Colorado Football: Hawaii a "Business Trip" for the Buffaloes
"T.I.P.S." for the first game of the Jon Embree era
Since early last December, it has been an era of good feeling in Boulder.
The five-year reign of Dan Hawkins ended after a record-setting loss to Kansas in November, but it wasn't until December 6, 2010, when Jon Embree was hired as the head football coach, that the Buff Nation could begin to look ahead. Embree was a popular hire, with his popularity only enhanced when he brought in several coaches with ties to Colorado, including both of his coordinators, Eric Bieniemy and Greg Brown.
Since his hiring, Embree has restored enthusiasm, reinstated traditions and inspired the Buff Nation. Season ticket sales have soared, with an increase in sales normally only seen in the ticket office after a 10- or 11-win seasons.
Jon Embree has done everything that he could do since he was hired.
All he has to do now is win football games.
The Jon Embree era at Colorado begins on the road, as the Buffs take on a Hawaii team that went 10-4 in 2010.
Below are the "T.I.P.S." for the game against the Warriors, broken down into categories of: "Talent," "Intangibles," "Preparation/Schedule" and "Statistics."
Any discussion concerning Hawaii begins and ends with the Warriors' senior quarterback, Bryant Moniz. A veteran of 22 starts over the past two seasons, Moniz was the nation's leading passer in 2010, with 5,040 yards passing and 39 touchdowns (For purposes of comparison, Colorado team records for passing yards and touchdowns in a season were set in 1996 by Koy Detmer, with 3,156 yards and 22 touchdowns).
Against Colorado in 2010, Moniz had 330 yards passing, the second highest total against the Buffs all season. However, the Buffs' defense was able to limit Moniz to one touchdown pass (to go with one interception) in a 31-13 Colorado victory.
While Moniz returns, many of his 2010 weapons do not. Three receivers from last season are now playing in the NFL; with senior Royce Pollard the only returning starter (Pollard had seven catches for 66 yards against Colorado last season).
Of course, despite losing quality talent at the wideout position, Hawaii remains loaded, with run-and-shoot guru Mouse Davis turning to several new weapons, including junior college star Chris Gant (fellow junior college standout Darius Bright, however, has been suspended for his participation in a bar fight, and will not play against Colorado).
The Hawaii rushing game also set records last fall. Alex Green set a school record in scoring 18 touchdowns, with his 1,199 yards the second highest in school history. Fortunately for the Buffs, Green is now a member of the Green Bay Packers.
For 2011, Hawaii is starting over, as there are no returning letter-winners or any player who has any Division 1 playing experience on the roster. Three red-shirt freshmen are all vying for playing time this fall.
Perhaps most encouraging note for Buff fans concerning the Hawaii offense, though, is that the Warriors will run out an entirely new offensive line on September 3. Four starters, totaling 70 career starts, are gone. The fifth starter, senior left tackle Austin Hansen, remains under NCAA suspension for the first part of the 2011 season, and will not be on the field against the Buffs.
For Colorado, then, the game plan against the Hawaii offense is straight forward. Utilize the strongest unit on the Colorado defense, the defensive line, against the green Hawaii offensive line, hoping to keep Moniz from getting enough time to exploit the Buffs' new cornerbacks.
The Hawaii defense, while not as prolific as the Hawaii offense, was productive in 2010, and six starters returned. The biggest star is senior linebacker Corey Paredes, who was an All-WAC pick with his team leading 151 tackles (the 14-highest total in the nation). Fellow linebacker Aaron Brown had 83 tackles last season, including 9.5 tackles for loss, three interceptions and five sacks. Brown was to provide pressure against the Buffs, but he, like wide receiver Darius Bright, has been suspended for the season opener against the Buffs.
The defensive line lost its two starting defensive ends, but returned eight players with playing experience, including both tackles. In the five-man secondary, three starters were lost, but plenty of talent returns, including returning senior safety Richard Torres, who had 57 tackles and two interceptions in 2010.
Both teams have reason to take positives from the 2010 matchup in Boulder.
Hawaii can look at the Colorado game as "the one that got away". The final score was 31-13, but the game did not start with any indication that the contest would turn into a Colorado rout. On the second play of the game, Bryant Moniz connected with Kealoha Pilares for an 80-yard gain down to the Colorado three yard line. Four running plays, though, did not net a touchdown. A few minutes later, CU punt returner Travon Patterson muffed a punt, recovered by Hawaii at the CU three yard line.
Once again, though, the Warriors came away with no points, three incompletions followed a missed 20-yard field goal.
Before Colorado righted the ship in the second half, Hawaii had a 10-0 halftime lead—which could have easily been 24-0. Hawaii coaches will certainly be pointing out "what might have been" to their players as they review the tape of Colorado/Hawaii game last fall.
Colorado also has reason to look to last year's game for inspiration. While the Buffs did fall behind 10-0, the second half of the Hawaii game was perhaps the best two quarters of the 2010 season. The Buffs played well on offense, defense and special teams in posting 31 second half points.
In one of the highlight plays of the season, Tyler Hansen, flushed from the pocket, found Toney Clemons behind the Warriors' coverage for a 73-yard touchdown pass to give the Buffs a 24-13 lead in the fourth quarter. If the Buffs are looking for some positive mojo heading into the 2011 season opener, they can review the tape of the second half of last year's game (If you want to look back at the entire recap, here is a link to the 2010 CU/Hawaii game).
