Colorado Football: Can the Buffs Bounce Back Against Hawaii?

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Colorado Football: Can the Buffs Bounce Back Against Hawaii?

On September 11th, the Colorado Buffaloes were destroyed by the California Bears, 52-7. It was an embarrassing loss, one which the Buffs failed to, in the words of even the players, "show up".

This Saturday, the Buffs will play their home opener against Hawai'i. Former Colorado All-American - and 2010 College Hall of Fame inductee - Alfred Williams will be honored.

The question CU fans will have as they enter Folsom Field for the first time in 2010 is:

Will the Buffs "show up" this week?

Here's a look at how Colorado and Hawai'i stack up, using the categories Talent, Intangibles, Preparation/Schedule, and Statistics ...

T - Talent

On offense, Hawai'i has talent at quarterback and at wide receiver. The Warriors are going to score against the Colorado defense, that is pretty much a given. The real issue is whether the Buffs can minimize the damage.

The Warriors are led by junior quarterback Bryant Moniz. In a career which has spanned one season plus two games - a total of ten starts - Moniz has already passed for more than 3,000 yards. If he wore the black-and-gold of Colorado, Moniz would already rank 11th on the Colorado all-time pass yardage list. In two games in 2010, Moniz has completed 43-of-72 passes for 612 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions. (For comparison's sake, Tyler Hansen has completed 35-of-59 passes for 358 yards, two touchdowns, and four interceptions). For his efforts against Army, Moniz was named the Western Athletic Conference Offensive Player-of-the-Week.

For Moniz to have racked up that many yards, he must have a a good receiving corps. Two Hawai'i senior receivers have unusual names, but are names which might just become all too familiar to Buff fans on Saturday. Kealoha Pilares had 66 receptions for 690 yards and four touchdowns last year, and is having the best of it so far in 2010. In two games - a 49-36 loss to USC, and a 31-28 win over Army - Pilares already has 11 catches for 280 yards (over 25 yards per catch!) and four touchdowns. Pilares' running mate is Greg Salas, who led the Western Athletic Conference in 2009 with 106 catches for 1,590 yards and eight touchdowns. This season, Salas has 12 catches for 200 yards and a touchdown.

It's safe to say that while former head coach June Jones has been gone for two years (having taken the job at SMU), his successor, Greg McMackin, has carried on the pass happy traditions at Hawaii (McMakin is a run-and-shoot disciple, having been a coach for the old Denver Gold).

While Hawai'i's passing game is amongst the nation's best - ranked 3rd in the nation in 2009; ranked 2nd in the nation after two games of 2010 - the passing game has not come without a cost. The running game at Hawai'i is virtually non-existent. Hawai'i is ranked 113th in the nation in rushing, with the Warriors leading rusher, senior Alex Green, having seen the ball only 15 times in the first two games, for a total of 106 yards. Before Buff fans can get too smug about the Warriors rushing attack, though, there is this sobering thought. In 2009, Hawai'i was ranked 109th in the nation in rushing, while making no real effort to establish the running game. Colorado, meanwhile, tried to establish the run (remember "running downhill" last August?), yet was ranked 113th in the nation in rushing, four spots behind Hawai'i in the national rankings.

So it wasn't the offense which kept Hawai'i, 6-7, 3-5 in WAC play, from a successful season in 2009.

Rather, it was the porous defense.

The Warriors have to try and out-score their opponents because their defense can't stop anyone. Last season, Hawai'i was ranked 90th or worse in rushing defense, total defense, and scoring defense. The Warriors produced only one All-WAC defensive player, linebacker Blaze Soares, who has graduated. In fact, the entire linebacker corps graduated, and Hawai'i is counting on two transfers to help beef up the defensive line. The secondary, however, which was the best defensive unit in 2009, returns in tact. The Warriors are playing with four senior starters in the defensive backfield, led by safety Mana Silva, who led the WAC with six interceptions in 2009.

As a result, the strategy which worked best against the Hawai'i defense in 2009 was to run the ball and control the clock, keeping the ball away from the Warriors' explosive offense. That seems to be the best option in 2010 as well, as Hawai'i is ranked 39th in pass defense, but 113th in rushing defense.

I - Intangibles

Hawai'i won at Army, 31-28, on a field goal with seven seconds to play. It was an emotional victory instead of what could have been a devastating loss.

The Warriors raced out to a 21-0 second quarter lead against the Cadets. Army, though, thanks to fumbles on a kickoff and a sack on successive Hawai'i possessions in the third quarter, however, quickly got back into the game. Army went on to take a 28-21 lead, scoring four touchdowns in less than a quarter of play. Instead of folding, Hawai'i came back, tying the score less than two minutes after Army scored its fourth touchdown.

The score remained tied throughout the fourth quarter. Twice, Army drove deep into Hawai'i territory. First, a 37-yard field goal attempt was blocked. Then, on third down at the Hawai'i 29 yard line with less than a minute to play, Cadet quarterback Max Jenkins fumbled, giving Hawai'i new life. Two long pass completions and a personal foul later, Hawai'i kicked a 31-yard field goal to win the game.

Hawai'i could have folded after Army scored 28 points in 14 minutes, but didn't.

Hawai'i was twice on the brink of defeat in the final minutes, but still won the game.

Hawai'i has to have come out of the Army game with a renewed sense of confidence.

The same cannot be said for Colorado.

The Buffs did have a renewed sense of confidence coming out of the Colorado State game, having taken care of business against an inferior opponent. The Buffs then faced adversity early against California ... and folded.

Advantage, Hawai'i.

P - Preparation / Schedule

The long held axiom in college football is that Hawai'i can beat any team in the nation - at home.

