September 27th – at Jacksonville         Florida State 39, Colorado 21

Florida State running back Antone Smith ran for 154 yards and three touchdowns in leading the Seminoles to a 39-21 win over Colorado in Jacksonville. Smith carried the ball a career high 25 times, scoring on a pair of two yard runs early and late, with a game-changing 60-yard scoring run in the second quarter as Florida State rushed for 259 yards on the day. Colorado was held to 278 yards of total offense by the Seminoles, but it was special teams play which doomed the Buffs to a third consecutive loss to Florida State.

As well as the West Virginia game opened for the Buffs (long touchdown drive, turnover by the defense, another score), the Florida State game opened just as poorly. On the game’s third play from scrimmage, CU quarterback Cody Hawkins was hit and lost the ball as he was attempting to pass. The play was ruled a fumble, setting up the Seminoles on the Colorado 27-yard line. It took Florida State only four plays to score, with Antone Smith taking the ball on each occasion, the last from two yards out. Just three minutes into the game, the Buffs were down, 7-0.

The rout would have to wait, however, as the Buffs responded with an 11-play, 82-yard drive to tie the score. Aided by a personal foul call on third-and-16, CU was able to crack the scoreboard with a 30-yard connection from Hawkins to Josh Smith. Smith, who failed to reach the endzone in 2007, scored the Buffs’ first points for the third straight game in tying the score midway through the first quarter.

For the next quarter of play, Colorado slowly took control of the game. After forcing a three-and-out from the Seminoles, the Buffs drove to the Florida State 37-yard line, where Jake Behrens was stopped a yard short on a fourth-and-three. The Colorado defense forced a fumble on the Seminoles’ next possession, and had a sure touchdown go awry when Cody Hawkins overthrew a wide open Patrick Devenny at the FSU thirty yard line.

The teams traded interceptions early in the second quarter, with a deflected pass by FSU quarterback Christian Ponder scooped up by freshman defensive lineman Curtis Cunningham. Set up at the Florida State 12-yard line, Colorado was poised to take its first lead of the contest. Three plays, though, netted only two yards, and the score remain tied at 7-7 when Aric Goodman’s 27-yard field goal attempt sailed left of the uprights.

It appeared that the two offensively challenged teams would go to the locker rooms at halftime knotted at sevens. With 2:29 to go before halftime, though, Antone Smith swept around left end for 60 yards and a go ahead score. Smith’s efforts doubled the Seminoles’ offensive output to that time, and shifted the momentum for the remainder of the game.

A comedy of errors led to five more points for Florida State before the Buffs were allowed to head off to halftime to re-group. Josh Smith misplayed the kickoff after the Antone Smith score, precariously setting up the Buffs at their own four yard line. Unable to secure a first down, Matt DiLallo was backed up against his own end line to punt. The kick was blocked out of the endzone, and the Seminoles’ lead was raised to 16-7 with the safety.

The two point play was the first against the Buffs since Nebraska tackled Mell Holliday in the endzone in 2006, and gave the ball right back to the Seminoles. Again, special teams hurt the Buffs, as the free kick was returned 41 yards to the Colorado 23 yard line. Five plays and five yards later, a 36-yard field goal gave Florida State a 19-7 halftime edge.

The game had all the appearances of turning into a rout after the Seminoles put together an opening drive which resulted in another field goal, raising the lead to 22-7, and the Buffs went three-and-out in their first possession of the second half. By the time Colorado secured its first first down of the second half, late in the third quarter, the score was up to 25-7.

The Buffs were not out of the contest, though, after an eight-play, 80-yard drive made the score 25-14 less than two minutes into the fourth quarter. Hawkins hit tight end Riar Geer from two yards out to give some hope to the 3,000 or so Colorado fans who made the trip to the River City Showdown.

Those hopes were dashed just a few seconds later. Florida State’s Michael Ray Garvin, a world class sprinter who was a qualifier for the 2008 Olympic Trials, took the ensuing kickoff back 94 yards for a touchdown, making the score 32-14. The kick return for a touchdown was the second against the Buffs in 2008 (CSU pulled off the trick in the opener), making this the first season ever that two CU opponents have returned kickoffs for a touchdown in the same year. [Note – the CU media release for the FSU game indicates that this the first time since 1980 that this has occurred, but the record book indicates it has never before happened more than once in a season. I’ll have to look back at the records from that awful 1-10 season and get back to you].

