After two heart-stopping victories led by a quarterback who had never completed a college pass, the Buffs are now ranked 17th in AP poll and look like a contender to three-peat their way to another Big 12 championship game. But the Buffs are not without their shortcomings and hosting a very grumpy Wazzu squad should bring forth another close contest. It may a question of who has the moxie to fight their way out of another nail-biting 4th quarter showdown.
Colorado (2-0) is a 5-point favorite over Washington State (1-1). The game is scheduled for 12:30 PST. Unbelievably, the game is not being telecast.
WSU enters this game following a heartbreaking collapse in South Bend. Typically teams suffering an emotional loss like this will do one of two things, unravel or get pissed off and take it out on somebody. While I may be an optimistic homer, I believe WSU is likely to be the latter. Talking to some of the players after the game and hearing about their practices this week, they are not down on themselves. They know they are good and they are ready to prove it. Anyone who has met Erik Coleman, DD Acholonu, Isaac Brown, Tai Tupai, Will Derting and the rest of the gang can tell you they are the nicest guys in the world when the pads come off. But when those helmets strap on, make no mistake, these are very, VERY bad dudes we have on our team. They play with determination and wraith, and most importantly, they play from experience. WSU features 9 seniors on their defense and they are not about to let their epic WSU trilogy end in a tragic note of failure. This team is going to be pissed off on Saturday.
THE BUFFS ON OFFENSE
Overview: Historically, the Buffaloes have lived up to their namesake and been a bruising run oriented team. But the loss of all-world runningback Chris Brown to the draft and the defection of Marcus Houston to rival CSU left the Buff's stables a lot thinner on stallions. Add in the graduation of four offensive linemen along with arguably the nation's best blocking fullback and the Colorado ground game essentially has had to rebuild from scratch. Compounding this problem was supposed to be the quarterbacks. Colorado had none. Enter Joel Klatt, a walk-on ex-third basemen from the San Diego Padres farm system who seemingly comes from out of nowhere to deliver CU from the jaws of disaster, slicing and dicing UCLA and Colorado State in the process. WSU must now walk the tightrope of stopping Klatt and Air-Buffs without forgetting about a ho-hum Colorado rushing attack that is only a year removed from finishing 5th in the nation in rushing yards.
Strategy: The CU offense looks extremely similar Notre Dame's so the coaches shouldn't need to make too many adjustments. They feature great runningbacks working with a weak offensive line and a quarterback known for minimizing mistakes passing to very large receivers. For the second straight week, WSU squares off with an offensive line returning just one starter. Against Notre Dame, WSU bottled up the run nicely for 3 quarters and nearly TKO'd Carlyle Holiday. There is good reason to suspect the same this week, but with more game experience and game film to work with, the Colorado line could shore up a bit. Regardless, WSU needs to be ready for another brawl. WSU must contain Bobby Purify and the CU ground game while getting pressure on Klatt or they'll find themselves in another 4th quarter shootout. UCLA did these things very well, holding CU to a mere 245 yards, but wore themselves out along the way. The Bruins were forced to defend way too many plays over the course of the game and didn't have enough left in the tank by the end of the 4th quarter. WSU had similar problems with Notre Dame and must they must make a focused effort on getting the Colorado offense off the field in as few plays as possible. The drive extending penalties that killed WSU last week absolutely must be avoided (the Colorado refs were not very friendly to UCLA, either). Even without a dominating run game, CU will grind you down if you let them. They play hard-nosed football and have thin Rocky Mountain air working to their advantage.
Players to Know:
Joel Klatt, QB: The verdict is still not completely in on this guy. Despite being only year removed from minor league baseball, he has been absolutely magnificent in his first two showings as college quarterback, throwing for 562 yards and 5 touchdowns against zero interceptions. Whether is his for real or not is no longer an issue, as WSU knows it cannot afford to think otherwise. But Klatt still hasn't been around the block yet, and there is a chance that under intense pressure from Brown and Acholonu he may get exposed to a veteran WSU secondary. In the two games he has played he has shown two different looks. Against CSU Klatt let loose the cannons throwing for over 400 yards on 34 passes attempts. Against UCLA however, he threw the ball more underneath, averaging just 7.5 yards per completion but throwing with deadly precision (70% completions). WSU can't forget about the deep ball, but should orient their defense around a controlled passing attack.
Bobby Purify, RB: Purify is electric when he has holes to work with, but that hasn't happened much this year. He has only rushed for 111 yards in two games, but WSU can't afford to forget about him as the offensive line is heavily focused on improving his production to complete their offense. Purify is also a dangerous receiving threat similar in style to WSU's Jonathan Smith.
Derek McCoy, WR: The featured receiver in the suddenly pass oriented Buff offense is McCoy. He is a very well rounded player with good size (6 foot 3), speed, and excellent blocking skills. He can run all the routes but has been CU's deep threat thus far catching 7 balls for an incredible 218 yards (32 yards per catch!) and 2 scores.
