
8.00 [65th]____ Punt Return Avg.___ 7.11 [82nd]
40.12 [15th]___ Net Punting Avg.___ 33.90 [91st]
2.25 [T-46th]______Sacks By_____2.25 [T-46th]
1.00 [T-21st]____ Sacks Allowed____ 2.50 [92nd]
28:05 [95th]___ Avg. Time of Poss.____33:41 [7th]
39.6% [67th]___3rd Down Conv.__ 50.0% [17th]
50.0% [T-54th]__4th Down Conv.__100.0% [T-1st]