Colorado/Iowa State Preview
Did it finally happen? Did it really, actually, finally, happen?
Is the Dan Hawkins era at Colorado finally over?
Okay—quickly moving on—who will be the head coach of the Buffs in 2011?
Since the "Collapse in Kansas," which made the firing of head coach Dan Hawkins all but inevitable, there has been little else discussed when it comes to the Colorado Buffaloes. Bring on 2011 and the Pac-12! Colorado fans are ready for a fresh start, a clean slate...
The thing is, there is a team of players in Ames, Iowa, that is still looking at the calendar, boarding a plane on Friday and are heading for Boulder. The Iowa State Cyclones, indifferent to the tsunami which has hit Boulder in the past week, are anticipating a game on Saturday afternoon at Folsom Field.
Now that Buff fans do not have Dan Hawkins to kick around anymore (my second Richard Nixon reference of the week. Hmmm...), will the fans show up to cheer on the Buffs and interim coach Brian Cabral? Will the Buffs be prepared? Motivated? Let's take a look...
Here are this week's "T.I.P.S." for the Colorado/Iowa State game:
Colorado fans have a wide range of opinions when it comes to their record-setting senior quarterback, Cody Hawkins. There is no such division of opinion in Ames, though, about Iowa State's senior quarterback, Austen Arnaud.
Arnaud is the Cyclones' all-time leader in completion percentage and is second all-time in passing yards, touchdown passes, completions and total offense. In 2010, in leading Iowa State to a 5-5, 3-3 record, Arnaud is having another good season.
In the Cyclones' upset win in Austin over No. 22 Texas, Arnaud passed for two touchdowns. Arnaud had an even better game against No. 9 Nebraska last weekend, completing 21-of-32 passes for 203 yards and three touchdowns in the 31-31 overtime loss.
When Arnaud drops back to pass, the Buffs will not be able to focus on any one receiver. Tight end Colin Franklin leads the team with 40 catches, but no fewer than seven receivers and backs average at least one catch per game. Overall, though, passing is not Iowa State's primary focus, as the Cyclones are ranked 100th in the nation in passing offense.
Which leaves the running game, and here Iowa State has another star. Senior Alexander Robinson is only the fourth Cyclone in history to post over 3,000 rushing yards. What is more important for Colorado fans to know is that Robinson has 13 career 100-yard games...including the last three games in a row.
After putting up 120 yards and two touchdowns against Texas, Robinson had 117 yards against Kansas and posted 101 yards and a career-high 32 carries last weekend against Nebraska.
Iowa State is ranked only 96th in total offense (324 yards/game) and 79th in scoring offense (24.6 points per game), not much better than the numbers put up by Colorado (the Buffs are the mirror of Iowa State, coming in at 76th in total offense but 96th scoring offense).
Yet the Cyclones are 5-5 and have beaten the likes of Texas Tech and Kansas (both of which beat the Buffs), and also have that impressive win over Texas in Austin on their resume.
Which means the defense must be carrying the team, right?
Strong safety David Sims was voted the Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year in 2009, and had a career-best 17 tackles earlier this season against Oklahoma. Defensive back A.J. Klein has already returned two interceptions for touchdowns this fall, tying a school record. Along with Sims and Klein, Jake Knott make up a trio of Cyclones which are all ranked in the top ten in the Big 12—and in the top 30 nationally—in tackles.
On defense, though, the numbers are once again deceiving. Iowa State is vulnerable to a strong rushing attack (paging Mr. Rodney Stewart!), giving up almost 200 yards rushing per game (ranked 103rd nationally).
Pass defense is only marginally better (222 yards per game, 73rd nationally), and the Cyclones are giving up almost 30 points per game (only a point less than the 3-6 Buffs).
So, it must be, what? Special teams which have led the Cyclones to the brink of upsetting Nebraska and the verge of qualifying for a bowl game?
Well, yes and no.
Iowa State does have a good punter, Kirby Van Der Kamp, ranked 13th nationally. And yes, placekicker Grant Mahoney did have a 57-yard field goal last weekend against Nebraska.
And yes, junior kick returner Leonard Jackson did set an NCAA record with 319 kickoff return yards in a game against Oklahoma State in 2008 (he had plenty of opportunities in a 59-17 loss).
Still, kicker Mahoney is only 38-for-60 in his career in field goal attempts, and the Cyclones are just above average in overall kickoffs and kick returns.
So why is Iowa State, which has played the most difficult schedule in the country to date (55-29 combined record by FBS opponents), at 5-5, 3-3, poised to go bowling again?
One number which jumps out is turnover margin. Iowa State is ranked 13th in the nation in that category. For all of the hand-wringing about the Buffs' play-calling and failure to cover an onside kick in the Kansas game, it was the two turnovers—and interception and a fumble return for a touchdown—which really sealed the Buffs' fate.
So, the game plan for Colorado against Iowa State is fairly parallel to the one the Buffs had against Kansas: control the ball with a strong running game; keep the Cyclone offense away from the big play; control the clock; limit penalties; and, most importantly, don't turn the ball over.
Colorado followed the game plan to perfection for three quarters against Kansas, and should have won the game. If the Buffs can avoid a similar implosion Saturday, they will be able to stay with—and perhaps defeat—Iowa State.
It's the $64,000.00 question this week...which Buff team will show up on Saturday against Iowa State? Will it be the Colorado team which dominated Kansas for three quarters, rolling to a 45-17 lead? An offense which scored seven times—including six touchdowns—in eight possessions to start the game?
Or will it be the Colorado team which collapsed in the fourth quarter against the Jayhawks? The team which could not cover an onside kick, then gave up a fumble return for a touchdown, then threw an interception, completing the worst "come from ahead" loss in school history?
