In a press conference earlier this month, CU head coach Dan Hawkins described his young Buffaloes squad as “Those Dag-gum kids!” He followed it up explaining in a cheerful sense that his kids seem to more or less get it sometimes and not so much other times.
It’s the frustration of seeing a young football team grow—showing up one week and not the next. The only real way around that is building upon a tradition of winning.
Both Nebraska and Colorado appear to be aiming for next season, yet there is this matchup that is so crucial to the recruiting trail. The Colorado Buffaloes are literally playing for their bowl hopes. If CU loses, they will not be in a bowl, but if they win, then they have at least tied in-state rival CSU with the prospect of reaching a postseason bowl game.
The Colorado-Nebraska recent rivalry started back in 1898, with the Huskers winning the first three matchups before CU won in 1904, 6-0 in Boulder. The all-time record between these two schools is set at 46-18-2 in large favor of Nebraska. When it comes to the Colorado-Nebraska rivalry game the last 22 years or so, the overall record is set at 14-7-1, again in favor of Nebraska.
Nebraska has been known as a winner the better part of a century mark, while Colorado has certainly had success, but not to the magnitude or consistency of the Husker program. The winner of this game wound up playing for the national championship five times between 1989 and 1997, with Colorado raking in one title and Nebraska three in the mid to late '90s.
One thing remains certain in this matchup: Expect the unexpected. Some telling statistics show that there have been five blowouts in the last 22 games. The average margin of victory is set at about 13 points during those games. The longest win streak belongs to Nebraska at 18 in a row from 1968-1985. The most points scored in a game are 69 by Nebraska in 1983.
Interestingly enough, CU has scored over 60 points twice in the last seven matchups for the second and third-most points scored in the series.
Coming into the game in Lincoln, Nebraska is averaging nearly 300 yards through the air and almost 175 yards on the ground per game. The Huskers' high-powered offense is averaging nearly 36 points per game, while their defense is yielding an average of 29 points per game. Nebraska is 4-3 against Big 12 foes this season.
Colorado’s offense has been sluggish this season and is only averaging 189 yards through the air. On the ground the Buffs aren’t much better, averaging 133 yards per game. The black and gold are averaging only about 20 points per game, while the defense is yielding 28 points per game, 25 points if the game against Missouri is thrown out. Sadly enough the Buffs are 2-5 in Big 12 play this season.
While this matchup has dropped off from its pinnacle in the late '80s through the 1990s, it is still deserving of the attention due to the rivalry aspect. Moreover, both of these programs appear to be on the road back to their glory days. Both of these programs have been retooling for the future.
This could be the lowest recognized game for the next few years as both of these programs should be much stronger this time next season.
For the Buffaloes, at quarterback most of this season has been Cody Hawkins, the son of Head Coach Dan Hawkins. Last season Cody and the young Buffs showed a great deal of promise. This year there has been a combination of poor team execution coupled with a lack of a physical attack and poor offensive schemes. Ultimately this has made the offensive attack easy for most defenses to defend.
The running game has shown promise, and the stable appears to be ready to move into the future. CU has unfortunately run a great deal from the shotgun formation as an apparent move to be more competitive overall. This has caused the running game to suffer, and the offensive attack has lacked the ability to set the tone in ball games physically.
Defensively, it’s a compound fracture: When the offense doesn’t produce as well as it should, ultimately the defense suffers. The Golden Buffs are short on size and experience on defense, which equals out to giving up a lot of points. This is not to say this squad can’t be physical, because they can—they have just been put in bad spots and have suffered for it.
Colorado will win if...
Without a doubt, Nebraska is a monster in the make on offense, and they have the ability to run up the score quickly. Colorado will have to find ways to be physical and slow down Nebraska’s attack.
Husker QB Joe Ganz is on fire, completing 69 percent of his passes and throwing 21 touchdowns. He has been overshadowed by the play of the quarterbacks in the Big 12 South and a relatively down season by Husker standards.
Colorado will have to mix up their coverage, but their best success may be playing man and committing to stopping the run. The run is what opens everything up for Nebraska, and they do it well, so the Buffs have to be patient and strive to force down and distance situations that favor CU.
Offensively the Buffs really can’t trust their kicking game, as evidenced by a drought earlier this season where CU kickers missed 10 of 11 attempts. Coach Hawk and the Buffs need to go for the jugular. They can’t afford to lose this game from a bowl standpoint.
CU should make a full commitment to run the ball hard and physically. This would position Cody Hawkins to be able to take advantage of the pursuit from the Huskers. Cody has talent—he proved a great deal last season. He just needs to have the best game of his young career thus far.
Colorado will lose if...
If Nebraska has their way and CU can’t alter it. Game over. It’s hard to say that coming off a year when the Buffs scored over 60 points against the Huskers. Yet the Buffaloes have to be realistic about where they are and the strength of this Husker team. Nebraska has the ability to control this game. CU must impose their will on the ground, or they will probably lose this game.
The X-Factor for Colorado
CU has a solid complement of running backs that have not reached their potential this season. This could be the game where the Buffs choose to open up the gates and give the backfield carte blanche.
Additionally, the best quarterback at CU might be on the bench. Freshman quarterbacks Matt Ballenger and Tyler Hansen have helped to diversify the Buffaloes' attack and promise to fight for the starting job next season.
Coaching appears to be nearly dead even, but give a slight nod to CU for last year's game-plan. Don’t forget this one fact: The Buffs have played one of the toughest schedules in the country.
Realistically, the season statistics and overall play favor the Huskers to win this game. CU should be a desperate football team—they should be a dag-gum desperate football team if they expect to win. My head says pick Nebraska. My heart says those young Buffs might just show up and find a way to get the job done.
Colorado Buffaloes 31
Nebraska Cornhuskers 27