Colorado at Oregon State Preview – “T.I.P.S”
It’s finally here.
After a 20-day layoff, the longest non-bowl season wait between games in 50 years, the Colorado Buffaloes will again take the field this Saturday.
This weekend’s opponent, Oregon State, is as much an enigma as the Buffs themselves. The Beavers began the season with a national ranking, then promptly shot themselves in the foot with a opening game loss to Eastern Washington from the Big Sky Conference. Taken off the national radar, the Beavers have since snatched victory from the jaws of defeat – twice! – in the past two weeks, with both victories coming on the road.
Is Oregon State an unstoppable offensive juggernaut (41 points and 421 yards passing per game)?
Can Colorado move the ball up and down the field at will against the Beavers’ defense (OSU is 107th in passing defense)?
Will the three-week layoff ultimately help or hurt the Buffs this Saturday in Corvallis?
So many unknowns …
It’s almost like we’re starting the season all over again.
Which I guess, in a sense, we are.
Here are this week’s “T.I.P.S.” for the Colorado/Oregon State game …
T – Talent
Colorado potentially dodged a bullet in missing Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr. The same quarterback who sliced and diced the CU secondary in 2012 took care of business last Friday night against rival Boise State. With a 3-0 record and a national ranking, the Fresno State athletic department has launched a “Derek Carr for Heisman” campaign (the DC4Heisman website – complete with highlight video! – can be found here).
But here’s the thing … Fresno State’s Derek Carr is 9th in the nation in passing yards; 36th in passing efficiency.
Know who is ranked well ahead of him in both categories?
Oregon State’s Sean Mannion. The Beavers’ quarterback is 1st in the nation in passing yards (and by a fair margin – almost 300 yards more than any other quarterback) and 12th in the nation in passing efficiency. With his 367 yards passing against San Diego State, Mannion became the first quarterback in Oregon State history to pass for over 350 yards in four consecutive games.
But here’s what is really amazing (sorry, I can’t wait until the S-Stats section for this) … Mannion has 15 touchdown passes – and one interception.
That’s the quarterback the Buffs will face in Corvallis. “We’re going to have to kind of disrupt their routes and then we’re going to have to mix it up,” said CU head coach Mike MacIntyre of the defenses the Buffs will run against the Beavers. “Hopefully we can mix it up enough that it will confuse them a little bit and help us make plays and hopefully create some turnovers in the passing game for them.”
Mannion has two main weapons. Brandin Cooks leads the nation in receiving yards (639) and receiving touchdowns (7). But it is the other receiver, Richard Mullaney, which has caught coach MacIntyre’s eye on film. “(Mullaney) makes big play after big play after big play”, said MacIntyre of Oregon State’s other main threat – who was added to the Biletnikoff Award watch list just this week.
If you are looking at Oregon State’s offense as being one dimensional, however, don’t.
True enough, the Beavers are 121st in the nation in rushing yardage (out of 123 teams), but that isn’t a true reflection of the OSU offense, says coach Mac. “Yeah they run the ball, but they’re also throwing 10 screens a game for 125 yards of passing a game,” said MacIntyre. “That’s really like a running catch or like a handoff to me.”
This just in … Oregon State is going to be successful against Colorado in moving the ball.
Oregon State is going to score points on the Colorado defense.
The Beavers average 41 points per game, and haven’t been held below 33 points in four games this season.
So, the real question is: Can Colorado outscore Oregon State?
Oregon State’s defense is giving up 35 points per game, and is 92nd in the nation in total defense.
What has worked most effectively against the Beavers has been a mobile quarterback. Eastern Washington’s Vernon Adams rushed for over 100 yards and two touchdowns against Oregon State in the Eagles’ victory over the Beavers, while Utah’s Travis Wilson rushed for 142 yards and three scores in the 51-48 overtime game in Salt Lake City.
Can Connor Wood, he of the 11 rushing yards in ten attempts so far this season, be equally successful?
Or can Christian Powell return from injury to resurrect the Buffs’ dormant rushing attack?
Or will Paul Richardson just have to find a way to post a third consecutive 200-yard game?
The answers to these questions should decide the game.
I – Intangibles
The Buffs are in uncharted waters here.
Colorado will be facing its first true road trip, and will be doing so without a taking a hit in battle in three weeks.
“I definitely think we have improved during this time,” said coach MacIntyre on Tuesday. “We’ll be able to tell here in the next game but we play some really, really good football teams and I think we’ve gotten back to being a little bit more healthy and I think we did improve. We concentrated on different aspects of our game that we were struggling. We’re trying to improve on the areas we were doing well at so hopefully we’ll show that Saturday. The speed of the game is one thing I’ve talked about that we’ve tried to work really hard at. We did it again (in Tuesday’s practice). We went good on good quite a bit today to keep the speed of the game going and that’s something that you get when you play in games. So, they have four games we have two so there’s a little bit of an advantage on that side of it. On the other side, hopefully we’re a little bit fresher than they are. I’m hoping.”
