Colorado 101

BEFORE LAST WEEK, it was hard to fathom how the past 12 months could have been any worse for Colorado's football program. On the field, they followed up a second straight Big 12 North title with a 5-7 campaign. Then, off the field, it was scandal-mania involving sexual abuse and questionable recruiting tactics. It came to a head with coach <b>Gary Barnett</b> getting suspended for most of the off-season and three top players transferring.

But all the problems seemed to evaporate Saturday night when they beat Colorado State, 27-24, in front of an appreciative crowd at Folsom Field.

Did the off-season turmoil only serve to get the Buffs focused and united? Or are they a house of cards ready to fall to the Cougars for the second season in a row?

When: Saturday, 12:35.
Where: Qwest Field (67,000 capacity), Seattle
TV: Live on ABC
Last Meeting: 2003, WSU 47-26
Line: WSU by 2.5

COLORADO ON OFFENSE

Players to Know:

Joel Klatt, QB: During the off-season, the team has really rallied behind Klatt, who was one of the few pleasant surprises last year. The junior threw for 2,600 yards and 21 touchdowns against just 10 interceptions in 2003. Against WSU last fall, Klatt watched most of the game from the treatment room after being the victim of several bone-crushing hits. Klatt missed a lot of throws against CSU in week one, and finished with just 117 passing yards despite not being sacked all day. He is a solid passer when given time to work, but his accuracy fails when he faces a good pass rush. Given Barnett's open respect for our blitzing scheme, expect short timing throws out of Klatt on Saturday and few, if any, deep throws unless it proves necessary.

Bobby Purify, RB: Purify is CU's most dangerous offensive weapon. Last week he accounted for 203 of CU's 372 yards of total offense, 189 of which on the ground (7.3 yards per carry). He is very strong and he will run right at you, reminiscent of Notre Dame's Julius Jones. WSU must contain him early or he will wear them out by the fourth quarter.

Blake Mackey, WR: CU's receiving corps was absolutely decimated by the graduation of Derek McCoy and DJ Hackett, who are both now in the NFL. The situation was worsened by the unfortunate loss of Jeremy Bloom to pro skiing this fall. Mackey is being counted on to get open on third and long plays. He caught just one pass for 16 yards against CSU.

Joe Klopfenstein,TE: While Colorado is desperate for receivers to emerge, Klopfenstein is one proven target Klatt can rely on. He caught just one pass against CSU for 8 yards, but had 20 catches last season for 190 yards and four TDs (two of which came against WSU).

Overview: Colorado is traditionally a power running program, but they surprised their fans last year by passing for 3,350 yards while faltering with a league worst 93 rushing yards per game. It was a major off-season objective to correct the running game and on the surface they seem to have succeeded, rushing for 260 yards against CSU last week. They've got a solid passer in Klatt and a very fast and powerful runningback in Purify, but it remains to be seen if their renewed success on the ground is a result of an improved offensive line, or just overcompensating with their blocking assignments. Colorado's offensive weakness is receiver, where no reliable targets have emerged.

Strategy: There are three keys to beating the CU offense: (1) contain the run, (2) pressure Klatt, and (3) avoid getting burned by the screen pass. CU dominated the first half last week rushing the football, but they did it in a suspicious manner. The Buffs ran some bizarre formations including, twin strong-side tight ends and bunch receivers close to the tackle. With the field and line of scrimmage heavily over-loaded to one side (as many as eight potential blockers), CU simply ran the football to the strong side. This doesn't seem like rocket science, but CSU failed to make adjustments in their defensive alignments, took bad tackling angles, and were frequently caught out of position, allowing Purify to run full speed at the CSU backfield. The result was a 17-0 Colorado lead before the end of the second quarter. In the second half, CSU played smarter and faster, stuffing the run, and forcing Klatt to throw under pressure. The Cougars' blitz heavy defense should ensure that he has little time to throw, but he does like to fall back on screen passes when he sees blitzes coming, so it's very important not to over extend and recognize the screens quickly. CSU made these adjustments and held CU to just three offensive points in the second half.

COLORADO ON DEFENSE

Players to Know:

Matt McChesney, DT: Colorado has a pair of very good run stopping tackles (Brandon Dabdoub being the other). They are supremely confident in the ability to stuff up the middle, especially after seeing tape on WSU's running troubles last week.

J.J. Billingsley, FS: Billingsley is the lone veteran in the CU secondary. Colorado managed just 10 total interceptions last year and had only one against CSU despite plenty of opportunities. Billingsley is being counted on to make the CU secondary seem less appetizing to opponents, but he had minor knee surgery two weeks ago and may only see sporadic playing time against the Cougs.

Jordon Dizon, LB: CU often uses only two true linebackers and are rotating a lot of different people at those positions. Expect to see more of Dizon after being a key part of CU's goal line stand at the end of the CSU game.

Overview: Colorado has a fairly conservative defense that generally runs zone coverage. Their defensive tackles are excellent, but their corners are inexperienced. CSU had open receivers even when CU switched to nickel formation. They successfully stuffed the run against CSU but surrendered 403 passing yards and managed just one sack. Expect them to respect WSU's passing game and play containment defense. They don't usually blitz much and are unlikely to so in this game, but it's early in the season and Barnett may be looking to take the Cougs by surprise in this department.

Strategy: Colorado runs a much more traditional defense than New Mexico which should help WSU's offensive line. Colorado defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz (last year's interim head coach at Arizona) is still implementing his scheme and will be hesitant to leave his secondary exposed after last week's fireworks. Alternately, CU may be very confident that their defensive line can successfully contain the WSU's struggling running game, and opt to leave linebackers in coverage. WSU can, and must, run the football when CU leaves them the option; however, Cougar QB Josh Swogger should not hesitate to attack the CU corners. They seemed confused and passive in the CSU game and were never a threat to intercept the football. CU's safeties and linebackers are another matter. Free Safety Billingsley has experience, and the linebackers will be watching for opportunities to pick off an errant pass in zone coverage.

COLORADO ON SPECIAL TEAMS

Buffalo kicker Mason Crosby showed some serious leg in the CSU game, booming a 55-yard field goal that would have been good from 70. Granted he was playing in the thin Boulder air, but don't be surprised if CU tries some long field goals in Seattle. John Torp, Colorado's punter, looks solid too, averaging 52.3 yards per punt in three attempts this season.

FINAL THOUGHTS

CU's offense has a few wrinkles, but the Cougar D should come into every first and second down play looking to stop the run. When CU has three receivers in a bunch formation, think strong-side run. When a wide out goes in motion toward the line of scrimmage, assume he's looking to block the outside linebacker. CU has not proven that its OL can open holes. Purify is a dangerous runner, but the Cougs may have the speed to contain him. The key will be preventing the extra blockers from sealing the linebackers off and allowing Purify to break tackles against the defensive backfield.

On the other side of the ball, it all comes down to Swogger. WSU may not be able to run the ball on Saturday, but the holes are there in the CU secondary for the Cougs to win anyway. The key will be Swogger's ability to hit the seams in Colorado's zone defense. He must be the aggressor in this respect. The Buffaloes imploded under an aggressive offensive and defensive game plan last year and there is no reason to think it can't happen again.


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