Friday, September 7, 2007

Know Thy Opponent: Arizona State Sun Devils (1-0)

The itinerary might show Tempe, Arizona, but the Buffs are making a stop in hell as they attempt to start the season 2-0. After all, what other locale is home to (Sun) Devils, and temperatures rise to hotter than 100 degrees at night? Still, it's hard to look at the home of ASU as hell because despite the heat, it doesn't seem like punishment to spend eternity in Tempe.

Now Lincoln, that’s a different story. Any chance the Bugeaters would change their name to reflect their surroundings? Oh wait, that’s right, their mascot is corn. Need I say anything more?

After breaking down the Buffs’ performance against CSU, it’s time to focus on the Arizona State Sun Devils. Led by new coach Dennis Erickson and veteran quarterback Rudy Carpenter, the Buffs will have their hands full if they are to return to Boulder with their first road victory of the young season and avenge last season’s 21-3 loss.

ASU Offense:


Unlike a year ago, the answer at quarterback is simple: Rudy Carpenter. With only two inexperienced backups – sophomore Danny Sullivan and redshirt frosh Dax Crum – the offense depends on the third year starter.

Now a junior, Carpenter looks to recapture the success of his freshman year and put behind him the inconsistencies that plagued him in 2006. As a freshman, Carpenter led the nation in passer efficiency, threw for 2,273 yards, 17 touchdowns and only two interceptions…in only half a season. Compare that to the 2006 season when Carpenter’s accuracy dropped from 68.4% to 55.4%. The other numbers were indicative of a decline as well, with Carpenter finishing the season with 2,523 yards, 23 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

For starters, Carpenter will be happy if he can remain healthy in 2007. Carpenter played several games with a fracture in his throwing hand in 2006. Although the quarterback downplayed the injury, it inevitably had some impact on his effectiveness. And despite the changes in the coaching staff, head coach Dennis Erickson and offensive coordinator Rich Olsen have claimed that the offense will not be dramatically different than the one run by Dirk Koetter, thus easing the transition for the signal-caller. Carpenter had a very effective spring and a good first game against San Jose St, in which he completed 14 of 20 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns. Carpenter has a strong arm, decent mobility and a quick release. Creating pressure will be the key to slowing down the passing game. With enough time, Carpenter is the type of quarterback that can have a huge day.

Running back:

This is the aspect that makes the 2007 Sun Devils so difficult to defend. While ASU has traditionally been viewed as a passing stalwart, the best player on the 2007 roster is senior running back Ryan Torain. How good is Torain? In Koetter’s pass happy attack, Torain rushed for 1,229 yards and 7 TDs, with a robust 5.5 yards per carry.

Torain, a junior college transfer, is big enough at 215 pounds to run between the tackles, and his 4.4-4.5 speed provides him with big-play ability. In the first game of the season against SJSU, Torain ran for 123 yards, averaging 7.2 yards per carry and scoring three touchdowns. His rushing effort paced a ground effort that gained 250 yards.

In last years’ game against the Buffs, Torain only gained 80 yards on 18 carries. If the Buffs are to win on Saturday, holding the Sun Devils running back to 80 yards would be a good start.

Behind Torain is junior Keegan Herring and senior Preston Jones, brother of CU linebacker Brad Jones. Herring is a speedy back who gained more yards rushing his freshman year than any other freshman back in school history. Against the Buffs in 2006, Herring led the team with 82 yards rushing on only nine carries. However, Herring is questionable for the game after suffering an injury in the season opener.

Wide Receivers:

You would think that wideout would be the strength of the Sun Devils offense, but a quick look at the depth chart and at last year’s stats would reveal a startling surprise: the wide receivers did not produce. In fact, despite their aerial success, the wide receivers, as individuals, didn’t have much more success than the much-maligned group from Colorado. Last year’s top receiver, current NFL tight end Zach Miller, only had 20 catches. That’s right. Twenty catches. Even Riar Geer bested those numbers by four catches.

That doesn’t mean that Carpenter is lacking in talented, athletic targets. The most talented of the bunch is Rudy Burgess, who has played wide receiver, cornerback and running back in his first three years. Burgess didn’t play much in the spring because of injury and missed the season opener with an ankle injury, but the dangerous playmaker is expected to make his season debut against Colorado.

Behind Burgess are a group of wide outs that possess the talent and size of a dangerous bunch. Michael Jones, a 6 foot 4 inch target (who also plays on the baseball team) is sure to create mismatches versus Colorado’s short corners. He led the Sun Devils in receiving in week 1.

