Colorado Preview: Between the Lines

DENVER -- From Darrell Scott to Big 12 Championships, there's a lot of recent history between the Colorado Buffaloes and the Horns. But Texas head coach Mack Brown says very little of that will matter on Saturday.

No. 5 Texas (4-0)
Colorado (3-1)

Folsom Field (53,750)
Sat., Oct. 4 (Time: 6:00 p.m. central; TV: FSN)


That was the score of the Longhorns' enormous win over Colorado in the 2005 Big 12 Championship Game, as Texas cruised past the Buffs on its way to the Rose Bowl. Texas ended up winning a national championship that season, but the story was very different in 2001.

True, the setting was nearly the same. Texas was one game away from the national championship game (which was going to be out at the Rose Bowl, no less). All the heavily-favored Horns needed to do was roll past Colorado in the Big 12 Championship Game, a Colorado team Texas had easily dispatched earlier in the year.

Easier said than done. Two of Texas' best players getting injured on the same play, three Buffalo picks, a big second half comeback that fell just short and a roller coaster of emotion later, the Colorado Buffaloes were Big 12 Champs, leaving the Longhorns out of the national championship picture.

Then there's freshman running back Darrell Scott, who nearly committed to Texas before making a switch on Signing Day and putting on a Colorado hat on national TV.

As of late, there's been some history between Texas and Colorado, history that makes Saturday's game more than just a simple conference match-up.

But to Mack Brown, bringing up those events sounds like making excuses.

"We could say, 'It's mid-term and allergies are bad and it's really hot in Austin and the altitude's high and they beat Oklahoma last year this week, we lost to Kansas State, it's the week before OU.' None of that really matters," said Brown. "People have talked about the two championship games, but those two games are so far gone. What really matters is who plays the best on Saturday night."

Texas won't be playing either of those previous Colorado teams when they hit the field in Boulder. That in mind, let's take a look at the Buffaloes Texas will be facing.

Before the 2008 season, it was Scott who received the most preseason hype on offense. As predicted, a true freshman running back did burst onto the scene, leading the team with 349 yards rushing just four games into the season...but it's not the five-star, all-everything Darrell Scott. It's two-star, unranked Rodney Stewart.

The diminutive (5-6, 175) back has been very effective for Colorado, and that concerns Brown, who said his team hasn't faced a real running threat.

"If the other team is running it and taking the full 40 seconds (of play clock), the game goes really quickly," said Brown. "I'm really not sure yet we're as good against the run as we need to be because we haven't been tested. I think we'll know that leaving Boulder Saturday night."

In fact, Scott's uncle, sophomore receiver Josh Smith, has been much more productive than Scott. Smith has become quarterback Cody Hawkins' favorite target, already racking up 17 receptions for 204 yards and three touchdowns, while also being Colorado's first scorer in the team's last three outings (Eastern Washington, West Virginia, Florida State) on touchdown passes of 9, 38 and 30 yards.

Hawkins himself has thrown for 808 yards this season and nine touchdowns, compared to four picks. He's also completing 64 percent of his passes. Hawkins can be dangerous on the deep ball when set up by the running game, so look for Colorado to try to establish the run first.

Colorado lost a big piece of its offensive line when starting right tackle Ryan Miller suffered fractured fibula last week against Florida State. Miller is actually one of seven Buffaloes who are out for the 2008 season due to injury [CB Benjamin Burney (knee); DE Drew Hudgins (knee); OG Mike Iltis (knee); LB Jon Major (knee); OG Maxwell Tuioti-Maxwell (knee); TE Luke Walters (leg)].

Along with that list, LB B.J. Beatty suffered hairline fracture in his leg and is doubtful for the game, DE Jason Brace is listed as day-to-day with a concussion suffered in practice on September 21, S Bret Smith is day-to-day following his recovery from an ACL injury he suffered last year and WR Jason Espinoza is out for two to three more weeks because of a broken collarbone suffered on August 11.

Even with the 6-foot-8 Miller out, Colorado still has 6-foot-9 left tackle Nate Solder (before Miller's injury, Colorado had the tallest tandem of tackles in the country). Solder anchors a very large O-line. Every starter except new starting right tackle Matthew Bahr (6-4, 285) weighs over 300 pounds. It is a relatively young group, though, with center Daniel Sanders as the only senior.

While the Colorado offense is 82nd in the nation (340.5 ypg), the defense is fairing much better at 53rd (335 ypg). However, one thing is clear: You can run on Colorado.

The Buffs are giving up 172 yards per game on the ground (87th nationally), and it's not just because they played West Virginia. Colorado also took on Eastern Washington, which does nothing but throw the ball.

Colorado's difficulty in stopping the run isn't for lack of experience. Three of the four starters on the defensive line are seniors, with sophomore defensive end Marquez Herrod as the only exception. The D-line also hasn't been terribly effective in helping with the passing game. Colorado has a total of six sacks this season, compared to the Longhorns' 16, and no player has more than half a sack.

The player on defense you'll see around the ball most is junior middle linebacker Jeff Smart, who leads the team with 35 tackles. Starting alongside Smart are senior Brad Jones and junior Shaun Mohler, who play SAM and WILL, respectively, in Colorado's 4-3 defense, which looks similar in scheme to defenses we've seen from Texas (at least before Will Muschamp showed up).

The secondary, like the defensive line, has three seniors starting. Colorado ranks 21st in the nation in pass defense (163 ypg) and 23rd in pass efficiency defense (103.47 rating) and has performed well this season. If Colt McCoy can keep his numbers up like he has, on the road against a tougher secondary, it will bode well for the next weekend's game against Oklahoma.

The Colorado secondary is an aggressive bunch -- after Smart, the next two leading tacklers are safety Ryan Walters and cornerback Cha'pelle Brown -- and the DBs have five picks this season.

Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. CDT.

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