On the road, however, the belief is that Hawai'i is a far more mediocre team when they have to spend more than a week on the mainland ... let's look at the results from the past few campaigns. Last season, the Warriors had a three game road trip. Hawai'i started the trip with a win over Washington State in Seattle, then followed the win with losses to UNLV and Louisiana Tech. In 2008, Hawai'i opened a two game road trip with a loss to Utah State, but rebounded with a win over New Mexico State.

Not much to be learned from the past few seasons under the Warriors' new head coach.

So, what about the Buffs?

Yes, Colorado tends to do well in home openers ... but not under Dan Hawkins. Colorado opened the Dan Hawkins' era with a 19-10 loss to Montana State in 2006. The following year, the first home game was against Florida State, with the Buffs falling, 16-6. In 2008, Eastern Washington was the foe, with the Buffs coming back in the fourth quarter to defeat the 1-AA foe, 31-24. Last season, it was 23-17, Colorado State.

So, the Buffs are 1-3 in home openers under Dan Hawkins, scoring an average of only 16 points.

That is a number which just won't cut it against Hawai'i's offense.

The schedule for next week's games, though, does give Colorado a slight edge. The Buffs have a bye, while Hawai'i returns home to face Charleston Southern. While the Hawai'i players, ten days removed from being home, should be anxious to return back to the islands, the Colorado players know that this week they are "all in". If Colorado loses to the Warriors, the 2010 season will, for all intents and purposes, be over. Yes, there will be talk of gearing up for a big game against Georgia, but it will be whistling past the graveyard, as the countdown to the firing of Dan Hawkins watch will officially begin.

One last look at the schedule ... How does Colorado respond to blowout losses such as the 52-7 debacle last weekend against California?

It's not as if the Buffs don't have experience.

In the Dan Hawkins' era, Colorado has had posted losses of 17 points or more ten times (I was going to go with "double digits", or "two touchdowns", but the number of games in those categories got too high). The question is: did the Buffs shake off the loss, and come back stronger, or continue on with poor play?

The ten losses:

2006: After falling to Arizona State, 21-3, the Buffs responded with a near upset against No. 9 Georgia; after losing big to Oklahoma (24-3), the Buffs lost by five points to Kansas.

2007: A blowout loss to Arizona State (33-14) was followed by a 16-6 loss to Florida State; a 47-20 loss to Kansas State was followed by a close 19-14 loss to No. 15 Kansas; a 55-10 embarrassment against Missouri was followed by a 31-28 loss to Iowa State.

2008: A 39-21 loss to Florida State was followed by a second blowout loss, this time to Texas (38-14), followed by a 30-14 loss to No. 16 Kansas; the 58-0 debacle against Missouri was followed by a close loss to Texas A&M on the road (24-17).

2009: A 38-14 loss at Texas was followed by a 34-30 win over Kansas; yet another blowout loss to Missouri (36-17) was followed by a 35-34 win over Texas A&M.

Overall, Colorado has posted only a 2-8 record in games following a loss by 17 or more points.

However, the Buffs have usually played better in the following game, including close losses to ranked teams.

And both of the wins were posted last year ...

S- Statistics

If you look at the offensive numbers for Hawai'i, there is plenty to worry about if you are  a Buff fan.

The Warriors are ranked second in the nation in passing; 24th in total offense; and 44th in scoring offense. The Buffs will play the game with a third-string nickel back in red-shirt freshman Paul Vigo, stepping in after the starter for the CSU game, Parker Orms, and the starter in the Cal game, Travis Sandersfeld, went down with injuries. Not an ideal situation for Vigo to make his debut.

On third downs, Hawai'i converts over 52% of the time - but the Buffs do counter with a defense ranked eighth in third down conversion defense.

There is also this - keeping the ball away from the Warriors doesn' t always work.  Hawai'i doesn't need to hold the ball for very long. The Warriors are 102nd in the nation of time of possession. Hawai'i held onto the ball for only 22:01 against Army, but still picked up 20 first downs and 353 total yards.

Okay, so we'll leave on a high note.

Colorado should post it's highest point total of the season against Hawai'i.

If the Buffs can't score against Hawai'i, they won't score against any team in 2010.

The Warriors are posting numbers after two games of 2010 are consistent with 2009, when Hawai'i was ranked near the bottom of the nation in almost every defensive statistical category. This season, Hawai'i is 120th, dead last in the nation, in passing efficiency defense - and pass defense is the Warriors' forte. Hawai'i has given up 496 yards rushing in two games; and 832 total yards. In two games, Colorado has posted 548 yards of total offense  (111th in the nation).

Hawai'i is also poorly ranked in special teams play ... 108th in net punting; 107th in punt returns; 104th in punt return yardage defense; and 107th in kickoff returns.

In sum, the bottom line from two weeks ago remains the same: Hawai'i represents the "easiest" game on the Colorado 2010 schedule.

Colorado is 20-8-1 against teams from the Western Athletic Conference in its history; Hawai'i is 2-12-1 against teams in the Big 12.

Daunting numbers.

Except ... One of Hawai'i's two wins against the Big 12, and one of Colorado's eight losses to the WAC, came when Hawai'i defeated Colorado in the only previous meeting between the two teams.

Sure, the only other meeting came on January 1, 1925, when Hawai'i defeated Colorado, 13-0.

But Buff fans this week, in the wake of the humbling loss to Cal, are left to hope that history does not repeat itself ...

More at www.cuatthegame.com

Note - if you have signed up for the email updates (which go out Wednesday night and Sunday morning during the season), and have not been receiving them, please let me know cuatthegame@gmail.com. If you are not currently on the list, and would like to be, just drop me a note at your convenience.

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