Today, we're talking with Ralphie Report, SBN's Colorado site. Great guys over there, a real solid addition to the Pac-12 SBNation group. Many thanks to Jack Barsch of the Colorado Barsches for his answers to these questions. This will help us better understand the Buffs as we careen helplessly towards the game tomorrow.
1. Colorado lost their best (and perhaps only) offensive weapon in 2013, WR Paul Richardson. Out of four 2014 games, Nelson Spruce has caught 10+ balls twice and had two TDs in every game but last week's Hawaii game (where he posted a school record for receptions). How capable is Spruce of filling Richardson's shoes this year?
2. How has the 2014 season compared to your preseason expectations so far?
Well, I predicted a bowl game, so I may have jumped the gun. The CSU loss really killed that dream. *sigh*. Anyways, let's look at this team as it stands. CU's offense has exceeded my expectations greatly, and the o-line has been the biggest positive surprise. They improved greatly over last year's unit, and although they can lose some assignments, this is a cohesive unit. Defensively, it has been a bit of a disappointment. Whether it was due to unrealistic expectations or underestimating opponents, this team was supposed to take the next step on the defensive side of the ball. Except for the Hawaii game, which was a masterpiece, it has been a lackluster effort.
3. The Buffalo defense has allowed an average of 370 yards per game (a season-worst of 545 yards to ASU), which is right around the middle of the FBS. How happy are you with their performance or are the fans looking for some improvement or a new DC?
Well, as stated above, this defense has been questionable with the exception of the effort against the Rainbow Warriors. It was thought that this D could challenge for a spot in the top half of the PAC, rankings wise. Through the first two games, that looked impossible. Creativity and toughness were hard to find, and penalties absolutely decimated any momentum we had. Then, something happened during the ASU game. CU fought back. Large portions of the 2nd half were dominated by this defense and we looked like a new team. Usually, with this team, after we build momentum in one game, we tend to follow it up with a stinker. Not so with the Hawaii game. The defense played almost perfectly, aided in part by the trio of suck that was Hawaii's QBs that game. No touchdowns allowed in that game (first time in 51 games), and mostly without Addison Gillam to boot. Here's to hoping that those types of performances continue.
4. Who is the #1 player on offense for Colorado Cal fans should know about?
I'm gonna take a stab in the dark and say Cal fans already know about Spruce, so I'll go with the lesser-known superfrosh WR, Shay Fields. Boy, am I glad that he spurned the Bears for some early playing time at CU. He's already one of the most explosive players on the team as a freshman, and he just knows how to get yards. Fields is being heavily utilized in this offense, and he has a bright future ahead of him. Also. look for fan favorite George Frazier. He plays FB/DE, and he will bowl over whoever is in front of him, on either side of the ball.
5. Who is the #1 player on defense for Colorado Cal fans should know about?
Obviously watch out for Gillam in the middle if he ends up getting past his concussion, but I'll stick to another under the radar player, Tedric Thompson. Thompson has been one of my favorite players this year, as he always seems to play harder than almost everyone else. Plus, he lays the wood when he can. He can be a plus player in coverage and in the box, something that is pretty rare to find these days. A bonus player to watch for is Derek McCartney, who had his best game of the year against Hawaii. He could create havoc out of the DE spot if given the chance.
6. What does Colorado need to do to win this game?
It's pretty simple for CU to win this game, but simple doesn't mean easy. This offense needs to run the ball effectively to win. Too often in the Hawaii did they almost give away their lead by starting with a 1 or 2 yard run and then passing it to get the rest. It's too risky. CU needs to give their defense rest and keep Goff off the field. I'll say if the Buffs can average 4.5 yards a carry, their chances to win increase exponentially. Given how much defenses focus on Spruce, it shouldn't be impossible, but the O-line needs to have the game of their lives and the running backs need to hit the holes hard. Also, enough of this inside draw every two plays crap. We need am off-tackle threat that can break a few tackles. Paging Michael Adkins...
7. What does Cal need to do to win this game?
Cal's chances to win are much greater than Colorado's, and I think Cal just has to play their game. You should be able to move it well against this D, and if Cal keeps Jared Goff clean, that should be enough to score some TD's. If the Bears are stout at the point of attack on defense, that puts CU in a lot of 3rd-and-longs, which we have not proven that we can convert consistently. Cal just needs to use their superior athleticism to win this one.
8. Predict a result!
I'll say that Cal covers, 31-20.
9. Who do you want to punch in the face?
Is this on a national level or personal? I'd like to knuckle sandwich Roger Goodell and a few others. Personally, probably the guy who pulls the fire alarm when he's drunk in my building. That's never a fun walk outside at 4 on a Sunday.
10. The running game is both more productive and more efficient this season. How much does each of these factors play a role in the improvement: running backs, offensive line, opponent quality?
I would say opponent quality has little to do with it, as our best game was against ASU and they are far and away the highest rated team we have faced this year. The offensive line has improved from dismal to below average, and that's a huge jump. That alone has helped our running game immensely. As for the running backs, they are hard to figure out. The popular candidate to breakout, Michael Adkins, has struggled this year and doesn't have the same explosion. The other 3 that make up the rotation (Tony Jones, Christian Powell, and Phillip Lindsay) have all turned in pretty good performances this year, with Powell being the most improved.
11. How will Liufau and the passing game adjust to the loss of Richardson? Can the offense be as productive without him?
Well, Liufau didn't really adjust to losing P-Rich as much as he just relies on a different receiver just as heavily. His new blanket is Spruce, and Spruce might have even more targets than Richardson by the end of the year. One of the problems Sefo has is locking on to his first read. I believe the offense could be MORE productive without Richardson. If Liufau would give Spruce a rest and go through his progressions, we might be 3-1 with a win against ASU.
12. How important is this game for Colorado's trajectory this season?
This game is the lynchpin to the season, in my opinion. We had a good showing in our one conference game, and this mathup has a chance to show whether that was a fluke. Cal is a program who's had comparable recent struggles, and while the Bears look greatly improved, they are still tentatively in the bottom half of the conference. This is a game both fanbases expected to win before the season started. Now, Cal has most of the marbles. This game is the last chance the Buffs have at a bowl game. If they lose this one, a bowl game is all but out of reach, if it isn't already.