It’s been 728 days…
…since the Buffs last won a game on the road. It was Oct. 27, 2007, Lubbock, Texas. Another early morning game. Colorado jumped out to a 14-0 lead against the Red Raiders, using four turnovers to preserve a 31-26 win.
Since then—nothing. The next road game after the Texas Tech game was the epic meltdown in Ames. The Buffs turned a 21-0 halftime lead against Iowa State into a 31-28 loss (perhaps the game which will prove to be the defining moment of the Dan Hawkins’ era, as a win against the Cyclones would have given the 2007 Buffs an overall winning record). The Buffs had opportunities to break through on the road last season against Kansas, Texas A&M, and Nebraska, and certainly had their chances against West Virginia and Texas this season.
Back in August, the game against Kansas State appeared to be one of the best chances for a road win. Two weeks ago, as the Wildcats were being blown out, 66-14, by Texas Tech, the Buffs’ chances for victory appeared good. Then, last weekend, the Wildcats jumped out to a 38-0 halftime lead at home against Texas A&M, not allowing the Aggies to score until the rout was up to 59-0. The final score: Kansas State 62, Texas A&M 14. A 100-point turnaround—in one week.
Which Wildcat team will show up in Manhattan Saturday? Let’s take a look…
A name unfamiliar to most Big 12 fans is third in the conference in rushing. Daniel Thomas, a converted quarterback from Northwest Mississippi Junior College leads the Wildcats with 669 yards and eight touchdowns. Four of those touchdowns came in the first half alone last weekend against Texas A&M. Thomas leads the league with 145 carries, and he has posted 90 or more yards in five of Kansas State’s games this season. Overall, the Wildcats are second in the Big 12 in rushing, at 184.0 yards/game (the Buffs are 11th in the conference, at 94.0 yards/game).
The other main offensive weapon to keep an eye on is wide receiver Brandon Banks. The senior is a major part of the passing game, with 34 catches on the season, but that is not the main reason to be concerned.
Banks has three kickoff returns for touchdowns this season—already a Big 12 season record. True, two of the returns came against Tennessee Tech, but the other came against Texas A&M last weekend. The Buffs are doing well on kickoffs—on 27 kickoffs, the opponent has started inside their own 25 yard line 22 times—so this is a matchup to watch.
One player to watch on defense for the Wildcats is defensive end Jeffrey Fitzgerald. A transfer from Virginia, Fitzgerald has 4.5 sacks—two against Texas A&M—and has a 17-yard interception return for a touchdown to his credit. (Fitzgerald also forced a fumble and recovered another in the Texas A&M meltdown).
Overall, Kansas State registered six sacks against Texas A&M last Saturday, equaling their total for the entire season prior to the game. (The effort moved the Wildcats from 105th to 70th in the nation in that particular category.)
Overall, the Kansas State defense is fair to middling in most categories. In scoring defense, pass defense, rushing defense, and total defense, the Wildcats are ranked between 50th and 66th nationally. Granted, the Wildcats have played two of their games against FCS competition, but these are numbers the Buffs—at least at this point—can only dream about.
Colorado’s win last Saturday over preseason Big 12 North favorite Kansas, coupled by losses by co-favorite Nebraska and two time defending champ Missouri on the same weekend, had to give the Buff coaches and players a lift.
The mantra has been—especially since the 0-2 start—that the Big 12 North was still there for the taking. At 1-1 in Big 12 play—with every other North team having already suffered at least one loss—Colorado is definitely in the mix.
A 1-2 Colorado team would not be.
It’s hard to understate the importance of this game, both for the 2009 Buff players, and, I believe, for the present coaching staff. Colorado has not won back-to-back games since last September.
Both Colorado and Kansas State are on highs after big wins. Both teams held their opponents to negative rushing yards (-13 for Texas A&M; -8 for Kansas). Both teams have spent the week hearing about how their team, written off in the Big 12 North race, are now legitimate contenders.
Only one of the teams, though, is playing at home.
Kansas State is 104-23-1 (.816) at home over the past 20 seasons, including a 50-17-1 (.743) in league games over that span. Colorado is 4-4-1 in Manhattan during those years, faring better than most. However, it is hard to ignore the Buffs’ road record under Dan Hawkins—two wins in three-and-a-half seasons.
What does Colorado have working for it? Well, the news about Darrell Scott’s knee injury can be, in one sense, a blessing. Two of the most controversial storylines this season have been the ineffective play of Cody Hawkins, and the misuse/lack of use/abuse of Darrell Scott.
