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.

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