Saturday, Colorado travels to Ames, Iowa, to take on the 5-5 Iowa State Cyclones in hopes of posting back-to-back wins for the first time since opening the 2008 season at 3-0.
Seen as potentially being one of the Buffs’ best chances at a road victory back in August, Colorado needs to win out just to become bowl eligible.
For the Cyclones, the math is much easier—defeat Colorado, and earn a bowl bid for the first time since 2005.
Jack Trice Stadium holds up to 55,000. A crowd of 40,000 to 45,000 is expected.
Can the Buffs pull off their first road win in over two years?
Can Colorado make the trip to Stillwater next Thursday relevant?
Can the Buffs keep the Iowa State offense from regaining its early season form?
Let’s find out with this week’s “T.I.P.S."
For the first time since the Kansas State game, and perhaps for only the second time since the Wyoming game, Colorado will have the more talented squad on the field. Iowa State is 5-5, but has struggled since its non-conference wins over North Dakota State, Kent State, and Army.
One problem for the Buffs—Iowa State, after weeks of playing with walking wounded, is healthy.
Tailback Alexander Robinson had four 100-yard rushing games in the first six games of 2009. He sat out against Nebraska and has been limited since, but is now back.
Starting center Reggie Stephens, who had been participating in one of every three plays, has recovered from a midseason appendectomy and is back to full time.
And then there is QB Austen Arnaud…
The junior quarterback had a bruised hand that kept him out of games against Nebraska and Texas A&M, but Arnaud returned to play in the 34-8 loss to Oklahoma State last weekend.
Arnaud suffered three interceptions against the Cowboys, after throwing only five in the first seven games of the season. Despite the rocky first outing, Iowa State offensive coordinator Tom Herman is not concerned: “I feel a lot better about the state of the offense going into this week than last week,” said Herman. “This week, we’ll be the healthiest we’ve been since the Kansas game (Oct. 10th)”.
With Arnaud out, the Iowa State offense suffered. The past three games, Iowa State has scored nine, 10, and eight points.
Originally ranked 36th, their total offense has fallen to 69th in the nation, while scoring has fallen to 99th.
“We’ve got everyone back,” said tight end Derrick Catlett. “Now we have to start playing like we played in the beginning.” Arnaud, who is the top five all-time at Iowa State in passing yards, touchdown passes, completions, and total offense, is the all-time leader in Ames in completion percentage at .594 percent.
Colorado fans have to hope that the Iowa State offense will take at least one more week to gel.
As for the Iowa State defense, the name that you will hear most often on the radio (no television; Buff fans are relegated to KOA and the Internet) may be Jesse Smith.
The senior linebacker is sixth in tackles, averaging 11 per game (Jeff Smart leads the Buffs, averaging just short of eight tackles per game). In addition to his 110 tackles, Smith has two interceptions on the season and leads a defense that forced eight turnovers against Nebraska. They also held the Cornhuskers to seven points, preserving the Cyclones’ first win in Lincoln since 1977 and breaking a 15-game losing streak at Nebraska and a 14-game Big 12 losing streak on the road.
The 35-34 come-from-behind win over Texas A&M kept alive the Buffs’ fleeting chances at a bowl bid and a winning season. The only way to avoid a fourth straight losing season is to win out, and that starts Saturday against Iowa State.
In a sense, Colorado is returning to the scene of the crime.
If 2009 proves to be the final season of the Dan Hawkins’ regime, then there are a number of games that could be considered the turning point. The true cynic would point to game one—a home loss to Division 1-AA Montana State. Others might point to the 59-yard field goal by Nebraska last November that cost Colorado a bowl game and a winning season. Still, others might single out the debacle at Toledo.
I would point to the last time Colorado ventured into Ames.
The scene: 2007, Colorado was 5-5 in Dan Hawkins’ second season in Boulder, and Iowa State was 2-8. The Buffs were a win away from securing a bowl bid the season after a 2-10 nightmare, while the Cyclones were going nowhere under first-year head coach Gene Chizik.
The Buffs, riding the momentum of three second-quarter scores, held a 21-0 halftime lead. On the first series of the third quarter, the Buffs drove into Cyclone territory. A holding penalty on 3rd-and-1 was declined. Iowa State was all but daring Dan Hawkins and the Buffs to go for it on fourth down at the ISU 43-yard line.
The Buffs took the bait and failed.
Before anyone knew it, Iowa State scored 21 third-quarter points to tie the game, then took a 10-point lead late into the game. A touchdown pass by Cody Hawkins to Scotty McKnight pulled the Buffs to 31-28, with 2:40 to play.
Colorado then had not one, but two chances to tie the score late.
A 50-yard field goal by Kevin Eberhart was negated as Colorado long-snapper Justin Drescher was cited for snapping the ball too quickly. The subsequent 55-yard field goal by Eberhart was also good—and also didn’t count. This time, the officials ruled that the snap did not get off in time.