Other tall receivers on the team include Nate Kimbrough (6-1, 15 catches in ’06), Chris McGaha (6-1, 16 catches in ’06) and Brandon Smith (6-2). Add to the mix Kyle Williams, a speedy sophomore who led the team with 21 yards per reception in the first game, and the Buffs will have their hands full.

At tight end, 6-5 tight end Brent Miller steps into Zach Miller’s large shoes. While Brent isn’t the same type of talent, Colorado’s struggles against Korry Sperry in the CSU game could lead to more looks for the ASU senior.

Offensive Line:

If you are looking for the strength of this years’ Arizona State squad then look no further. This unit has everything you could hope for: strength, size, experience and NFL-level talent. Four starters return from last year’s team, and the fifth starter – senior right tackle Zach Krula – missed all of last season but has eight starts in his career.

The unit is led by senior left tackle Brandon Rodd, who is a two-time All-Pac 10 honoree. While the line is big, strong and terrific in the run game, they do have a weakness. This same collection of players allowed 37 sacks in 2006. However, the team typically struggled against speedy defensive ends, which the Buffs appear to be lacking at this point. A key to the game will be Colorado’s ability to stop the run and force Arizona State into passing downs where the vulnerability of the offensive line can be exploited. If not, expect a heavy combination of runs and deep play action passes that will keep the Colorado defense on its heels all night.


Say hello to Craig Bray. You might remember Bray as the one-time defensive backs coach at Colorado. You know, the one that all the current players hate?

If the Buffs’ defensive backs will be able to exact revenge on their former coach, they will have to depend on the offense getting the best of Bray's unit.

The ASU defense got off to a great start in their 45-3 thrashing of the Spartans. The defense only allowed 115 yards and forced two turnovers. But, despite their success, this is still the ASU defense. The group as a whole should be improved over last year, but at the same time, size and depth are lacking at some positions.

Defensive Line

If Dan Hawkins ever felt like tearing out a page of Gary Barnett’s RTD offense (some may argue there was only one page in Shawn Watson’s playbook) this would be the week. The Sun Devils D-line is not what you would call big. Easy for me to say, but then again, I’m not the one lining up against them in the trenches.

The ASU D-Line only averages 265 pounds, with both ends playing at 245 pounds. While the size of the line isn't overwhelmingly small, the Colorado offensive line should have an advantage. Only two starters return on the line, and in Bray’s own preseason evaluation, “I was disappointed overall in terms of the athletes and speed at all positions," Bray said. "But they're great kids and really worked their tails off." Now this could be coach-speak or an honest evaluation. I’m guessing that it’s honest since this is the same collection of talent that allowed 330 yards per game in '06.

Still, the team should be confident after their success in the first week and their ability to shut down the Buffs last year. Although this is a new Colorado offense, expect the D-Line to show up expecting a repeat performance. Watch out for sophomore defensive end Dexter Davis, who led the team with 10.5 tackles for loss and six sacks last season.


This is the position where the defensive has the most experience returning. In 2006, the Sun Devils went a little crazy and relied on three freshmen linebackers to play in all 13 games. What was crazy then looks brilliant now, as one of those freshmen (Travis Goethel) is now a starter, and the other two, Mike Nixon and Ryan McFoy, help out at all three positions. Starting at middle linebacker is JUCO transfer Morris Wooten, who won the NJCAA Defensive Player of the Year award. The other linebacker is senior Robert James.

Although the unit has experience, with six players returning who have played, the top two linebackers from last years’ team – Dale Robinson and Jamar Williams – are no longer available at the second level of the defense.

Defensive Backs:

The defensive backfield, Coach Bray’s “specialty,” is a bit of a mixed bag with questions at cornerback and answers at safety. The good news for Bray, three of his four starters are seniors, and the fourth player is a junior. The bad news: there is very little depth, and these are the same players that ranked 73rd in the nation against the pass in 2006. While the defensive backs didn’t have much to worry about last year in Boulder against Bernard Jackson, the Buffaloes offense looks different with Cody Hawkins at quarterback.

At the corner positions, seniors Chris Baloney and Justin Tryon are starters. Both have some size (6-1 and 5-10, respectively) and can run. However, each senior has produced little while on the field. Tyron did record 47 tackles and an interception in ’06, while Baloney had 2 INT’s in six games before his season ended due to injury. The cornerback situation was enough of a question that true freshman Omar Bolden got a look at the starting position during fall camp.

