Well, we have just a few more days before the second game of the season against Colorado. This should be an interesting matchup, because Cal is getting a sneak peak at a future conference mate. So, what should we expect from Colorado?
We decided to dial up our SBN brethren The Ralphie Report to get a closer look at the Colorado Buffaloes (check out their interview of us over at their digs). They are coming off of an emotionally uplifting victory over the Colorado State Rams in that tightly contested state battle. They are playing in an awkward situation wherein everybody knows Coach Dan Hawkins should have been fired already, but the cash-strapped university cannot afford to pay his buy out. Will the team be going at 100% in those conditions? What should we be looking for on offense? On defense? Join me after the jump to see Ralphie Report's answer to these burning questions. And GO BEARS!
1. Last year Colorado's defense struggled frequently, but they started out 2010 by holding Colorado St. to just 3 points and 245 yards in addition to 3 interceptions. Do you think the defense has turned a corner and what are your expectations for the unit against Cal?
I think the defense is certainly improved over last season but I don’t think we can say they have turned the corner yet. Colorado State will struggle mightily this year on offense. They had to replace pretty much their entire offense, started a true freshman quarterback and are extremely inexperienced up front. That being said, holding the Rams to minimal rushing yards, sacking Pete Thomas three times, registering 8 tackles for loss and turning the Rams over three times certainly shows the defense is moving in the right direction. Overall, I was pretty impressed with the entire unit. The Buffs have some depth along the defensive line, a few playmaking linebackers in Michael Sipili, Jon Major and B.J. Beatty as well as two NFL potential corners in Jimmy Smith and Jalil Brown.
As for the Cal game, it should be a great test for the defense. Not many better players in the country than RB Shane Vereen. Throw in big, athletic receivers like WR Keenan Allen and WR Marvin Jones and an experienced signal caller in Kevin Riley, CU fans should get a good indication of how good this defense is. I am looking forward to the Marvin Jones/Keenan Allen vs. Jalil Brown/Jimmy Smith matchup. Great athletes across the board. I am sure NFL scouts will be looking at how our corners play in this one. What worries me is in zone situations where our safeties have to help cover Cal’s big play receivers and when the Bears slip Vereen out of the backfield. Last year, our safeties had the tendency to give up the big play. Against CSU, they were never tested. I am sure the Bears will test the safeties plenty.
But we all know it comes down to stopping the run and the play of the front seven. Coming into the season, we read that a potential weakness of Cal was the offensive line. If our front seven can contain Vereen and get a little pressure on Riley in the process, it could make the game interesting.
2. Is this team going at 100% under lame duck coach Hawkins?
Hard to answer this one without personally knowing the players but I think so. I have to hope so as a fan. Do I think they are the best coached team in the nation? No, absolutely not but I think the seniors on this team have pride and I think the leadership is there to push the team into working and playing hard.
The key this weekend is showing energy and enthusiasm on the road. Colorado has not won a road game under Dan Hawkins since October 2007, some 1,050 days ago (not that we are counting). If this team wants to separate themselves from that past four years, better play on the road is a must. A big reason for the poor play on the road has been a lack of energy. Let’s see if that gets fixed this weekend.
3. Tyler Hansen is now the presumed #1 QB, and he had a solid game against CSU. How confident are Buffalo fans in Hansen, and what are his strengths and weaknesses as a QB?
First and foremost, this was a very bad football team a year ago. From an offensive standpoint, the Buffs couldn’t run the ball, couldn’t protect the quarterback and was one of the most penalized teams in the nation. All of that is a recipe for disaster. They had very little in terms of weapons and depth in 2009. That being said, it was very difficult to evaluate quarterback play a season ago. Cody Hawkins got a ton of blame, Tyler Hansen caught some heat but in all actuality, Colorado had issues everywhere else on the football field which hampered the success of the quarterback.
In 2010, Colorado has more experience and more playmakers than a year ago which should improve the quarterback play. By no means am I saying "watch out for the Buffs, Big 12" but I do think they are improved across the board on offense and defense. Tyler Hansen has the ability to make the defense account for 11 players instead of just 10 when Cody Hawkins is in there. That is probably the main reason Hansen was named the starting quarterback. I think Buff fans are more confident in the team this year which helps the confidence in the quarterback.
As, for Hansen’s weaknesses, he still needs to improve on sitting in the pocket and confidently delivering the ball. A few times last game, he didn’t properly set his feet and deliver which negated a few big plays. His strength is to be able to move within the pocket and run when needed. Remember, although he is a junior and has played each of his first two years, this is the first year where he has gone into the season as a starter so he is still adjusting to that role as well. We will know a lot more about Tyler Hansen after this game with Cal. Hansen is the beneficiary, though, of a talented wide receiving corp led by CU’s all time leading receiver in Scotty McKnight, Michigan transfer Toney Clemons, USC transfer Travon Patterson and UCLA decommit Paul Richardson.
4. Colorado didn't generate much rushing yardage last year and despite the big win over CSU, Colorado only ran for 115 yards (almost a quarter of which came on the last possession of the game in garbage time). If Hansen struggles with the passing game, how confident are you that the running game can keep the offense moving?
Not very confident. Again, we are still waiting to see if this team will be different than Hawkins’ teams in years past. In 2009, protecting the quarterback and running the ball were not the Buffs strong suit. That being said, they do have some talent on the offensive line. OG Ryan Miller and OT Nate Solder were named preseason All Big 12 with Solder probably lining himself up for a first round pick next year, but the rest of the line is pretty unproven. I very much believe that this offense can be in the top half of the Big 12 if they can get solid play from the three guys not named Solder and Miller. Against CSU, the Buffs protected Hansen pretty well and opened up some sizeable holes and what really skews the numbers is CU only took 60 snaps from scrimmage. Cal took 75 snaps so the offensive numbers won’t be as explosive as the Bears but Colorado was still relatively efficient.
5. New Cal defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast is known for running an aggressive, blitz-heavy defense. How well equipped are Colorado's O-line and QB to withstand heavy blitzing?
The good thing is Colorado State showed a good amount of blitzes so the Buffs should be ready from that standpoint. Having a mobile quarterback like Hansen can certainly buy some extra time as well. One thing the Buffs did very well last week was throw quick screens to the receivers and RB Rodney Stewart which is another effective way to slow any rush down. One of the downsides is Colorado pretty much exclusively plays 5’6" Rodney Stewart. He can be a good blocker but at that size, it is a tough task to expect him to take on blitzing backers all game and shoulder the load in the running game. I expect the Bears to challenge the left guard and center all day, away from Miller and Solder to see if the CU can communicate well enough to pick up the rush.