DJ Hackett, WR: While McCoy has been placed in charge of the deep balls, Hackett has emerged as the possession receiver, catching 16 balls for 168 yards thus far. He is a senior JC transfer that is similar in size and speed to McCoy. He needs to be locked up.
Brian Calhoun, RB: Calhoun is just barely behind Purify in the depth chart and will be the back that kills us in the 4th quarter if the game plays out like Notre Dame did. He also is a kickoff return specialist.
THE BUFFS ON DEFENSE
Overview: Rumor has it that Colorado plans to run a base dime defense against WSU in an effort to choke our passing attack. This is placing a lot of faith in their defensive line to stop the run, even though dime defense to a big 12 team still involves 7-8 guys in the box. They seem to be under the impression that we run an offense similar to Texas Tech who they virtually shut down last year. Texas Tech has a very pass heavy attack, but they throw mostly controlled passes to runningbacks and short passes to the receivers, opting to run the ball only 8-10 times per game. CU eats that stuff up. If WSU runs the ball with any success or manages to stretch the field vertically, this defense could be in trouble. Colorado runs a base 5-2-4 defense anyway, so this isn't a huge shift in strategy for them. However, they are thin at linebacker and deep at defensive back so this could just be an attempt to get us to play to their strengths and keep their best players on the field. Colorado's secondary frequently blitzes in an effort to get quarterbacks throw balls up for grabs. Having lost their best defensive end for the season, expect to see even more of this. Matt Kegel will see players coming at him from various directions. He needs to build off the experience he gained against Notre Dame's zone blitzes in releasing the ball quicker and escaping pressure.
Strategy: The Cougars have to run the ball with more success than they showed last week. Kegel can't be responsible for all of our offensive production in the face of 5 defensive backs (even though 2 will be lined up like defensive ends). He will have to get the ball rolling, though. Over the course of the game WSU will have to start taking the pressure off Kegel with more run support or the Cougs will be toast. This won't be easy as Colorado does a great job of clogging up the running lanes. The good news is the Buffs had a little difficulty getting pressure on UCLA's quarterbacks last week, and the loss of defensive end Marques Harris to a broken leg didn't help. Kegel may have some time to operate but he still has to protect himself, UCLA fans claim the Buffs aren't above pushing the envelope on late hits and Colorado is likely to send defensive backs rushing on his blind side. WSU's runningbacks will need to hone their blocking skills to pick up the blitz. With the tight end pass no longer a surprise, Kegel needs to be on top of his game a see the seams in the CU defense. The Buff defensive backs will get beat at some point, but Kegel must make them pay big when the get burned.
Players to Know:
Medford Moorer, FS: Moorer is a big time playmaker with hard-hitting style of a linebacker. He had 107 tackles last year and 4 INTs, one of which he returned 51 yards for a score. At 6 foot 2 he has enough height to disrupt jump balls. He typically lines up just 5-6 yards behind the line of scrimmage and is involved in almost every play.
Brian Iwuh and JJ Billingsley, S: CU's weak and strong side safeties line up almost like defensive ends, presenting what looks like a six man front. On first down they look to shut down the run. After that they are usually dropping into pass coverage or blitzing off the corners. UCLA had a lot of success when they passed against them on first downs.
Sean Tuffs, LB: If Tuffs is the lone Buff linebacker this week he will really need to step it up and anchor the center of the field. He is very talented but has been injury prone the last few years.
Gabe Nyenhais, DE: With Harris out, Nyenhais is the lone senior on a very good defensive line and will be relied on to get pressure on Kegel. Nyenhais, like most Buff linemen, is very agile and athletic. They don't rely on raw size to stop the run, but rather swarm as a group.
THE BUFFS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
Jeremy Bloom, PR/KR/WR: The gold medal winning champion mogalist is a bolt of lightning on the football field. Whether it is as punt returner or as spark plug in the Buff's offensive scheme, when Bloom gets the ball, things happen. Last year he averaged 17 yards per punt return with 2 TDs. He also likes to run the ball on reverses as a receiver. The most comparable player WSU has faced recently is Oklahoma's Antonio Perkins in the Rose Bowl. He is serious threat to our special teams coverage.
Mason Crosby, K: Still a relatively untested rookie. He is 1 for 1 this season in field goals.
While they may not have the same prestige as Notre Dame, Colorado is every bit as big a challenge for the Cougars. WSU has the chance to exercise a few ghosts and silence a lot of critics if they can come up with a big road win in Boulder. It's a matter of learning from last week's mistakes and keeping the defense from getting tired out by long CU drives and the altitude at Folsom Field. Colorado is a great team but they have also been dodging bullets in their first two games. They won't underestimate the Cougars but they won't have the benefit of facing a defense that underestimates Klatt either. A looming trip to Tallahassee to face Florida State is ahead of them next week, and they want to keep up their momentum going into it.