Thu 10/1/09 7:30 PM
Auburn L 41-30
Wyoming W 24-0
Series: CU 1-0
First Meeting: 2008
Last Meeting: 2008
Colorado – WR Darrell Scott (Bruised Knee) Probable, OL Bryce Givens (Personal Issue) Questionable, LB Michael Sipili (Knee) Questionable, QB Jerry Slota (Suspension) Out, OL Maxwell Tuiotu-Mariner (ACL Tear Recovery From Last Season) Questionable, DE Nick Kasa (Knee) Out.
WVU Offense vs. Colorado defense
The Buffs have allowed 19 plays of 20-plus yards, including eight of 40 yards or more. There was much improvement in the last outing against Wyoming, but the Cowboys are breaking in a new quarterback and coaching staff while morphing from a running-based I-formation offense to a spread look. Ragtag execution by Ragtime Cowboy Joe had as much to do with CU's shutout as anything head coach Dan Hawkins' squad did. MAC power Toledo bullied Colorado for 54 points and more than 600 yards a week prior, gaining 300-plus in both the running and passing game in a balanced showing. Part of the issue is inexperience, as CU starts two sophomores and a redshirt freshman along the defensive front of a 4-3 set. Frosh Will Pericak is the nose tackle, and could serve as a bit of a break for West Virginia's youthful centers – though he displaced a junior for the slot. Tackle Curtis Cunningham and end Largrone Shields have been unproductive, and are getting swept up inside as teams gain the outside edge needed to run. Other end Marquez Herrod has four tackles and a sack, the top numbers up front.
The linebackers are the strength. Middle cog Marcus Burton, at 265 pounds the heaviest ‘backer in school history, averages more than five tackles per game and can bottle the run. The senior is flanked by Jeff Smart and B.J. Beatty at the weakside and strongside slots, respectively. Smart is the most athletic player of the group and leads the team in tackles with 29, an average of almost 10 per contest. He moves well and can both get lateral and move upfield to contain the ground game. He isn't a great pass rusher, but will be utilized as such at times. Beatty doesn't have the numbers of Smart, but is a bit quicker and will often be a fifth rusher in passing situations. Look for Colorado to roll in many players, giving the depth chart and appearance of ‘starters' and ‘reserves' a free-flow similar to what many teams – WVU included – do in varying degrees. Hawkins is determined to keep his defensive line fresh, and with some experience in the reserves, he will likely test the Mountaineers with a few combinations through the initial quarters to see if any edge can be gained later against a still-developing front.
As with most teams allowing chunks of yardage, the secondary is posting big tackle numbers. Corner Jimmy Smith, an above-average cover player, averages eight tackles per game. Cha'pelle Brown's numbers are similar from the opposite corner spot, though he is more active within the blitz schemes. Free safety Anthony Perkins has 14 tackles on the year, but hasn't made any big plays to halt drives or save scores. This is a charred unit of now, but one with enough ability to cover and tackle better than it has in recent games. There are a myriad of problems, from blown assignments to missed opportunities to make plays. Colorado isn't likely to continue to allow so much yardage and so many points – if nothing else than because of mere mathematical probability. But until coordinator Ron Collins can match the players' physical ability with its mental execution, CU will continue to struggle. One can understand some of the problems last season, when the Bufffs had injuries to many key players once into Big XII play. And even now, Colorado is a sophomore-heavy team after a senior-laden season in 2008. But it's the way in which receivers are wide open, that running backs exploit wide creases, that opposing lines shove CU around, that is concerning.
Much like last season, West Virginia has better athletes and better overall talent in this offensive-defensive match-up. Unlike last year, however, WVU seems more intent on continually checking the secondary deep, and probing for openings over the middle while remaining true to the run game. It should have won in Boulder in regulation, just as it should have at Auburn, but didn't more because of player execution than a poor strategy or game plan. Many questioned West Virginia's offensive ideals in the last loss, when coordinator Jeff Mullen relied more on the pass than the run when it was assumed the run was gashing the Tigers. A closer look into play calls and stats shows, however, that the vertical passing game was working effectively – remember, two of the interceptions came late on screen passes, which are hardly vertical – and that it was setting up the solid runs instead of vice-versa. It'll likely be the same game plan against Colorado and into the future, Mullen offsetting a young line's deficiencies by placing it in the best overall position to succeed. If anything, the WVU assistant could be more likely to test the soft secondary, especially if the receivers continue to pile up holding calls (though Noel Devine must get his carries). This is a match-up West Virginia should win, no matter if it's ground-based or aerial. Don't allow WVU to beat WVU.
|By The Numbers|
|Scoring Offense 32.7 ppg||Scoring Defense 25.7 ppg|
|Rushing Offense 192.3 ypg||Rushing Defense 183 ypg|
|Passing Offense 293 ypg||Passing Defense 227 ypg|
Advantage: West Virginia
WVU Defense vs. Colorado Offense
Colorado was shut out in the second half – sans overtime – of last year's series meeting, which was the start of a string of games with lesser offensive production than that to which Hawkins was accustomed. The Buffaloes scored 14 or fewer points in four of the next fives games, and by then a mediocre year was assured. The struggles have continued this season, with more media and fan pressure being directed to quarterback Cody Hawkins, the son of the head coach. Hawkins, a junior, has thrown four interceptions and five touchdown passes, mundane numbers even for a player who hasn't been given much time to throw. Sacked eight times, he has been hurried continually, and the majority of his 52.6 completion percentage has come on dump offs and flares into the flats within the pro set look. The running game might be even more disappointed thus far to the staff, as it has amassed an average of 91.7 yards per game – a number that was at 62ypg before the gashing of Wyoming. The backs, including Rodney Stewart and Darrell Scott, have big-league ability. Stewart leads all team rushers with 82.5 yards per game. Scott has amassed 86 net yards in a pair of games, and listed starter Demetrius Sumler has carried just 20 times for 77 yards in three games. Part of that is the need to throw when trying to comeback. Colorado was behind 23-3 at the break against Toledo and never truly challenged.