Whereas there is some question about productivity at the corner position, the safeties are a different animal. The group is led by senior Josh Barrett. Barrett, who stands at a solid 6-3, 230 pounds, led the team in tackles last year with 82. He is very good against the run and quick enough to help in coverage. On the opposite side of Barrett is junior Troy Nolan. Nolan surprisingly beat out Jeremy Paton, who was a star player during spring practices.

Special Teams:

One week after special teams propelled the Buffs to a victory against Colorado State, the oftentimes-overlooked unit could again play a key role against the Sun Devils. Arizona State is breaking in a new kicker and punter this season, and the team is also replacing their punt and kick returners.

Thomas Weber, a redshirt freshman, made his college football debut against SJSU. Weber made his only attempt, a 44 yard try, against the Spartans. Weber has a strong leg, but inaccuracy bothered him during spring and fall practices. At punter, senior Jonathan Johnson handles the duties. Johnson is not known for having a powerful leg, and only averaged 38.5 yards per punt in the first game.

Justin Tryon is the new kickoff specialist, and the aforementioned speedy Kyle Williams handles punt returns.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

After the Stampede...Week 1

It may only be one week, but the Buffs are undefeated. After last year’s suffering, I think that 1-0 looks pretty spectacular right now to all of the players and coaches. College football is oftentimes a game of confidence and momentum. Starting off with a victory can go a long way towards turning around the football program.

With the first game of the 2007 season now in the books, it’s time to take a quick look back at what went right, what went wrong and what was flat out surprising in Colorado’s 31-28 overtime victory against Colorado State.

The Offense:

The fact that the Buffs actually scored points should be considered a positive. But let’s be honest, last year’s offense left a lot to be desired. In this year’s game, the offense, behind Cody Hawkins, gained a similar amount of yardage in the first quarter to the entire output from last year’s game. Now that is what you call improvement. Everyone assumed the offense would be better, but now the expectations have been raised and fans, coaches and players will expect constant improvement on a week-to-week basis.

Hawk = A-G-G-R-E-S-S-I-V-E

Aggressive was the offenses mantra versus CSU. Although the offense didn’t display much too much of the deep vertical passing game that Coach Hawkins loves, the offense did spread the field and provide a multitude of different offensive sets. The play calling was original and Hawk coached the game like he wanted to win. It was nothing short of night and day compared to last season. Nothing personified Hawk's attitude more than going for a first down on fourth-and-four with the game on the line.

The offense was filled with gadgets and gimmicks, which did have some effectiveness. It’s hard not to salivate at the thought of Bernard Jackson lining up in the Buffs’ version on “Wildcat” package made popular by Arkansas. However, the package did have some effectiveness. And for those that look at the play as a simple "dive" scheme, the offensive line consistently used different blocking--from zone to pulling guards--to prevent the defense from cheating in their attack.

At the same time, it would be nice to see what happens if the Buffs just line up and play some smash mouth football. While some parts of the line are inexperienced, they are a big and strong group. With Demetrius Sumler looking to carry a greater load, it would be fun to see some good ‘ol fashion pound-it-down-their-throats football. If the running game is successful, that will open up the play action passes for some of the deep balls that we keep on hearing Dan Hawkins promise the fans. Who doesn’t want to see Patrick Williams or Kendrick Celestine show off their speed? Or maybe even let Terrence Wheatley unleash some revenge on former DBs coach Craig Bray.

Cody’s confidence

Many of this throws were impressive. And his stats verified a successful first start. And best of all, Cody Hawkins extended his winning streak to 60 games. But behind the numbers and the wins were the confidence and control that the younger Hawkins has over the team. For anyone who has conversed with, watched or seen Cody Hawkins operate, it doesn’t take much to know that he is a natural leader. In clutch situations, you feel comfortable with the ball in his hands. This was never more apparent than in the fourth quarter of the CSU game. Don’t forget that this was Cody Hawkins first ever college football game. He didn’t just win, he led a comeback victory in a rivalry game. On the Buffs’ last touchdown drive, Hawkins calmly completed three crucial third down conversions to allow the Buffs back into the game. There is no telling how the season will unfold, but Cody is undeniably a confident leader of the offense.

A Walk to Remember

Scotty Mcknight, remember thy name. The buzz over McKnight during fall camp had been encouraging, but no one could have predicted his breakout performance. The bottom line: 8 catches, 106 yards, 1 TD. Now that’s how to start a college career. Oh yeah, and don’t forget he’s a walk-on. That performance alone should earn him a scholarship for next year or free dinner's at the Hawkin's house until long as no one tells the NCAA.