With the score 32-14, the two teams traded meaningless touchdowns in the last ten minutes of play. The Buffs’ score came courtesy of a Hawkins to Patrick Devenny pass from 14 yards out; the Seminoles’ score a two yard run by Antone Smith to cap his record setting day.

Of the game-changing 12-point swing in the last 2:30 of the first half, CU head coach Dan Hawkins was philosophical. “That little exchange there at the end of the first half caused us some problems,” said Hawkins. “Clearly, you’ve got the long run, you’ve got a little cycle there where you drop the ball, a blocked punt, a field goal – that whole exchange right in there. That being said I don’t think our guys were daunted by it; it obviously knocks you back a bit.”

As to Colorado’s special teams play, where the Buffs allowed 199 yards in kickoff returns, a botched a kickoff return, and a blocked punt for a safety, Hawkins’ was more succinct: “They struggled.”

On the day, Colorado had 278 yards of total offense, but only 160 yards after the first quarter. Cody Hawkins connected on only 17 of 36 passes for 154 yards. His three touchdown scores were more than offset by his interception, fumble, missed passes, and a season-high four sacks. “It all comes back to me,” said the sophomore quarterback. “I have to take care of the football, and I have to communicate and make plays when they are there to be made. I apologize to my teammates, the coaches and the fans because I did not play the way that I can.”

One bright spot was the effort of freshman running back Rodney Stewart. Stewart had his second consecutive 100-yard effort, carrying the ball 21 times for 107 yards. Stewart’s efforts were even more impressive in view of the speed of the Florida State defense, and the makeshift offensive line with which the Buffs were saddled for most of the afternoon. Starting guard Maxwell Tuioti-Mariner went down earlier in the week with a season-ending ACL injury, and starting tackle Ryan Miller left the Florida State game with an ankle injury which will keep him out of action from four to six weeks.

With the loss to Florida State, Colorado has completed its non-conference schedule with a 3-1 mark. Up next is a date with Texas, undefeated and in the top five in the national rankings. Sound familiar? It was the same scenario with Oklahoma last season: conference opener; homecoming; against an undefeated, top five team.

The Buffs can only hope that the results will be similar.

Patience Remains a Virtue

Okay. Let’s see a quick show of hands.

A month ago, how many of us, if offered a 3-1 record for the Buffs in the non-conference portion of the schedule, would have jumped at the opportunity.

Yeah. Me, too.

If you look back at my Preseason predictions – just click on the right side of the website under “Preseason – 2008?, and click on the “A look at the Schedule – Reasons for Optimism (and Fear)” – and scroll down to the overall predictions, you will see that the 2008 CU schedule can be broken down into four segments.

The first segment involved Colorado State and Eastern Washington. Both were considered must wins if the Buffs were to have a successful season. Mission accomplished, though certainly not with the style points CU fans would have hoped for or expected.

Segment two involves four games. It appeared in preseason that the Buffs would be facing three ranked teams over the span of four games, and that will hold true. I saw the need for only one win in this segment, and the Buffs have already secured that win, upsetting West Virginia. In a sense, then, the Buffs are playing with house money against Texas and Kansas. Snare an upset, and the Colorado Buffaloes are looking like a bowl-eligible team with a bright future. Lose both, and the season still has much to offer in the second half of the schedule.

The third segment involves the Kansas State, at Missouri, at Texas A&M loop (one to two wins), with the final segment being Iowa State, Oklahoma State, and at Nebraska (one to two wins, depending on how well the Buffs play in segment three).

Let’s take a look at the rest of the schedule, updated now that the non-conference games are in the books:

October 4th – Texas (4-0). The Longhorns have scored exactly 52 points three times in four games this season, with the “low point” of the 2008 campaign being a 42-13 win over UTEP. Texas is scary good, with quarterback Colt McCoy finally living up to all of the Longhorn fans’ expectations. The good news is that last season, the Oklahoma Sooners were even more of a juggernaut, scoring over 60 points a game before the Buffs won, 27-24. The bad news is that the Texas coaches are well aware of this, and will likely remind their charges about the CU upset of Oklahoma during practice all this week.

October 11th – at Kansas (3-1). The Jayhawks have played only one bad half all season. Up 20-3 late in the second quarter against South Florida, Kansas squandered its lead before fighting back, ultimately falling, 37-34. The Jayhawks only game before the Buffs is against Iowa State, so look for a top ten team to be lining up against CU in two weeks. Kansas faces Oklahoma the week after playing Colorado, with Texas Tech the following week. The Jayhawks conclude the regular season with games against Texas and Missouri. I expect that Kansas will be exposed as a pretender by the end of the season, but perhaps not early enough for Colorado to take advantage.

