“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 24th football head 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 ten or eleven win seasons.
Jon Embree has done everything which could have been asked of him 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 Hawai’i team which 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”.
T – Talent
Any discussion concerning Hawai’i 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, Hawai’i 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 Hawai’i 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, Hawai’i is starting over, as there is not a single returning letter-winner on the roster, or any player who has any Division 1 playing experience. Three red-shirt freshmen are all vying for playing time this fall.
Perhaps most encouraging note for Buff fans concerning the Hawai’i offense, though, is that the Warriors will run out an entirely new offensive line on September 3rd. 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 Hawai’i offense is straight-forward. Utilize the strongest unit on the Colorado defense, the defensive line, against the green Hawai’i offensive line, hoping to keep Moniz from getting enough time to exploit the Buffs’ new cornerbacks.
The Hawai’i defense, while not as prolific as the Hawai’i offense, was productive in 2010, and returns six senior starters. The biggest star is senior linebacker Corey Paredes, who was an All-WAC pick with his team leading 151 tackles (the 14th-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 being counted upon to provide pressure against the Buffs, but Brown, 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 returns 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.
I – Intangibles
Both teams have reason to take positives from the 2010 matchup in Boulder.
Hawai’i 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 Hawai’i at the CU three yard line. Once again, though, the Warriors came away with no points, when three incompletions were followed by a missed 20-yard field goal.
Before Colorado righted the ship in the second half, Hawai’i had a 10-0 halftime lead – which could have easily been 24-0. Hawai’i coaches will certainly be pointing out “what might have been” to their players as they review the tape of Colorado/Hawai’i 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 Hawai’i 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/Hawai’i 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 which 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 must be 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 only 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 be rid of the streak. The game has been declared 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 Hawai’i 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 annually placed 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 has this got to do with the 2011 season-opener against Hawai’i?
This season, the extra preparation time works to the advantage of the Buffs. Colorado’s coaches have a pretty fair idea of what to expect from the Hawai’i 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.
Hawai’i, conversely, has had to guess what the Buffs will bring to the islands. Yes, the Hawai’i 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 Hawai’i 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 Hawai’i 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. They can see (Hawai’i) when we take off and land. They can see everything they need to see then. We’re there for one reason.”
Embree also dismissed the time change factor. “I’ve coached over there. We’ve played two bowl games over there (the 1993 and 1998 Aloha Bowls, both Colorado victories), so I’ve been around it,” said Embree. ”I don’t see it as being a factor, I really don’t. Even though it’s early over there, with it being a 4:00 game (it won’t make a difference). If it was a ten o’clock game, or a seven o’clock game, where it was midnight back here, I could see it, but with it being at four o’clock, it’s just like a night game here.”
In other words, says Embree … it’s a road game. It just happens to be in Hawai’i.
Bring it on.
S – Statistics
It’s been 267 days since Jon Embree was hired as Colorado’s head coach. So this statistic has probably been mentioned 267 times.
Last season, with two future NFL draft picks at cornerback, Colorado finished 110th in the nation in pass defense. Meanwhile Hawai’i, whose 5,000-yard quarterback returns, led the nation in passing offense.
Okay, we’ve got 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 34th in the nation in pass defense. While a dramatic turnaround in pass defense success is not likely without Smith and Brown, nor should it just be assumed that the Colorado pass defense will 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, Hawai’i 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, Hawai’i was 106th in the nation in sacks allowed. Granted, that number is a bit skewed as Hawai’i 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 all 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 Hawai’i.
They will need to dominate.
It’s boring. It’s cliche. It’s also true …
The game will be won or lost in the trenches.