Defense: The leaky damn
It’s only one game, but it’s hard to define Colorado’s defense. Bend-but-don’t-break could suffice, but a leaky damn seems more suitable for a unit that allowed 28 points yet still stood strong and prevented a flood. While there are several areas that need improvement, especially with explosive Arizona State on tap, there are reasons for encouragement.

Getting it done

Despite allowing more than 300 yards and 28 points, there were several standouts from the defense in week 1. While commonsense would argue Terrence Wheatley should get first mention, senior defensive captain Jordon Dizon had a monsterous game. How good was the boar hunter turned football player? Twenty-three tackles good. The senior leader was all over the field and played a big role in limited Kyle Bell to 3.4 yards per carry.

You can’t mention the run defense without emphasizing the play of George Hypolite and Brandon Nicolas. The junior defensive tackles combined for 19 tackles and made life difficult for Bell and CSU QB Caleb Hanie.

And, of course we have to mention Mr. Wheatley. The fifth year senior demonstrated once again why the Buffs are so happy he’s back for another season. His interception in overtime (irrespective of his incredible special teams play) paved the way for Kevin Eberhart’s game-winning field goal.

Not getting it done

The defense continued a disturbing trend of being unable to stop the opposing team on third down. CSU finished the game 11 out of 19 on third down conversions. However, they did only complete one of three fourth downs they attempted in the game.

The biggest concern match-up wise was Brad Jones inability to slow down CSU tight end Kory Sperry. Sperry did his best Antonio Gates impersonation by blowing up with eight catches for 103 yards and three touchdowns. Although the Rams were unable to get Sperry the ball in the fourth quarter, he haunted Jones for the entire game. Considering that Jones is one of the Buffs quickest linebackers, this could be an area of concern throughout the season.

Another problem was the overall lack of pressure from the Buffs. The Buffs ended up with four sack, with 1.5 sacks each coming from Hypolite and Maurice Lucas, but there were many occasions were Rams’ receivers came open only after Hanie had all day to sit in the pocket and find one of his targets. Some of this can be contributed for the passive play calling from defensive coordinator Ron Collins. While the Buffs did show several corner and safety blitzes throughout the game, those moves seemed geared to slow down the run more than create a tenacious pass rush. The Buffs frequently used zone defenses on third and long situations—a plan that backfired more than once. If the Buffs are to beat the Sun Devils, much more of a pass rush will be needed to alter the timing and comfort level of starting quarterback Rudy Carpenter.

The Big Surprise
Believe it or not, the defensive backfield did not play as bad as the stats may seem. Of Hanie’s 20 completions, only 9 were caught by receivers (five of which were caught by Johnny Walker). In total, receivers only caught 100 yards worth of total offense. That's right: only 100 yards. The majority of the yards and catches were made by the tight ends and running backs, which typically fall on the responsibility of the linebackers. When you couple that with the amount of time Hanie had on several pass attempts, the defensive backfield doesn’t look so bad.

This is not to say that the DB’s don’t have work to do. Arizona State possesses a much more potent offense that CSU. And CSU ran the ball consistently when it appeared that the passing game was more successful. Still, there is reason to hope that the coverage will improve from last years’ struggles.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

CU Victory is "Special"

Say what you will about Dan Hawkins, but one thing is certain—the man has a way of making season-opening games interesting.

One year after watching Colorado not show up to their home opener against Montana State (which is not as bad as Michigan’s loss…but that’s another story), Colorado came back from an 11-point deficit to defeat Colorado State 31-28 in the first-ever overtime game between the two teams.

The areas of improvement were numerous for the Buffaloes. While Cody Hawkins and the offense showed that this year will be different than 2006, the game was won for the Buffs in an unexpected area:

Special teams.

The one area that had as much, if not more, concern than any one area of the Buffaloes’ squad came to play on Saturday. Sure there were some miscues—a missed field goal and a bizarre quasi onside kick that turned into a turnover. But the return team and the kicking of Kevin Eberhart played a very significant role in the victory by the Buffs.

Let’s start with Eberhart. No one on the Buffs had bigger shoes to fill. Sure Cody Hawkins was the starting quarterback, but Eberhart was replacing the most popular player from last years’ team in Mason Crosby. Eberhart not only sent the game into overtime, but he also calmly kicked the game winner in overtime after Terrence Wheatley’s interception.

Speaking of the man teammates call T-Wheat, the speedster made a strong case to remain as a kick returner. Wheatley averaged a mere 45 yards per kick return in three attempts, including a 68-yard return that resulted in Eberhart’s only missed field goal. While Wheatley did not start the game returning kicks, the hamstring injury to running back Hugh Charles opened the door for Wheatley to show off his wheels. If betting were legal, I’d put the house on Wheatley continuing to moonlight as Colorado’s own version of Devin Hester.