On the Beavers’ side of the ledger is the fact that, while Oregon State is 3-1 (and coach MacIntyre thinks they should be 4-0), the truth is that they are a play or two away from being 1-3. Both Utah and San Diego State had the Beavers beaten, but Oregon State came back in both contests.
Utah took the lead against Oregon State with 4:25 to play in their game, but couldn’t hold their advantage. Then, in overtime, a Sean Mannion pass slipped through the hands of a Ute defender, and a game-winning interception for Utah became a game-winning touchdown pass for Oregon State.
San Diego State was in even better position to defeat the Beavers. The Aztecs were up 27-21 in the fourth quarter, and had just recovered a Beaver fumble inside Oregon State’s red zone. Unable to convert the turnover into a touchdown, San Diego State settled for a field goal and a nine point lead, 30-21, with 5:18 to play. Oregon State then scored two touchdowns in just nine seconds of game time with a touchdown pass and an interception for a touchdown. In just a few plays, a sure defeat for OSU became a come-from-behind victory for the Beavers.
Do these results show that the Beavers are vulnerable, giving up points and yards in huge quantities?
Or does it show that the Beavers are resilient, and will be able to withstand anything the Buffs throw at them, still managing to emerge – ultimately – victorious?
We’ll see …
P – Preparation / Schedule
Of course, the issue here is whether the layoff will hurt or help the Buffs, a topic which has been well discussed.
But Oregon State has some quirks in their schedule as well which might have an impact on the game.
First, the Beavers, after opening with five straight games, will have a bye next week. While Colorado players are gearing up mentally for a ten week stretch of games without a break, the Oregon State players are reaching a finish line of sorts. After Saturday, their schedule will be almost half over, and the team can look forward to a much deserved break.
So, will the Buffs, perhaps unintentionally, be holding back a little bit, knowing that they have a long stretch of games still to be played? Will the Beavers, perhaps unintentionally, be pushing harder at the end of the game, knowing that they have a chance to relax once the Buffs leave town?
Hard to say …
The other interesting tidbit concerning the schedule … While the Buffs have enjoyed home cooking the entire month of September, the Beavers have been road warriors. In fact, they are in the midst of a stretch where they only play one home game – this game – in a six week period. Coming home from two games on the road, Oregon State will, after its bye, go on the road again to face Washington State and Cal in its next two contests (before returning to Corvallis for three games at home over the next four weekends).
It has certainly been a strange year for the schedules …
S – Statistics
Stuff you need to know for Saturday …
- Remember last season, when this section kept track of how many categories the Buffs were ranked 100th or worse nationally?
Well, it’s still early, but it is a nice change of pace for the opposition to have more 100+ rankings than do the Buffs. While Colorado is 110th in rushing; Oregon State is 121st. The only other categories which have CU in triple digits have to do with punt and kick coverage … which hopefully will see some dramatic improvement over the next few weeks. Meanwhile, Oregon State is 100th or worse in a number of categories, some of them significant … passing defense (107th); passing efficiency (105th); scoring defense (107th); and red zone percentage defense (100th);
- Oregon State leads the nation in passing yards (1,683), but is only 38th in total offense (CU is 44th);
- Dating back to last season, the Beavers are a perfect 54-for-54 in their last 54 red zone opportunities (OSU is 22-for-22 this season). That streak is the longest in the nation;
- Oregon State is 60-22 at home this century, the third-best mark in the Pac-12, behind only Oregon and USC;
- The Oregon State offensive line has seen some shuffling, but is now settling down. One projected starter was lost to mono before the season began, while another injured his knee against Hawai’i, and has been out since. A third lineman suffered a foot injury against Hawai’i, and was also lost for the season. That being said, the Beavers’ offensive line has had the same five starters the last two games, and is expected to have that same lineup again against Colorado;
- OSU junior cornerback Steven Nelson has four interceptions through the first four games of the season. He is the first player in Oregon State history to accomplish that feat;
- Colorado is in the top ten nationally in several categories, including: passing offense (7th); rushing defense (7th); third down conversion defense (9th); and red zone scoring percentage (tied for 1st at 100% – though the Buffs are 4-4 with three field goals, so that’s really not much to be impressed about. As noted, OSU is 22-for-22 in the red zone in its four games, with 18 touchdowns);
- Last season, Colorado had one non-offensive score all year (a kickoff return by Marques Mosley in the finale), and 36 “explosion” plays, defined as plays going for over 20 yards. This season, in just two games, the Buffs have three non-offensive scores and ten explosion plays.
- As was the case with Washington State, the Buffs have played the Beavers on the road before, but never before in their home stadium. With Washington State, prior to the game in Pullman last fall, CU had played the Cougars in Spokane and Seattle, but never in Pullman. With Oregon State, the Buffs have played the Beavers twice in Portland, but never before in Corvallis. Why this matters … Last season, in their first ever game in Cougar Stadium, the Buffs earned a victory. This Saturday, in their first ever game in Reser Stadium ….