Colorado 101: Welcome to the Pac-12

FIRST YEAR COLORADO head coach Jon Embree may have bit off more than he can chew in his first go-round. A new conference, a young team, and a 13 game schedule with no bye week. The Buffs have struggled out of the gate, winning just one of their first four, but the team is more talented than that and Embree has them fired up for their first official in-conference game as a member of the Pac-12.

Cougars (2-1) vs Buffaloes (1-3)
AT A GLANCE
KICKOFF:
12:30 pm Pacific Time

WHERE:
Folsom Field (53,750)

TELEVISION:
Fox College Sports Pacific ( Channel 617 on DirecTV, and possibly also 617-1 HD)

RADIO:
The Cougar Sports Radio Network covers much of the West. Click here for listings.

THE LINE:
CU by 3

LAST MEETING:
Colorado 20-12 in 2004 at Qwest Field.

THE SERIES:
Colorado leads 4-2.

CF.C PREDICTION:
See below

THE BUFFALOES ON OFFENSE

Players to Know
Rodney Stewart, RB: At 5-6, 175 pounds, Stewart is a glimpse of what Ricky Galvin could look like in the future. Stewart runs like a greased chicken - quick, balanced and a nifty receiver to boot. He is currently nursing a shoulder injury, but should be ready to play against the Cougs. Stewart needs 919 yards to become CU's all-time leading rusher, which would be saying something given the company he is in, (Eric Bieniemy, Rashaan Salaam).
Tyler Hansen, QB: A very decisive pocket passer with a quick, accurate delivery. The senior has thrown 9 touchdowns and only one interception this season.
Paul Richardson, WR: A rising star and serious deep threat. Pairs well with Stewart, keeping the offense threatening. Had a school record 284 receiving yards against Cal, after which teams have been putting way more attention on him.
Overview
CU runs a pro-style offense. With the offensive talent they have, the Buffs ought to have a better record than they do. Jon Embree wants to return to a much more physical and emotional brand of football, but the offensive line has not done its part. Despite Stewart's talent, the Buffs have averaged just 3.1 yards per rush -- and have surrendered 10 sacks. Injuries to several starting linemen and the fact CU has fallen behind quickly in every contest have not helped.

Strategy
CU wants to run the ball right over you, but is very comfortable with its passing game. Stewart and Richardson are the main cogs and must be contained. Keep Stewart between the tackles and perhaps keep a man on him even in passing downs. Use bump and run against Richardson to break up his routes, with plenty of safety support.

THE BUFFALOES ON DEFENSE

Players to Know
Jon Major, WLB: A veteran cornerstone of a of an otherwise very green looking defense.

Ayodeji Olatoye, CB: Likely replacement at corner who saw a lot of action at Ohio State last week. Embree said CU is down to its final three options at cornerback with Jered Bell (ACL), Travis Sandersfeld (broken leg), Parker Orms (several leg injuries) and Paul Vigo (hamstring) all hurting and likely out. Orms is the second leading tackler (31) on the Buffs and leads the team in third/fourth down stops with five. Embree left the door open on him, saying he could play Saturday if there's a "miraculous" recovery by Saturday. Overview
The defense was a complete rebuild to start the season and largely remains so. CU had two gaping holes at cornerback and injuries have further decimated that spot but before the injury bug bit, no one had really seized the moment out on the island. The defensive scheme is a very blitz heavy 4-3, which is generating a ton of sacks. The Buffs want to remain the aggressors even when struggling, but their emotions can get the better of them. They are the most penalized team in the nation and have had trouble with trick plays, misdirection, and running quarterbacks.

Strategy
Embree wants the Buffs to control the line of scrimmage; containing the running game and pressuring the quarterback. WSU must learn from its second half meltdown against SDSU. Lobbestael must adjust his protection and move the ball quickly away from the pressure. He simply will not have much time to throw. Punish CU's aggression with screens and swing passes. A little trickery or misdirection could also be devastating. The Buffs lightweight defensive line can be run upon, but the Cougs need to be clever and persistent about it. They cannot merely charge headlong into the blitz.

THE BUFFALOES ON SPECIAL TEAMS
Will Oliver appears to be ending a rollercoaster ride at kicker for CU that has gone on ever since Mason Crosby graduated. Oliver is a perfect 6-for-6 on the season with a long of 52 yards. Stewart lends his skills the return game and walk-on punter Darragh O'Neill averages a respectable 44 yard per boot, but has also suffered a pair of blocks in four games.

FINAL THOUGHTS
The Buffaloes are more talented than their record. They really ought to be 2-2. Then again, they could easily be 0-4. Penalties, mental errors, and miscues have littered every contest. The CU offense has firepower and don't be fooled by their poor stats in the running game category – they're capable of ripping off big runs. And so the Cougs will need to match that firepower with plenty of their own on offense. But Lobbestael must make quicker decisions with the ball and check down as necessary. The team that keeps its head and executes its assignments will win this game.

CF.C PREDICTION:
Cougs 42, Buffs 28

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