Oh yeah, and don’t forget about little Chase McBride. The wide receiver might not dunk a basketball anytime soon or even see many passes thrown his way, but the surprise replacement for incumbent Stephone Robinson averaged nearly 21 yards per punt return, including a clutch 43-yard return that set up the game tying field goal. Maybe most importantly, there were no bobbles or fumbled punts.

It’s only one game but a successful season demands solid play from all three facets of a football game: offense, defense and special teams.

While several areas could use improvement in week 2, the Buffs now find themselves at 1-0, and the victory against the Rams occurred in part because the team was special.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Larry Zimmer on the '07 Buffs

A good friend of mine once had this to say about Buffs broadcaster Larry Zimmer:

"Zim is a modern day yoda. How can you not love a man with so much knowledge and love for CU?"

And who am I to argue with my close friend? High praise or simply a man-crush? I am not one to judge.

What I do know is that Larry Zimmer knows Colorado football. And the word "knows" is probably a dramatic understatement. Although he no longer does the play-by-play, Zim has covered the Buffs for more than 30 years, and his excitable demeanor has entertained CU fans through the good and bad. The man with the voice Buffs fans have known for years gave me at least three heart attacks as a young man...and that was a good thing.

So as the football season inches closer to its beginning, I could think of few better sources for some insight into the upcoming football season.

The following transcript comes from correspondance I had earlier today with Colorado's very own Yoda. I would like to thank Larry for taking the time to share his thoughts.

Zim was even kind enough to include his opinion on the Buffs after watching the double-secret scrimmage that occurred on Friday morning. Although don't expect much--the secrecy oath that CU entrusted to members of the media is as strong as Bill Callahan's promise to Harrison Beck that he was the future of the Nebraska program....hmmmm....or maybe it was just a bit stronger than that.

The interview...

Larry Zimmer: I saw the final scrimmage this morning and liked some of the things that I see. The Buffs will be better. How much better? We'll have to wait and see. One item of concern is in several positions (particularly offensive line) the backups are all true freshmen. They are good ones, but depth in the line is an area of concern.

Born: A lot has been made of the quarterback race between Cody Hawkins and Nick Nelson after last years' struggles. What is your take after the first few weeks of camp? How much different is the offense?

Larry Zimmer: Cody Hawkins is the right choice. He has outperformed Nick Nelson in most practices and in the scrimmages. He simply is more consistent and seems to have a better comprehension of the offense, which isn't a surprise. The competition has been good for both of them. Nelson is a lot better now than he was last spring. They are good friends and while I'm sure Nelson is disappointed at not starting, it is not evident in his work on the field and what he says. Nelson might have the stronger arm, but Cody is more accurate. Also, I think Cody is more mobile than Nick. The offense is much more improved. They use more formations and do more things. A lot more misdirection. Things had to be simplified so much for Bernard Jackson that they got very predictable and weren't good enough to line up and say,"okay you know what we're going to do...stop us." The bottom line is they did stop them. That will be different this year. Also, the entire team is more familiar with the coaches and the system. That allows them to do more things.

Born: What should be the strength of this year's team? The weakness?

Larry Zimmer: The strength of the team will still be the defense. The defensive tackles, George Hypolite and Brandon Nicolas would start anywhere in the Big 12. Alonzo Barrett and Maurice Lucas are a bit undersized at end, but are quick and good pass rushers. Again, depth here might be somewhat of a problem if they get injured. The linebacking position is deep. Jordan Dizon is an All-America candidate. The suspension of Michael Sipili (court action on an assault charge is pending) hurts at the other inside backer. Sipili is practicing with the team but is indefinitely suspended from games until his situation is resolved. R. J. Brown, an outstanding special teams player, will move up. I think he will be very good, but it would help to have both. Brad Jones will be impressive at outside linebacker. At corner, Terrence Wheatley is an All Big 12 caliber corner. Ben Burney, Cha'pelle Brown and Gardner McKay will share time on the other side and are average. Ryan Walters is a solid free safety if he stays healthy and it appears that Idaho transfer Daniel Dykes has beaten out Lionel Harris at strong safety. Both will play. THE DEFENSE IS SOLID.

Weakness is probably the offensive line depth and the absence of a workhorse running back. An offensive strength would be Bernard Jackson, if he plays. He has had some major personal and academic problems that he is working through and hasn't been able to practice. His versatility and the way they used him in the spring would be a major addition to the offense.