October 18th – Kansas State (3-1). This may be the season right here. If the Buffs lose to Texas and Kansas, their record will stand at 3-3 coming into this game. K-State has looked anything like a contender, playing poorly in a loss to Louisville, and barely getting by Louisiana-Lafayette Saturday. The Wildcates won 45-37, but were up only five points, 42-37, late against a team whose lone victory came against Kent State. KSU will play Texas Tech and Texas A&M before the Buffs. A loss here, and the Colorado season could spin out of control. A win sets up the Buffs nicely for a stretch run to the bowl season.

October 25th – at Missouri (4-0). The game will be played on the 22nd anniversary of the 20-10 Colorado win over Nebraska in 1986. It will take a similar effort for the Buffs to win here.

November 1st – at Texas A&M (2-2). This is the second “must win” game for the Buffs in conference play. The Aggies have looked awful in their first season under Mike Sherman, falling to Arkansas State and Miami, and barely getting by against New Mexico and Army. Of all of the Buffs’ road games in conference (at Kansas, Missouri, A&M, and Nebraska), this game represents the best chance at a win.

November 8th – Iowa State (2-2). The Cyclones opened with two victories, but they were against South Dakota State and Kent State. Losses to Iowa and UNLV have placed Iowa State at the bottom of the Big 12 North as conference play begins. ISU games against Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma State will give Colorado and their fans a good idea of how Gene Chizik’s team has improved since last season. This is game three of the “must win” variety for Colorado. If the Buffs can take out Kansas State, Texas A&M, and Iowa State, CU will be bowl eligible, regardless of the outcomes of the other games.

November 15th – Oklahoma State (4-0). The Cowboys have been laying waste to the opposition, scoring 39, 56, 57, and 55 points in lopsided non-conference wins. The proof though, as they say, is in the pudding, or, in Big 12 play, on the road. One reason that prognosticators were slow to warm to the Cowboys – on the road OSU faces Missouri, Texas, and Texas Tech before heading to Boulder. By the time CU faces Oklahoma State, the Cowboys will either be reduced to also-ran status in the Big 12 South race, or will be highly ranked and the darlings of the national media.

November 28th – at Nebraska (3-1). The Cornhuskers remain an enigma, laying waste to mediocre competition as in the days of old, before falling to Virginia Tech, 35-30, on Saturday. Nebraska could well be 3-3 in two weeks, after facing Missouri at home and Texas Tech on the road. Win either of those games, and only a road trip to Norman and a revenge game against Kansas (the Jayhawks put up 76 against the Cornhuskers last season in Lawrence) lay between the Cornhuskers and a season-ending date with Colorado. While last season, the 5-6 Buffs were able to post a win against the Cornhuskers to secure a bowl bid, here’s hoping that CU already has six wins in the bank before kickoff the day after Thanksgiving.

Feel any better, Buff fans? All that we thought was possible back in July – eight total wins (including a bowl win) – is still available for CU today. If the Big 12 schedule were flipped, and the Buffs were able to defer the next four game until the last four games, the chances for success would be less daunting. As it is, Colorado will face three ranked teams in the next four games (all three may be in the top ten when the Buffs play them).

Fact remains, though, that if Colorado can get through to November 4-4 (and, yes, that means a 1-3 October), the schedule lightens up, and the Buffs can push for a big finish to set the stage for a title run in 2009.

Dare to dream, Buff fans! Keep the faith!


Pregame Preview

Florida State

The Buffs are looking to go 4-0 as they travel to Jacksonville to take on the Florida State Seminoles in the “River City Showdown”. Both teams have something to play for, and plenty to prove, this Saturday. For Florida State, it is redemption and a demonstration that the 12-3 loss to Wake Forest last weekend was an aberration. For Colorado, a win would result in a national ranking and would demonstrate to the college football world that the 17-14 overtime win over West Virginia last weekend was anything but an aberration.

This week’s “T.I.P.S.” for the game:

T – Talent

Despite this being the fourth game of the season for both teams, this category remains an unknown. For the past two decades, the Seminoles have consistently played with more talent on their sideline, regardless of the opposition. In claiming the title as “The Team of the 90’s” (sorry, Nebraska), Florida State finished in the top five in the nation for an amazing 13 consecutive seasons (1988-2000).