Game over. 31-28, Iowa State.
Now a senior, Justin Drescher has been a successful four-year starter at snapper and refers to the game as “the debacle in Ames.” The loss left Colorado with a 5-6 record on the 2007 season. The Buffs did respond with a win over Nebraska at home, and then fell to Alabama in the Independence Bowl to finish with a 6-7 record.
If Colorado had won the game against Iowa State, the Buffs would have finished the 2007 season with a winning record. The frustration that comes with three straight losing seasons, and a fourth looming, would be lessened if Colorado had finished 7-6.
The “debacle in Ames” may have cost Dan Hawkins a winning season—and more time.
A win in Ames in 2009 may help keep Dan Hawkins in Boulder for 2010.
P—Preparation & Schedule
This is a category that favors the Cyclones on all counts.
First, the game is going to be played in Ames. The Cyclones have won two straight at home in the series. Colorado has dropped three straight in the series only once before—1979, 1981, and 1983 (during the heart of the dreaded “Blue” phase). Overall, the home team has won the last five games in the series.
Second, next week’s schedule leads to another advantage for Iowa State. Colorado has to play next Thursday, again on the road, against No. 19 Oklahoma State. Iowa State will also be on the road, against Missouri.
While it can be argued that the players will not have to focus on next week until Sunday, they know what’s coming. Iowa State has not won at Missouri since 2001, and if the Cyclones fall to the Buffs, they would have to pull off an upset in Columbia just to become bowl eligible. Colorado is Iowa State’s best chance to go bowling.
Colorado, meanwhile, continues to wear the yoke of a road losing streak. With Oklahoma State appearing to be a loss, the Buffs are faced with the proposition of winning in Ames, or hearing all offseason about their ongoing losing streak. It doesn’t look good for 2010.
The Buffs’ next road games are against Cal, Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska—all of which have spent time in the nation’s top 25 this season.
The math is simple: win in Ames or Colorado faces the very real possibility of not being favored to win a game on the road until opening the 2011 season...against Hawaii.
The Buffs put together one of their better offensive efforts of the season last weekend against Texas A&M, with 437 total yards. Did it help move Colorado out from underneath the dreaded 100’s in the national rankings?
Nine games into the season and moving up the charts becomes a little like trying to get an oil tanker to pull a 180. Colorado remains mired in the 100’s nationally in seven categories. The Buffs are even getting close to absolute bottom—No. 120—in sacks allowed. The Buffs, having given up 16 sacks in the past two games, are now giving up an average of four per game, good enough for a No. 118 ranking.
The punt return team, at No. 117, isn't much better.
With good numbers against Texas A&M, the Buffs did make marginal improvements in rushing offense (113th, up from 114th), and total offense (111th, up from 113th), but mediocrity is now a hope for next season.
Overall, Colorado is in the top half of the nation in only three categories, and they are marginal ones at that—kickoff returns, sacks, and tackles for loss.
For a change, the Buffs are playing a team that is also struggling to make the grade.
Iowa State is in the 100’s in four categories, with the Cyclones in the 90's in four others. While Iowa State is still ranked high in running the ball (29th overall), the Cyclones are 100th in passing. On the heels of games with nine, 10, and eight points, it is not surprising that Iowa State is down to 99th in scoring offense.
The Iowa State defense is also not faring well, with teams equally successful against the Cyclones in both phases. Iowa State is 81st in pass defense, 93rd in rushing defense, and 94th in total defense.
However, teams haven't been scoring against them. Iowa State is only giving up 22.7 points per game, ranked 48th nationally.
Looking for stats to keep an eye on?
A good barometer of the Colorado offense is how many sacks they allow. As everyone knows, Colorado gave up eight sacks to Missouri, then eight more to Texas A&M.
If the Buffs give up eight against Iowa State, it will likely spell disaster.
On the season, the Cyclones have registered 12 sacks total. This gives them an average of 1.2 sacks/game and as a result they are 107th in the nation.
The reverse is true when it comes to keeping an eye on the Buffs’ punt returns. As noted, Colorado is 117th in the nation in punt returns, netting a paltry 3.04 yards per return.
Iowa State, meanwhile, is leading the nation in punt return defense, giving up only 1.55 yards per return. It would be nice to see some three-and-outs from the Colorado defense, giving the Buffs a chance to improve on their low ranking.
Finally, last weekend against Texas A&M, Colorado held onto the ball for 35:20. Last weekend against Oklahoma State, Iowa State allowed the Cowboys to hold onto the ball for 39:38. Time of possession could play a critical role on Saturday.
The stats don’t lie. Colorado has to hang onto the ball, produce long drives, and thus keep the ball away from a potentially strong Iowa State offense.
A 21-0 halftime lead, as the Buffs had in 2007, would be a nice start.
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