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.

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