These would all be legitimate questions even if the Colorado head coach, Dan Hawkins, was not relieved of his duties on the day after the 52-45 setback against Kansas.
Now? All bets are off.
Now the relevant questions become: Do the Buff players have any fight left in them? Will they rally around interim head coach Brian Cabral? Will they come out with emotion and determination to show that they do have the talent to compete with a decent, but certainly not great, Iowa State team?
Or...are the Buff players too distracted to be properly prepared? Will the firing of their coach be too much of a weight to bear? Will they decide that the season is over, and just "mail it in"?
It will be interesting to see...
There is also, for a lack of a better term, "the fourth quarter factor" for the Iowa State/Colorado game this weekend. At the start of the fourth quarter last weekend, Iowa State was down two touchdowns to No. 9 Nebraska.
The Cyclones, though, staged a comeback and forced overtime. The Buffs, meanwhile, suffered a major meltdown in Lawrence in the fourth quarter.
Should Colorado be ahead going into the fourth quarter, you would have to give an edge to ... Iowa State. The Cyclones came back against a top ten last week, while the Buffs imploded against what was, until that quarter, the worst team in the Big 12.
Iowa State players will have to be brimming with confidence that they can overcome any deficit; Colorado players have to be concerned that no lead is safe.
Until or unless the Buffs show that they can dominate another team for four quarters—and especially the fourth quarter—you have to give the psychological edge to the opposition.
P—Preparation / Schedule
Is there any doubt that Iowa State will be better prepared for this weekend's game than Colorado?
The Buff players have spent the last five days reeling from an improbable loss of a game, then the inevitable loss of a head coach. Whether the Buffs can actually use the change in leadership to their advantage remains to be seen.
The game is at Folsom Field, the only known place on the continent other than Invesco Field in Denver where Colorado has a chance to win a football game. The home crowd, which might have turned on the home team had Dan Hawkins been patrolling the sidelines, should be fully supportive of the Brian Cabral led Buffs.
This is not to say that Iowa State does not have a great deal to play for as well. The Cyclones are 5-5, 3-3 in Big 12 play. Iowa State qualified last season for a bowl game with a 6-6 record, and are hoping to return to the pool of eligible bowl teams once again.
Next week, Iowa State finishes with No. 20 Missouri. The game against the Tigers will be in Ames, but if the Cyclones lose in Boulder, they will be left with the unenviable task of having to win against Missouri in order to secure a bowl slot, a much tougher row to hoe.
Last season, Iowa State posted its sixth victory—and secured a bowl bid—with a 17-10 victory over Colorado in Ames. The Cyclones would like nothing more than to be able to post a sixth victory—and likely secure a bowl bid—with another victory over Colorado.
Both teams have a great deal to play for on Saturday. For Iowa State, the goals are clear cut; the focus of the players should not be in question.
For Colorado, the focus of the players is definitely be in question.
Iowa State, accordingly to its game notes, "has far and away played the toughest schedule nationally." True, you can quibble with the numbers used—ISU does not factor in its game against Northern Iowa from the FCS, and the record of the opposition (55-29) is not exactly "far and away" tougher than No. 2 on the list, Auburn, whose opponents check in with a 54-29 record.
Still, Iowa State has played five ranked teams this season. The Cyclones have lost four of the five, but the overall record also means that Iowa State has beaten the teams it is supposed to beat, teams like...Colorado.
Other relevant numbers for this weekend's matchup between the Buffs and Cyclones:
—Nebraska was averaging 458 yards of total offense on the season heading into the game with Iowa State. The Cyclone defense held the Cornhuskers to 314 yards of total offense;
—The magic number for this weekend is...24. Iowa State, under second-year head coach Paul Rhoads, is 11-0 when the opposition is held under 24 points, and 1-11 when the opposition scores more than 24 points;
—This being the case, it is relevant to point out that Colorado has been held under 21 points against Iowa State only five times in the past 27 years and even won three of those five;
—Colorado leads the all-time series against Iowa State 48-15-1, including a 24-6-1 edge in Boulder;
—The home team has the last six games in the series. The last time a road team won was in 2003, when Colorado won 44-10 in Ames. Iowa State has only won once in Boulder since 1982, a 35-27 win in the snow on November 11, 2000;
—The Cyclones are 110th in the nation in sacks, registering only 11 sacks in their first ten games;
—With 83 yards rushing against Iowa State, junior Rodney Stewart would become the 14th player in Colorado history to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season. The last Buff to rush for over 1,000 yards was Bobby Purify, who had 1,017 in 2004;
—Colorado is 11th in the nation in time of possession (32:27); Iowa State is 84th (28:50);
—Iowa State's road victory over Texas on October 23rd was the first victory ever for the Cyclones in Austin, and only the fourth time in school history that Iowa State has defeated a ranked team on the road. The 28-21 victory over No. 22 Texas was the first road win over a ranked team for ISU since 1990; and
—Iowa State is ranked 10th nationally in turnovers this season, having forced 22 turnovers (Colorado has forced 16). When 2009 and 2010 are combined, Iowa State is fourth in the nation in forced turnovers.
The Colorado Buffaloes are, for at least this week, perhaps the greatest unknown in college football. The Buff players are, after all, a collection of 18-22 year-olds who just had their coach fired.
Even if the decision to let Dan Hawkins go was inevitable, it still has to be a shock to the team. How well Colorado will respond, especially in light of what took place in Lawrence the last time the Buffs players suited up, is anyone's guess.
The game plan is straight-forward, as it has been for the Buffs in most of their games: control the ball; control the clock. Limit penalties; limit turnovers. Run the ball effectively; take advantage of red-zone opportunities. K.I.S.S.—and play hard.
For the majority of the Buff players, the 2011 season begins this weekend...