Part of it is also the line play, which hasn't been good enough to allow much room. Three sophomores and a redshirt freshman dot the first five, and only junior tackle Nate Soldier has played consistently over the last 18-plus months. With the return of Scooter Berry and Reed Williams, West Virginia's front seven are primed to win the battle along the line of scrimmage and put pressure on Hawkins. The Colorado linemen have some talent, but they are simply too inexperienced right now to make much headway on the ground. That leaves most of the production on the passing game, which has been adequate. CU is hitting for more than 250 yards per game through the air, and even with the increased number of passes the average per pass attempt is 5.58 and per completion is more than 10 yards. Those numbers don't mirror West Virginia's chuck it lines yet, but they are respectable. Big play threat Scotty McKnight has caught 20 passes, two for touchdowns. Just two of those, though, have amassed 20 or more yards. Jason Espinoza and Riar Greer have each caught a scoring pass and average near 10 yards per completion. But because the Buffs aren't stretching the field, they are further limiting themselves in the ground game as team's cheat up. That also hinders the intermediate routes, and begins a feeding process where Hawkins has tighter windows into which to throw. The interception and/or three-and-out monster rears the head, and suddenly Colorado is on the short end by two-plus possessions at the half.
Offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau, in his first season at the position after being promoted to assistant head coach in addition to quarterbacks coaching duties, is still trying to find the correct mix. CU needs to run the ball some out of the pro set to aid its defensive and quarterback. But the line issues are limiting that option, which means Kiesau is forced to call short passes and receiver screens that serve like runs. That would work if passes were completed downfield, but that isn't happening at a consistent enough rate to stretch teams. The decision making of Hawkins, who doesn't have a huge arm for downfield throws, has also come into question, as the quarterback is forcing some passes both because of pressure and trying to play from behind. Like the defense, this unit has individual talent. But it hasn't strung enough together along the line to give the skill sets reasonable chances.
West Virginia should be able to contain the run, then utilize its blitz schemes to pressure Hawkins. If the Mountaineers are given a short field to defend, then blow coverage like they did at Auburn in routes to the corner of the end zone, Colorado has the ability to keep the game close. But if the Mountaineers can simply play solidly and without major mistakes, as the defense has for the better part of coordinator Jeff Casteel's tenure, it should be fine both in individual match-ups and those as a whole. Head coach Dan Hawkins has historically been exceptional given a week off to prepare. But the game atmosphere and talent differential should aid WVU, as Hawkins and the Buffs play at night in an unfamiliar environment. Another match-up edge to the Mountaineers.
|By The Numbers|
|Scoring Defense 27 ppg||Scoring Offense 26.3 ppg|
|Rushing Defense 83.7 ypg||Rushing Offense 91.7 ypg|
|Passing Defense 228.3 ypg||Passing Offense 251 ypg|
Advantage: West Virginia
WVU Special Teams vs. Colorado Special Teams
The Buffs have a solid kick returner in Scott, who averages more than 26 yards per return. The tailback has handled 13 of CU's 15 kickoff returns to date, and he has the burst and overall speed to break it for a score any time. West Virginia vvastly improved on both returns and coverage against Auburn, and this will be another test. Punt returner Jason Espinoza has solid hands, but isn't a threat to escape multiple tackle attempts. Combine that with WVU punter Scott Kozlowski's very good performance thus far, and it would seem the teams break even on the coverage and return games.
Colorado has an advantage in distance placekicking, as Aric Goodman has made three of four tries – including a 54-yarder. His range, at least in the higher altitudes, exceeds 60 yards, and Hawkins won't hesitate to trot him out for shots of 55-plus yards. West Virginia's Tyler Bitancurt has been better than expected thus far, but can't match the range and experience of Goodman. CU punter Matt DiLallo has a huge leg, with four kicks over 50-plus yards. But his team hasn't covered well, and his net (37 yards) has been lessened because of that. Colorado has blocked two punts in the first three games, so WVU must be aware of that as well. If Josh Lider can place kickoffs as needed and the Mountaineers don't have breakdowns with the return scheme, this will be an even category. Looks like Colorado might have the slightest of advantages overall - if Scott's knee doesn't bother him.
|By The Numbers|
|Net Punting 36.4 yards||Net Punting 37.4 yards per punt|
|KO Returns 22.2 yards per return||KO Returns 24.9 yards per return|
|Punt Returns 9.4 yards per return||Punt Returns 4.3 yards per return|
PICKS TO CLICK
On Offense: Jarrett Brown.
On Defense: Chris Nield, J.T. Thomas.
West Virginia has more ability, showcases better execution and is simply a better football team playing at home in a night game. The turnovers at Auburn, one hopes, were more the exception than the rule, and one would think quarterback Jarrett Brown couldn't possibly be able to duplicate the sheer number of mistakes in any other outing. And even with that, the Mountaineers, on their second-to-last possession, had the ball and a chance to lead with a touchdown. Enough about the last game. Colorado has been torched by the Mountain West and the MAC, and it has yet to show a vertical passing threat or the ability to block well enough to run. That combination won't move the football, and there's little evidence that the Buffs can come close to slowing West Virginia – a team that has thus far beaten itself in its lone loss. This one won't be close.
WVU – 40 Colorado - 17