Prequel to the Big 12 Championship?

What better way to scout a potential Big 12 Championship opponent than to actually play them. When Colorado comes into town Saturday, the match-up might very well be a preview of what's to come on Dec. 3, when the conference's top two teams battle for championship hardware.

No. 24 Colorado (4-1, 2-0) claimed the Big 12 North crown in 2004, and with a 4-1 record coming into Saturday’s contest, the Buffaloes are on a direct path to the championship game this season in Houston.

With a relatively favorable schedule ahead for Colorado, No. 2 Texas (5-0, 2-0) sits as the major road bump in the Buffaloes’ way. Riding the wave of a 12-game winning streak (the nation’s second longest), the Longhorns are no small bump.

Staying sharp coming off last weekend’s 45-12 victory over Oklahoma might be Texas’ main area of concern. The Horns have not been ranked this high at the season’s midpoint since 1983, but Texas is far from on Easy Street after proving in the past seven years that brushing off the post-OU hangover takes time.

Case-in-point, Texas has come out victorious in the past seven games following OU weekend, but five of those wins came only in the last few minutes. Coaches saw the squad losing focus and falling into a rut in practice earlier this week, but coaches have been quick to straighten them out.

"I told them sternly that I didn’t like what I saw out there," said Mack Brown. "They weren’t awful but they didn’t look like the No. 2 team in the country. I told them they earned the right to be the No. 2 team in the nation, but to keep it, they are going to have someone trying to take it from them each week."

Of all teams for the Horns to face this weekend without full focus on the game, Colorado is one of the most dangerous for Texas. Colorado is the lone conference team the Horns do not hold an all-time series edge over and comes into the contest with the momentum of a 41-20 win over Texas A&M last week. Even though Texas has won three of the last four games against the Buffs, the series stands at a 7-7 tie.

This is a different Colorado team than the one the Horns faced last season. In fact, these Buffaloes look much more like the 2001 group that spoiled Texas’ national championship hopes by beating the Horns in the conference title game.

Colorado Offense

The Colorado offense comes into the game ranked No. 25 in the nation in total offense (425.6 ypg). The production is centered around QB Joel Klatt, whose 107-of-162 passing ranks 12th in the nation (66.0 completion pct).

"Any time you have a quarterback that's productive in terms of engineering your offense, you've always got a chance to win," said Texas defensive coordinator Gene Chizik. "They've been making a lot of yards, and they're just clicking on all cylinders right now."

Klatt does not find his yards by looking down field much, but instead picks up small chunks of yards, moving the chains with short passes. In the play-action offense, TE Joe Klopfenstein has been Klatt’s primary target, and leads his team with 250 receiving yards. One hundred-plus yard receivers Klopfenstein, WR Dusty Sprague, CU’s leading receiver in catches with 20, WR Evan Judge, RB Hugh Charles and TE Quinn Sypniewski have helped Klatt rack up 1,246 passing yards during his much-improved senior campaign.

"Klatt does a nice job of mixing up the drop-back game and some quick-gain plays, but you always have the issue of the pass plays off the run look," said Chizik.

In the backfield, Colorado has a Charles of its own. Hugh Charles averages 97.4 yards per game on the ground and has scored five times for an offense that has run for a 163 yards per game through five games.

"He's hard to tackle in the open field," said Chizik. "He's got great vision, and he's just a really good running back."

CU’s Charles shares the elusiveness of Texas’ version, but the two backs have their differences.

"Hugh is shorter, powerful and stocky, but Jamaal is a little leaner and more powerful," said Chizik.

Colorado Defense

Run defense is CU’s strength on the other side of the ball. The Buffs have given up just 77.6 yards on the ground per game this season (Texas averages 288.6, the second-best average in the nation) and, with just the 55th-best pass defense in the country, are forcing teams to run.

"They're not a big blitz team," said Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis. "They're going to try to make you run it. If they do blitz, it's more zone blitzes."

To bait teams into pounding the football, Colorado plays a prevent style defense.

"They don't play a whole lot of man (defense)," said Davis. "When they do, typically, it's with a cushion. You can watch their games and note that they're going to try to not give you a big play."

Opposing passing games are averaging just over 222 yards per game through the air.

LB Thaddeus Washington and his 38 tackles lead the way for the defensive unit. Defensive backs J.J. Billingsley and Tyrone Henderson trail Washington in the category but both have more than 30 tackles each. Intercepting passes has become a CU habit, as eight different players have picked off a pass for the Buffs. Starting DE Alonzo Barrett tore a PCL against the Aggies last weekend and will not play versus Texas.

Special Teams

This is the one area where Colorado has a definite edge over the Horns. Both PK Mason Crosby and P John Torp rank near the top of the NCAA charts in their specialty. Crosby, a Georgetown native, averages 63.0 yards a kickoff, which is good enough to rank second in the Big 12. Crosby has nailed 10-of-13 field goals and connected on all 15 PATs to become Colorado’s scoring leader through five games.

Torp has been equally impressive, as his 47.9 yard punting average ranks No. 2 in the country. Field position is obviously a battle better suited for the Buffaloes.

"He (Torp) does a tremendous job of keeping you inside your ten yard line," said Brown. "They make you go for a long way to try to get points. When you face the leading punter and leading kicker in the nation, you have to worry about field position," said Brown.

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