Neither of those stories are at issue this weekend. Tyler Hansen is the starter; Darrell Scott is out for two to three weeks after undergoing knee surgery Thursday.
There is also the recent play of the Colorado defense. While the scoreboard continues to show opponents’ totals in the 30s, the Buff defense is playing better. Neither Texas nor Kansas could run the ball effectively, and those were ranked opponents.
With the exceptions of a Sipili-in-for-Burton at linebacker against Texas and Mahnke-in-for-Perkins at safety against West Virginia, the Buffs have trotted out the same 11 defenders to start each of the last four games.
The defensive line is young, but has started Herrod, Cunningham, and Pericak every game. At the midway point of the season, the Colorado defense is showing some of the promise expected back in August.
There is also the play of the offense. Despite the inconsistency and personnel issues, the Buffs have scored 24 or more points in four of six games this season. Last year, Colorado surpassed the 24-point mark only four times all season—only twice in the last ten games. There is much, much more room for improvement, but there is—again—the showing of some of the promise expected back in August.
But one game does not a season make. Colorado had two touchdown “drives” of less than five yards against Kansas. Still, in the fourth quarter, with the game on the line, and the Buffs down for the first time since the first quarter, the Buffs responded with a game-winning touchdown drive.
Tantalizing, but not yet a proven product…
P: Preparation / Schedule
If you like omens, you have to like the early start of Saturday’s game. The 10:30 start is the same as it was for the Texas Tech game two years ago. The Buffs built a 14-0 lead on its first two possessions and never looked back. Colorado did not turn the ball over, did not allow a sack, and had only three penalties. It may take a similar effort this weekend for the Buffs to pull off the road upset.
Both teams are in the middle of conference play, so there is little advantage/disadvantage to the schedule in October. Until mid-November, when Colorado takes on Oklahoma State on Thursday night, there will be no break in the Saturday game dates. Kansas State has already played seven games, and will not have a break in its season, finishing play on Nov. 21.
Looking ahead, both teams have big games next week. Kansas State goes on the road to play Oklahoma in Norman. That game will be the Fox Sports evening game, and certainly Wildcat players will be looking forward to trying to make a name for themselves with an upset of the Sooners, a preseason national championship pick which has struggled to a 3-3 record.
Colorado, meanwhile, has a revenge game against Missouri at home next weekend. In a number you will hear much of next week, the Tigers have tamed the Buffs by a combined score of 113-10 over the past two seasons. Missouri is also wounded, a 4-2 team which will likely be 4-3 after facing No. 3 Texas this weekend.
Both Colorado and Kansas State have big games to look forward to next weekend.
Neither team will have much reason to be excited about their game, however, if they don’t win this Saturday.
At the midway point of the season, Colorado is mired in the 100s in eight categories. The Buffs are stuck at 108th in rushing offense; 103rd in total offense.
On the defensive side of the ball, Colorado is 100th in scoring defense; 105th in pass defense. I had hopes two months ago that Colorado would be edging toward the top half in a number of categories this season. Instead, I am left where we have been the past few years—hoping to get out of triple digits.
Kansas State, meanwhile, does not face any triple digit rankings. The worst number on the Wildcat board is passing offense, where Kansas State checks in at 95th. This is off-set by the Wildcats’ 184 yards rushing/game, good enough for a No. 33 ranking.
Okay, but there are statistics, and then there are statistics. How’s this—Kansas State is 4-3, and none of its previous seven opponents have a losing record. Sounds good on paper, but then you have to take into consideration that two of those teams are from the FCS (Massachusetts is 4-2, with wins over Albany and Stony Brook; Tennessee Tech is 3-3, with wins over Pikeville and Austin Peay).
Iowa State and Texas A&M are 4-3 and 3-3, respectively, with wins over North Dakota State (ISU) and Utah State (A&M). Kansas State lost to a decent, but certainly not great, UCLA (3-3) team, to a 4-2 Louisiana-Lafayette team which did not beat the other two BCS teams it played this season, and to Texas Tech—by a 66-14 score that wasn’t that close.
Kansas State leads the Big 12 North with a 2-1 record, and its four wins are something for Buff fans to envy, but…
The Wildcats are not that great of a football team. Bill Snyder has won games against mediocre competition, and has lost when facing decent opponents.
It’s time for the Colorado program to step up and put the Wildcats back in their place. Buff fans have waited too long for this team to mature. Losing every game on the road for two full seasons is absurd.
Time for the Colorado football team to step up …
…or step back into the shadows until next August.