Born: How much production should we actually expect to see from the hyped freshmen receivers? They have produced so far in practices-- do you think they will do the same in the fall?

Larry Zimmer: Josh Smith is the real deal at receiver. He has all the moves. He probably will miss the first two games with the bruised kidney. Kendrick Celestine is the fastest man on the team and will always be a deep threat. I would guess that Markques Simas will redshirt. The best thing the young guys did was get the older receivers to work harder. Patrick Williams has turned into a solid receiver. Scotty McKnight, a redshirt freshman, was highly regarded last year until injured. He will be special. Dusty Sprague is making catches that he didn't a year ago. Alvin Barnett, Jarrell Yates and the Stephone Robinson will all be in the rotation. The strength here is the depth. There is enough talent to make the receivers the most improved area of the team along with quarterback. The tight ends have been impressive. Riar Geer should build on his outstanding freshman season, Joe Sanders is catching everything since moving back to tight end in the spring. Tyson DeVree is dependable and redshirt freshman Nate Solder is imposing....6-8, 270.

Born: What about the defense? Despite the "vanilla" defense in the scrimmage, is there reason to worry? And if so, what is a more pressing issue, pressure from the front four or coverage in the secondary?

Larry Zimmer: I think pressure from the front four, mixed with some blitzing, is the key. I suspect teams will go away from Wheatley, so the secondary is going to need some help from up front.

Born: How does the overall talent and depth look compared to the last few seasons?

Larry Zimmer: The overall talent and depth is much better than last season, but the team is very young. I don't think at this point it rates with the overall talent and depth of a veteran team in 2005, the one that fell apart at the end of the season. I would say the Buffs will be very competitive next year.

Born: Who do you think will become a household name by the end of the season?

Larry Zimmer: Hard to say about the household name. Dizon already is. So is Wheatley. One would hope it will be Cody.....and maybe Josh Smith and Scotty McKnight.

Born: Looking ahead to September 1, what do you expect to see when the Buffs face the Rams?

Larry Zimmer: On September 1, it will be a dog fight (forgive the expression) as always. CSU with a veteran QB (Caleb Hannie) and Kyle Bell healthy will be solid. I think the Rams have offensive line problems and I'm not sure their defense ranks with CU's, but as always they will be ready to play. Hawk has quietly put a great deal of emphasis on this game with his team. I'll be surprised if the Buffs don't win it.

Born: Looking at the schedule, what game is most likely for CU to achieve that "signature" win?

Larry Zimmer: I think five wins are realistic. CSU, Miami (O), Baylor, Kansas, and Iowa State.
Arizona State is certainly a winable game. New coach, new system, some problems at the end of last season, etc. If the Buffs have success in those first two games, they could make life interesting for a Florida State team that I still don't think is the power that it was four or five years ago (see Georgia last season). I think Oklahoma could also be an interesting game. Particularly if Stoops continues to struggle in finding the right QB.

Kansas State and Texas Tech will be tough on the road. By the final three games if they stay healthy CU should be a much better team and while I won't predict wins, I think they very well could beat Missouri and Nebraska. Obviously, all of this isn't going to happen the way I've outlined it, but that's how I see it.

Born: Who do you think is the favorite in the north—Nebraska or Missouri?

Larry Zimmer: I think Nebraska will win the North with Kansas State maybe second. Missouri's offense will be awesome, but I don't think they have the defense to win it, having to play Kansas State, Oklahoma and Colorado on the road.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

One things for sure: 2007 is not 2006

And it begins…

With the second major scrimmage of the summer now over, the persona of this year's Colorado Buffaloes continues to take form. One thing is for certain: this is not the same team. Especially on the offensive side of the ball.

Here are a few observations from the scrimmage:

The offense is much better than last year. Take that with a grain of salt since the offense was pathetic last year. But as any witness of the scrimmage could tell you, we are talking about proverbial “night and day” differences. There really is no comparison. It's not about pumping sunshine or being unrealistic. It's just a fact: you can't predict the Buff's success for 2007 based on 2006. The offense is a different animal. Whether it will produce when it counts on Saturday's has to be seen, but the Buffs showed more in one scrimmage than at any point last season. That's a fact.

Cody Hawkins looks to be the guy at quarterback. Fortunately, both quarterbacks played well. However, there are a few discernable differences between the Hawkins and Nick Nelson.

