On paper, Eastern Washington is the easiest game on the Buffs’ 2008 schedule. As the Buffs discovered in 2006, however, the games are not played on paper.
Without further adieu, then, the T.I.P.S. for this weekend:
T - Talent.
Fine. This is an easy one (enjoy it, Buff fans, this category will not be as flattering the next few games), but perhaps not as clear cut as it may first appear. Eagle quarterback Matt Nichols is the real deal.
As a sophomore last season, Nichols was the Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Year, setting five school season records, including touchdown passes (34), pass completions (280), and—keep an eye on this one—rushing yards for a quarterback (392). Against Texas Tech in the opener, Nichols completed 36 of 61 passes for 335 yards in a 49-24 loss. The Eagles were in the game, at 35-24, at the end of the third quarter.
But will it be enough? No.
While it is true that the Eagles never gave up (a lesson to keep in mind if and when the Buffs get up by a score or two), it is also true that the Red Raiders were up 21-0 before Eastern Washington had a yard of offense (116-0 near the end of the first quarter). Had the Eagles not intercepted Tech quarterback Graham Harrell, subsequently scoring after a drive of a mere seven yards early in the second quarter, the game could have gotten completely out of hand.
Eastern Washington had only 23 yards rushing against Texas Tech, and gave up 639 yards of total offense. The Buffs’ offense should be able to move with ease against Eastern Washington. Cut out the penalties, and the Colorado offensive talent will shine in Folsom this Saturday.
I - Intangibles.
Will the ghost of Montana State ever go away? The loss to MSU in the 2006 opener was harder on me than almost any other loss in my 28+ years with the Buffs.
Being a lifelong resident of Bozeman, Montana, home of the MSU Bobcats, I am constantly reminded by Bobcat fans of the 19-10 loss handed to the Buffs by the Cats to open the Hawkins’ era in 2006. The first game Colorado ever played against an FCS team (1-AA to most of us), and the Buffs lost?
Apparently, rehashing the MSU loss is a common theme. A Denver Post headline this week: "Montana State memories still fresh for Buffs". The Boulder Daily Camera: "Buffs have learned lesson from Montana State loss".
How will the memory of that game affect the Colorado/Eastern Washington game?
An argument that it will be a plus for the Buffs:
There is NO WAY that the Buffs’ players will look past the Eagles. The majority of the players suiting up this Saturday were on the team in 2006, and there is absolutely no chance that the Buffs will take this game lightly.
"It’s almost surreal when you look back and you think about it," said senior defensive tackle George Hypolite of the loss to MSU. "The thing that really sticks out to me is the preparation. We didn’t prepare to beat them. We prepared just to play."
If the players start to lose focus and slack off in practice this week? Here’s guessing that the coaching staff is not overlooking the Eagles, either.
An argument that the memory of the CU/MSU game will be a plus for the Eagles:
The Buffs can be beaten, at home, by a Big Sky Conference team. The Bobcats proved that, and the Eagles have more talent that the Cats (EWU thumped MSU, 35-13, last season). If it can happen once, it can happen again.
Will it? No. The Buffs should come out focused, prepared, and determined to bury not only the Eagles, but the memory of the loss to the Bobcats as well.
P - Preparation/Schedule.
Eastern Washington played on Saturday, giving the Eagles an extra day to prepare for the Buffs. That being said, the Eagles had to travel back to Cheney after their game in Lubbock, and will travel again on Friday to get to Boulder. The Eagles’ extra day to prepare, especially this early in the season, with the Buffs not having to travel, has to be considered insignificant.
Both teams have a bye week upcoming, so there is no reason for either team to be looking ahead (though the Buffs players may be more likely to do so. The Buffs’ next game is September 18th against West Virginia, while the Eagles return home to face the mighty Western Washington Vikings).
The Buffs suffered no significant injuries against Colorado State, but still managed to lose two offensive linemen. Reserve offensive tackle Ethan Adkins, a red-shirt freshman, was suspended indefinitely after his arrest for DUI, while starting left guard Devin Head, a junior, was suspended for one game due to an undisclosed violation of team rules.
"This is disappointing to all of us," said Dan Hawkins, "but we are going to continue our philosophy of excellence with class and we will uphold our standards."
Good thing the Buffs recruiting a platoon of offensive linemen the past two seasons...
S - Stats.
When I saw the score of the Texas Tech/Eastern Washington game, 49-24, my first reaction was that the score was about right, though I was surprised to see that the Eagles had put up 24 points on a top 15 team. My surprise turned to concern when I noticed that the score was only 35-24 at the start of the fourth quarter.
Then I started to dig a little deeper. Yes, the Eagles had played well, but only after digging themselves into a 21-0 hole. Yes, the Eagles had 341 yards passing, but that stat was offset by the fact that the Eagles had only 23 yards rushing. Yes, Matt Nichols had completed 36 passes, but it took him 61 attempts to do it, and Nichols had only one touchdown pass to his three interceptions.
Then, there it was. The stat of the game.
Texas Tech had a school record 18 penalties for a total of 169 yards against Eastern Washington. Let that one sink in. Against CSU, the Buffs had eight penalties for 58 yards. If you were like me, you were muttering under your breath as the Buffs seemed to be their own worst enemies at times on Sunday.
What if the penalties had been doubled, and the penalty yardage almost tripled? CU could have been in real trouble.
Imagine what score the Red Raiders might have posted if not for all of those penalties!
One more stat to keep in the back of your mind at kickoff this Saturday. Eastern Washington’s offense is not unlike that of Texas Tech. All pass; little run. What is the Buffs’ record under Dan Hawkins against Texas Tech? Yup. 2-0.
Granted, Eastern Washington is a good team—one of the best in Division 1-AA. If the Buffs hadn’t lost to Montana State in 2006; if Michigan hadn’t lost last season to Appalachian State—I might give the Eagles a puncher’s chance at the upset.
Not this time. I just don’t see it. Buffs dominate early and late (with a few scary moments in between). CU 42-21.
For more on the CU vs. Eastern Washington game, including Eastern Washington trivia, This Day in History (Herschel Walker's debut in 1980; Peyton Manning dominates UCLA, and more), log on to http://www.cuatthegame.com