What to watch for: Colorado

Missouri welcomes surging Colorado to open conference play Saturday. Colorado is the surprise team of the Big 12, having opened the season with three straight wins. Missouri dominated Ball State in its last contest but still has a lot of questions to answer. Check inside for a breakdown of the position matchups that will decide the outcome.

The 1990 Missouri-Colorado matchup has been dissected again and again. The Buffaloes were given five downs to complete their game-winning drive, a decision that would propel Colorado to a share of the national championship.

Turns out Colorado has a little historical frustration in this series, too. Some 33 years earlier, Colorado completed a five-yard pass that appeared to be a touchdown for the Buffaloes' Boyd Dowler.

Dowler was marked down a half-inch out, despite a photo, from the Denver Post, that showed he had crossed the goal line. Without the score, Missouri secured a 9-6 upset.

Old grudges die hard. With any luck, the 2004 affair will not inspire such problems, but another close game should be in order. Both teams have boatloads of talent on both sides of the ball, but Colorado holds a five-game winning streak between the schools and the mental edge.

Tiger offense vs. Buffalo defense

Advantage: Missouri

How Missouri responds to facing a Big 12-calibre defensive line will be very telling. The Tigers' offensive line has had the physical advantage in the first three games of the season, but that could change Saturday. Colorado had an impressive eight sacks against Washington State two games ago, but has not shown much of a pass rush otherwise.

Sophomore DE Alex Ligon is the front four's top performer, having recorded 18 tackles and three sacks. He is also the youngest member of an experienced line, which boasts two juniors and a senior. Ligon, 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, is slight compared to the Tiger offensive front, but is a speed rusher from the outside, similar to Missouri's sophomore DE Brian Smith.

LB Jordon Dizon is a physical specimen and has cracked the Colorado starting lineup as a true freshman. Dizon leads the Buffaloes with 25 tackles and, at 6-foot and 200 pounds, is a force at weak-side linebacker. Missouri QB Brad Smith has yet to face an athletic linebacker corps this season; how the coaching staff responds to this should go a long way to determining how well the Tiger offense functions. If Smith finds a balance between scrambling and making smart passes, the Tigers should be in good shape.

Earlier this week, Colorado coach Gary Barnett said he was very concerned with how his cornerbacks match up with the Tigers' receivers. Either three or four of the starters in Colorado's secondary will be sophomores, depending on if junior free safety J.J. Billingsley, who had arthroscopic knee surgery and missed the season's first two games, gets the starting nod over sophomore Tyrone Henderson.

They also run the gamut from 5-foot-10 to 6-foot-1, compared to Missouri's starting receivers, who are all over 6-foot-2. Further, Colorado ranks 116th in the country in pass defense, surrendering a shocking 507 yards of total offense to North Texas on Sept. 18. This is a situation the Tigers must exploit.

Colorado runs a 4-3 pro style defense.

Buffalo offense vs. Tiger defense

Advantage: Push

One unit has a lot to prove, while the other has seen extensive remodeling.

Colorado has the weapons to be a strong offense, but has only put together one strong effort this season, in its last game, against North Texas, in which the Buffs racked up 586 yards of offense. That output came just seven days after Colorado scratched out just 125 yards of offense against Washington State.

Senior TB Bobby Purify is a big-game back that the Tigers have yet to face this season. Purify has grown as a back in his five seasons at Colorado, especially after receiving a medical redshirt last season, when he suffered a high ankle sprain in the third game. Purify has had at least 15 carries in all of the Buffaloes' games this season, with a career high 26 for 189 yards against Colorado State. How Missouri's restructured linebacker corps, including sophomore Marcus Bacon who makes his first career start, responds to this test will be key.

Colorado occasionally uses three backs at the same time, employing a tailback, fullback and V-back, which the Buffaloes describe as a combination tailback-fullback. Junior Lawrence Vickers earns this spot, but is used most often as a blocking back.

The Colorado offensive line, like always, is big and athletic. Experience among the group varies, with two seniors, two sophomores and a junior. All five starters are at least 290 pounds, making it evident that this unit will not be pushed around. Like on the other side of the ball, this is the first time the Missouri front will be tested by a group with similar size and talent. The Tiger defensive line will need to slow down the running game by any means necessary, getting penetration as often as possible. The task is a difficult one. Missouri should be in good shape if it can routinely put contact on Purify in the backfield, even if they do not drop him right away.

Junior QB Joel Klatt, an athletic player who has completed at least half of his passes in all three games, runs the offense. His passing results have been inconsistent; his output against North Texas (371 yards) nearly doubled his totals in the first two games combined (195). He is mostly a pocket passer but has the athleticism to move around when he needs to. If Klatt gets rolling early, he could be in for a big game.

The Colorado receiver corps is the offense's biggest weakness. Former walk-on junior Evan Judge leads the Buffaloes with nine receptions for 146 yards and a touchdown. No other player has more than 83 receiving yards.

Junior TE Joe Klopfenstein, a weapon in the medium-range passing game, leads the team with two touchdown receptions. Missouri's secondary is more athletic and experienced than Colorado's receivers. Colorado will think run first, but stopping the pass must remain a concern for the Tigers.

Colorado runs a multiple offense.

Special teams

Advantage: Colorado

Colorado sophomore K Mason Crosby is a weapon. While the thin air of Boulder certainly aids his distance, Crosby has already hit two field goals of more than 50 yards, including one from 55. He has made five of his seven attempts, but had a kick blocked against Washington State.

Junior P John Torp has already punted 15 times, averaging 45.1 yards per kick. His long is 61 yards.

Freshman Stephone Robinson is the primary punt returner, but is averaging just 8.9 yards per return. Sophomore Terrence Wheatley is the only Buffalo to return a kick this season, but Robinson tops the depth chart there this week and will likely see the majority of the returns against the Tigers.

Missouri has had one punt blocked already, while Colorado has blocked three. This could be a turning point if Missouri lets it happen again; otherwise, special teams should not factor too much into the decision.


Advantage: Colorado

Both teams had a bye entering the contest, so neither has the advantage of carrying momentum into the game. Colorado used the week off to get healthy, and was successful in that regard, smoothing out some of the team's bumps and bruises. Missouri, conversely, had to deal with the David Richard situation, reshaping the defensive unit.

Colorado has won the past five games between the schools and 17 of the past 19. The Buffaloes have won a few close games this season and should have all the confidence they need to win the contest. A Missouri win would prove the Tigers are a contender in the Big 12's North division.

Don't expect much defense in this contest. Both teams should manage at least 30 points, and the winner should be the team that can hold onto the ball and make a big play or two on defense. Missouri hasn't lost a home game since 2002; this isn't the game that will end the streak, but it will still be a fight.

Final Prediction: Missouri 38, Colorado 34

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