Most notably, Hawkins is more consistent. He is accurate, and despite questions about his arm, he completes more passes downfield. Hawkins was very succesful with his long ball, and if Dan Hawkins has his way, Buffs fans will see plenty of deep passes this fall. While Nelson appears to have enough arm to go vertical, he still struggles with overthrowing his deep passes, just like he did during the spring game. With that said, Nelson still was successful with the short and intermediate routes. For the scrimmage, Hawkins only threw one interception to Nelson’s two.

Also worth noting, Matt Ballenger looks like he could make some noise in future years. He has all the assets to be a viable quarterback in the Hawkins/Helfrich system without any question about his measurables or ability to see over the offensive line.

The offense itself looks different. Expect lots of motion and more variety in the offensive sets. Dan Hawkins and Mark Helfrich both admitted last year that the offense was very limited and that fans only saw bits and pieces of the plan. That was fine and dandy while the team rung up a mere two wins. But the proof is in the pudding. The Buffs came out with multiple formations, multiple sets and lots of motion in the wideouts, tight ends, running backs and fullback. Not only are there new formations, but there is little predictability. Oftentimes the Buffs would run the same formation but with a different “read” from the quarterback. This is where Hawkins or Nelson’s grasp of the offense will clearly shine. Little predictability leads to long days at the office for opposing defenses.

Our running backs and offensive line look solid. Granted, the defense went very vanilla in the first half (more on this in a moment). The offensive line will really be a mystery until it proves itself on Saturdays against muliple looks, stunts and blitzes. But for one day, the O-line was opening holes and providing protection. Hugh Charles looked good, but Demetrius Sumler is going to be tough to keep off the field. The redshirt freshman was arguably the most impressive runner of the bunch, not only running with aggression, but also catching the ball out of the backfield.

As for the wideouts, the young guns continue to impressive. Smith, Celestine and Simas all contributed to the offense, with Smith continuing to shine. The veterans—such as Williams and Sprague—were solid, but they also experienced some 2006 déjà vu. The receivers had several drops, including a “would-have-been” touchdown pass from Hawkins to Stephone Robinson. One things is for sure, the Buffs would be better with anyone at quarterback this season because the young receivers just make plays.

The defense…
This still seems to be somewhat of a mystery, and some of that can be contributed to the defensive schemes. The defense again went very vanilla in the first half without any blitzing. And as has been a concern, there was very little pressure on the quarterback. The defense increased the pressure in the second half with a variety of blitzes. Nevertheless, the absence of a vicious pass rusher like Abe Wright is clearly missing at this point. The line has talent, but there has been little visual proof that they will step up in games. Pressure could be a problem in the fall, thus putting more pressure on a secondary that struggled in 2006.

As for the coverage, despite the offenses ability to move the ball, the coverage was good. Rather than blaming the Db’s, more credit should go to the wide receivers. The receivers—especially the freshman—make excellent adjustments to make plays on the ball. The coverage is there, but the athletes are showing why they are garnering all the hype. Two defensive breakdowns led to wide open scores. Both times, the tight end came open off of a crossing pattern for an easy touchdown in the corner of the endzone. Nate Solder was particularly impressive at tight end. The young man might be huge, but he possess a soft set of hands.

Still, the defense did produce three interceptions, and a fourth was called back because of penalty. Defensive backs coach Greg Brown was hard at work all day. Taking notes and trying to find the best combination for the defensive background. People might be hard on Brown, but he knows what he is doing and once his players learn their assignments there should be improvement. All of the coaches were very active, and hopefully that attention to detail will pay off when the season begins.

There was not too much to report from special teams…which is a good thing. Kevin Eberhart was perfect and did not miss one single kick—field goal or extra point attempt.

Other notes…
Bernard Jackson did not participate in the scrimmage…the scrimmage was well attended by fans, better than anything seen in recent memory…Markques Simas appeared to be a little gimpy on his ankle during parts of the scrimmage.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Today's Thought: If you write it...they will listen

Ok, so nothing could be further from the truth, but for one day, Dan Hawkins made me sound like a genius. One day after proclaiming that the Buffs needed to name a starter at quarterback, the CU head coach took the first step in heeding my advice by admitting that his son Cody has a slight lead over Nick Nelson, as Tom Kensler reports

While a starter will not be determined until after next Saturday’s scrimmage, and that leaves plenty of time for Nelson to win the job or Hawkins to lose the job (the latter obviously not the preferred way to go for Buff fans), it looks like the job will go to Hawkins.

Camera beat writer Kyle Ringo elaborates on why he believes that Hawkins is the man for the job.

