Gary Barnett’s Colorado Buffaloes who bring their act to Austin Saturday."> Gary Barnett’s Colorado Buffaloes who bring their act to Austin Saturday.">

Barnett Has the Buffs Breathin' Fire

A large part of why people touted Texas as a national championship contender in ‘01 had to do with the fact that the Horns play the "easy" Big 12 slate this season, meaning no Nebraska or Kansas State. Well, trash that old chestnut. After Kansas State's shocking loss to Texas Tech, it's third consecutive ‘L', the Wildcats are looking a lot milder than <B>Gary Barnett&#146;s</B> Colorado Buffaloes who bring their act to Austin Saturday.

After CU dispatched the Aggies in Boulder, the Buffs and Horns are now sporting identical 5-1 records. After dropping their opener to amazing Fresno State, Colorado has reeled off five straight victories, their last two coming against then-ranked K-State and A&M. This game figured to be a challenge for Texas all along -- now it has the look of a K-State or Nebraska-type slugfest.

Colorado beat A&M in a see-saw thriller that may leave the Buffaloes emotionally drained coming into Austin. CU led A&M 6-0 on a pair of field goals, then fell behind 14-6 before scoring 18 straight points to lead 24-14. The Ags narrowed it to 24-21 and were driving for the tie or win with about a minute left when the Buff defense turned in the back-breaker. A blitz by LB Kory Mossoni blind-sided Mark Farris who coughed it up to another Buff LB, Joey Johnson, who raced 52 yards for the winning TD with under a minute to play. Talk about an emotional hangover. That last second drama following a win in Manhattan against the ‘Cats may be the football equivalent of a margarita binge at El Arroyo with no dinner.

But as we saw last season before CU knocked off A&M in College Station, Barnett can pull a motivational rabbit out of his hat when he needs to. Before that one, you may recall, Barnett threatened to yank the Buff decal off his players’ helmets so displeased was he with their efforts. The result? A shocking Colorado win at Kyle Field, a notoriously nasty place for Ag opponents. Might he turn to his bag of tricks this week? He shouldn’t have to, despite CU’s emotional victories the last two weeks. The Buffs figures to be plenty fired up coming into DKR to face top-10 but proven-to-be-beatable Texas in what could be a true statement game for Barnett’s program.

The Colorado offense is led by QB Craig Ochs, a 6-2, 215 sophomore who went 14 of 28 against A&M, but who threw a crucial pick late that enabled the Aggies to score and close the gap to 24-21. Ochs is 94 of 157 for 1,105 yards on the season and has thrown an equal number of TDs and INTs (six). He's only been sacked five times. Through the air, Ochs likes to go to 6-3, 210 sophomore Derek McCoy who led CU in receptions against the Ags with five for 113 yards and a TD. McCoy has 15 catches for 310 yards (a whoppin' 20.7 per reception) through the season's first six games. The Colorado QB's other favorite target is TE Daniel Graham, who leads the Buffs in both catches (25) and receiving yards (324). A blast from recruiting battles past, Cedric Cormier, starts at the wide receiver spot opposite McCoy. The senior from Galena Park North Shore has eight catches for 74 yards on the season.

Colorado, though, is predominately a rushing team, effectively using the run to set up the pass. In six games, the Buffs have run the ball 285 times and passed it 170 times (a 62-38 run-pass split). The yardage split is more balanced, with the CU offense averaging 224.7 yards per game on the ground and 199.0 through the air (423.7 yards total). Colorado rushed it 52 times for 170 yards against A&M, with the leading rusher, Cortlen Johnson, toting it 14 times for 64 yards. Former all-planet recruit Marcus Houston was the Buffs’s fourth leading rusher on the day with 22 yards on six carries. On the season, 6-3, 225-pound sophomore Chris Brown leads CU with 532 yards on 121 attempts (4.4 per carry). And get this, Brown has yet to be thrown for a loss on any of his carries. At 6-0, 195, Bobby Purify offers a change of pace from the bruising Brown. Purify is the Buffs' second-leading rusher with 384 yards on 68 carries (5.6 per tote). Johnson is next on the Colorado season rushing list with 247 yards on 35 attempts (7.1 per carry) with Ochs next in line with 83 yards on 27 carries (less the sack total, those numbers are 119 yards on 22 carries, a 5.4 yard per carry average).

Defensively, Colorado likes to stack the line and force teams to go upstairs. The Aggies -- R.C. must have had to have been tranquilized -- rushed it only 19 times against CU for 42 yards, while throwing it 50 times for 334 yards, including Farris TD strikes of 64-, five- and 36-yards. Opposing offenses have gained just 289.3 yards per game against the Buff D, and a mere 91.8 of those yards per game came on the ground. Colorado will have to try to shut Texas down without its most explosive defender, LB Jashon Sykes, who is out for the season with a herniated disk in his neck. Sykes' replacement at one of the Buffs' ILB spots, Joey Johnson of San Antonio MacArthur, has filled in well, contributing 15 tackles over his two-game stretch as a starter. CU's top three tacklers reside in the defensive backfield (partially a testament to opposing teams' ability to pass on the Buffs, but also evidence of the outstanding ability of all-league candidate SS Michael Lewis). Lewis leads the CU defense with 50 tackles (and three INTs), followed by CB Donald Strickland with 41 (and two picks) and FS Robbie Robinson with 36 (and one INT). Overall, the Colorado D has 10 interceptions, nine by DBs and one by DE Marques Harris.

The Buffaloes are solid in the kicking game. Punters Jeremy Flores and Mark Mariscal average almost 43 per punt (39.3 net) and Flores has also nailed 11 of 12 field goals, including all four of his attempts from outside of 30 yards (long of 51). Punt returner Roman Hollowell is a legit threat to take one back the distance, something he accomplished against Colorado State with a 77-yard score. Hollowell averages a league leading (and nationally fourth-best) 20 yards per return.

Four of CU's starting 22 -- Cormier, OG Andre Gurode, a teammate of Cormier at GPNS, ILB Johnson and SS Lewis -- hail from Texas.

A key to watch Saturday will be UT OC Greg Davis’ willingness to take what CU gives him through the air -- and judging from A&M’s success, it may be quite a bit -- or jam it down the Buffs’ throats with heavy doses of Cedric and Ivan to set up whatever he wants to take passing.

[Editor's note: Clendon Ross contributed to this report.]

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