Colorado also has another double-edged sword to deal with in Honolulu—the Buffs' 18-game road losing streak.
There are two legacies of the Dan Hawkins' era that Jon Embree must overcome before the dark cloud which has been hanging over the program for the past five seasons will finally retreat. One is the five-year string of losing seasons, the second-longest in school history. That legacy needs dealt with over time.
The second legacy stares the Buffs right in the face, and will continue to do so until the road losing streak is broken.
Embree, to his credit, has not shied away from this particular albatross, he has embraced it. Embree has stated that he is excited that the Buffs open on the road, and will have the opportunity in Game One to lose the streak. Fans have unofficially declared it to be a "brick" game, a victory which would be worthy of earning a brick at the Dal Ward Center to commemorate the win.
The Buffs, and the new coaching staff, have invested a great deal of time and energy focusing in on the Hawaii game. A victory and one more vestige of the Hawkins' era will be removed. A victory,and the home-opener against Cal becomes a game with possibilities for success.
A loss, however, could erase nine months of positive energy, and instill doubt into a roster with a new—but fragile—sense of confidence.
P—Preparation / Schedule
If you have been with CU at the Game for any length of time, you know that my major beef with the Rocky Mountain Showdown is not so much the location of the game (though I don't like it) as it is the timing of the game.
Colorado is in the position of allowing little brother Colorado State extra time to prepare for what the Rams see as their biggest game of the season. With all of fall camp to get ready for the Buffs, the Colorado State coaching staff can install new schemes, trick plays and different lineups.
It is worthy of note that only once, since the rivalry was renewed in 1983, has Colorado State defeated Colorado when the game was played at any other time other than the season opener (and that was the debacle 2006 season, when the Buffs opened the Dan Hawkins' era with a loss to Montana State before falling to CSU).
What does this have to do with the 2011 season-opener against Hawaii?
This season, the extra preparation time works to the advantage of the Buffs. Colorado's coaches have a fair idea of what to expect from the Hawaii offense. Many of the Warriors' star players have moved on from last year, but Bryant Moniz returns at quarterback, and the offense he will lead remains the same.
The Colorado defensive secondary, led by defensive coordinator Greg Brown, has had an extra few weeks to focus on preparing for the run-and-shoot offense of Mouse Davis and the Warriors.
Hawaii, conversely, has had to guess what the Buffs will bring to the islands. Yes, the Hawaii coaching staff is aware that Colorado plans to play more "smash mouth" football, with greater use of the fullbacks and tight ends. Yes, the Warriors are familiar with Tyler Hansen (19-26, 200 yards, two touchdowns against Hawaii last season) and Rodney Stewart (22 carries, 106 yards, two touchdowns), but how they will be utilized on the islands remains a bit of a mystery.
Colorado also faces the long-held belief that a game on the road against Hawaii presents other issues for the traveling team, both in terms of distractions and in terms of the players' inner clocks not being properly adjusted.
Coach Embree will have none of that.
As to the distractions of playing on the islands, Embree was succinct.
“It’s all business," Embree told The (Boulder) Daily Camera. "They can see (Hawaii) when we take off and land. They can see everything they need to see then. We’re there for one reason.”
It's been 267 days since Colorado hired Jon Embree as the head coach.
Last season, with two future NFL draft picks at cornerback, Colorado finished 110 in the nation in pass defense. Meanwhile Hawaii, whose 5,000-yard quarterback returns, led the nation in passing offense.
Okay, we have that one out of the way.
Has anything changed to merit the belief that these numbers do not portend a 400-yard, five-touchdown onslaught in Honolulu?
As outlined above, many of the weapons available to Moniz in 2010 are gone. In addition, even with those weapons, Moniz was only able to produce one touchdown pass in Boulder. Finally, even though Jimmy Smith and Jalil Brown are gone, Greg Brown is back. In 2009, Brown's last year in Boulder, with many of the same players in the defensive backfield, had the Buffs ranked No. 34 in the nation in pass defense.
While a dramatic turnaround in pass defense success is not likely without Smith and Brown, nor anyone assume that the Colorado pass defense would be shredded in Honolulu without Smith and Brown.
If you are looking for a statistic to keep an eye on Saturday, look at turnover margin. Last season, Hawaii led the nation in forced turnovers, with 38 (Colorado, by comparison, forced half that number, 19). The turnover battle in Boulder last year was even, with two turnovers apiece. If the Buffs can hang onto the ball next Saturday, while forcing a few turnovers of their own, the game could very well go the Buffs' way.
Another statistic to bear in mind is sacks allowed. Last season, Hawaii was 106th in the nation in sacks allowed. Granted, that number is a bit skewed as Hawaii rarely ran the ball, with Bryant Moniz posting an incredible tally of 555 passes (for comparison: The Colorado school record for most passes in a season—424, by Cody Hawkins in 2007).
Recall, however, that the Warriors were 106th in the nation in sacks allowed and are replacing all five starters for the Colorado game.
It has been stated since spring practices that the strength of the defense, and perhaps the deepest and most talented unit on the Colorado team, is the defensive line.
The defensive line, with five seniors in the two-deep, will be squaring off against a rookie offensive line. In order to protect the weakest unit on the defense, the cornerbacks, the defensive linemen for Colorado will not only have to have a good game against Hawaii.
They need to dominate.
It's boring. It's cliche. It's also true...
The game will be won or lost in the trenches.
More on CU football at www.cuatthegame.com.
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