Regardless of the selection, the coaches are doing what is needed. While game-planning occurs on a week-to-week basis, offensive continuity and comfort is established by endless repetition. The sooner the coaches choose a starter, the sooner the Buffs will find a grove on the offensive side of the ball. Whether it was Hawkins or Nelson, the first-team offense needs to start getting more repetitions with the same man under center. An offense is a synergistic unit—all of the pieces need to work well together for the machine to run smoothly. Baring a complete collapse, look for Hawkins to be under center on September 1.

And while it’s impossible to determine how Hawkins will play, it’s hard to imagine a better leader for the team. Anyone who has seen Hawkins interact with his teammates knows that he has a special personality. Call it infectious; call it unexplainable…but Hawkins best attribute as a quarterback may be his personality. And as CU tries to reestablish itself as a winner, it’s hard to imagine a better individual to lead the way in 2007.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Identity? Answer at the Q

A quick look at the calendar this morning was enough to cue the thought of an old college football adage: Winners are built in August…while champions are crowned in December. The saying must be old because champions are crowned in January and at the current BCS pace, February might want to start looking over its shoulder.

As much as the saying reeks of cliché, it holds some meaning. After all, teams that can’t play well in August (especially when only in shorts) probably aren’t going to be all that good in December…or September, October and November. Look no further than CU last year. Five touchdowns in three fall scrimmages should have screamed PANIC and provided enough indication that CU’s offense would go through “some struggles.” Now replace “some” with “a lot” and there you have the 2006 football season.

While the Buffs would love for their name to be associated with the word “champion,” crowning a quarterback is the first step needed to regain respectability and a winning record.
Early in camp, the coach-speak is flowing predictably in regards to the quarterback battle. Both Cody Hawkins and Nick Nelson are performing well, but the coaches need to make a decision sooner rather than later. While making a hasty decision could be disastrous, the team needs a leader. Now.

Eighteen days.

That is all that stands between Colorado and Colorado State. And while no one game will ever define a team, there is no denying the truth about this years’ opener: it is a must win. Not only for the team, coaches and future of the program, but also for an exasperated fan base that might implode if the team falters against CSU.

The reality of the situation is that several key positions need to be established by the first game. The offensive line, defensive end, linebacker (due to the ambiguous status of Michael Sipili) and cornerback all stand out as question marks.

But none of those positions are as important as quarterback. The quarterback is the face and identity of a team. More than anything, the Buffaloes need an offensive identity after last year’s debacle. An offense will always be a reflection of their quarterback. There was no identity on last years’ team—and much of that could be attributed to the murky situation at quarterback. That is not to say anything about the talent of hybrid-quarterback Bernard Jackson. While he struggled mightily with his passing accuracy, the first-time starter was hard-working and dedicated. But he always seemed to be filling a role rather than confidently leading the charge and running the entire version of Mark Helfrich’s offense.

Whether the coaches decide on Hawkins or Nelson is anyone’s guess. Most speculate that Hawkins will win the job, although there has been no indication from Helfrich, the man allegedly in charge of making the decision.

This much is certain—the sooner the Buffs find a quarterback, the sooner the team can establish an identity that has been missing for too long. But August is passing quickly and as the adage says, the building needs to begin now.

Buffs in the Pros...
Things are looking pretty good for second-year tight end Quinn Sypniewski. After playing in every one of the Ravens games last season, Sypniewski has been receiving plenty of looks with the first-team offense in Baltimore, and he scored his first NFL touchdown. Although a TD reception in an exhibition game might not seem like much, the late-blooming Sypniewski waited six years at CU to score his first touchdown, and ended with five TDs in his third, and final senior season. Despite his reputation, Sypniewski is a very capable pass catcher and sure contribute when afforded the opportunity. Look for his primary responsibility to continue as a blocker, as the Ravens heavily depend on the sure hands of Todd Heap.

Michael Lewis…was back to his old hard-hitting ways in the season opener against the Broncos. Lewis led the 49ers in tackles against Denver, and after a frustrating 2006, it appears that Lewis is back on track and happier than ever. Although I would imagine $30 million would make anyone happy. Money aside, Lewis has always been a tremendous run-stopping physical safety with enough athleticism to help in coverage.

Abraham Wright…The man who left a gaping hole on CU’s defensive line just might find himself filing a sizeable gap in his new home. Wright was working with the Dolphins first-team defense on passing downs in the preseason exhibition opener and recorded a sack. The newly-turned linebacker is still acclimating to his new position, but with Joey Porter looking at continued knee problems, the door is open for Wright to impress.,0,6789507.story?coll=