The bloom, though, has fallen off the rose. The Seminoles have gone 8-5, 7-6, and 7-6 the past three seasons. In the 12-3 loss to Wake Forest last weekend, the Florida State offense was non-existent (220 total yards, seven turnovers). Some of the poor play in FSU’s conference opener can be attributed to youth. Overall, the Seminoles have played an NCAA-high 22 true freshmen in 2008 (by contrast, CU to date has played seven true freshmen). Many of these freshmen have played due to NCAA-imposed suspensions of 18 players due to a cheating scandal. The suspensions have now been served, but they cannot help but to have an impact on team chemistry and execution.

One position not affected by suspensions, yet still fluid, is that of quarterback. Florida State has played three quarterbacks in 2008, with senior Drew Weatherford, who ran the show in FSU’s 16-6 win over CU in Boulder last season, relegated to third string. Two sophomores, Christian Ponder and D’Vontrey Richardson, have shared playing time in two blowout wins over Western Carolina and Chattanooga, as well as during the disastrous loss to Wake Forest. Against the Demon Deacons, each sophomore completed only six of 18 passes, both for under 70 yards. Ponder, who threw three interceptions last Saturday, will get the nod as starter against Colorado over D’Vontrey, who threw two picks against Wake Forest.

This doesn’t mean that the Seminoles are without weapons. Game breaker Preston Parker, who was suspended for the first two games of the season, is back in the lineup. The defense, even without a number of suspended players, has been dominant thus far in 2008. Despite the seven turnovers surrendered by the Seminole offense against Wake Forest, the defense did not give up a touchdown, yielding only four field goals. Considering Colorado only mustered one score against the Seminoles in 2007, it appears that points may be hard to come by for the Buffs in Jacksonville.

I – Intangibles

The loss to Wake Forest was costly to Florida State. It was the third loss in a row to the Demon Deacons, a team the Seminoles used to toy with. The loss also represents the first time since Florida State joined the Atlantic Coast Conference in 1992 that the Seminoles have opened conference play with a loss.

The situation in Tallahassee, though, is even more dire. Just like with West Virginia, which was saddled with a disquieting loss (to East Carolina) before playing the Buffs, Florida State has once again become the Land of Doubt. The whispers that Bobby Bowden’s time has come and gone have become full-throated shouts. Easy wins against ridiculously over-matched opponents in the first two games have quickly been forgotten. The domination of the Florida State offense by the Wake Forest (Wake Forest!) defense is a painful reminder of how mediocre the Seminoles – at least on offense – have become. Couple this will three back-to-back-to-back mediocre seasons, and you can see why the Seminole players may not be up for their game against the Buffs.

On the other side of the field, optimism abounds. Colorado started quickly against West Virginia, then held it together when the Mountaineers counter-punched. The Buffs overcame their own mistakes (three potential CU scores in the second quarter against WVU, any one of which could have blown the game wide open, resulted in zero no points), and held it together long enough to pull out a win over a highly regarded opponent. Colorado is on the verge of a national ranking for the first time since November, 2005, getting close enough after last weekend (29th in the Associated Press poll; 33rd in the coaches’ poll) that a win over the Seminoles would all but guarantee a return to the Top 25 on Sunday.

There is also the revenge factor. The Buffs and Seminoles have only played twice before, so this is hardly a rivalry game. However, almost every CU player asked about the Seminoles has pointed to the 16-6 loss last season as “one that got away”. Colorado out-gained Florida State, 279-221, held an eight minute lead in time of possession, and held the Seminoles to 1-13 on third down conversions.

The Buffs not only believe they can play with the Seminoles. Right now, they believe they can beat the Seminoles.

P – Preparation /Schedule

This is another factor which favors the Buffs. Colorado played West Virginia last Thursday night. The players had two extra days to soak in the emotional victory before moving on to their preparation against Florida State. The Seminoles, meanwhile, fell to the Demon Deacons on Saturday night, with no extra time to salve the wounds before setting their sights on Colorado.

Even worse for Florida State is the timing of the Colorado game. The Buffs are sandwiched in between two crucial ACC conference games. Next week, the Seminoles head to Miami to face the resurgent Hurricanes. Already 0-1 in conference play, Florida State cannot afford to lose to rival Miami and retain any hopes of an ACC title. The Colorado game is not a draw (the upper tier of the Gator Bowl will not be open Saturday. Only 40,000 tickets have been sold, with a crowd of 50,000 hoped for in a stadium which seats 76,877). This is the same “River City Showdown” which was a sellout in 2007 when Florida State took on Alabama. The stadium will not be the capacity crowd to which the Seminole players have become accustomed. If the fans don’t care, why should the players?

On the Colorado sideline, the game is all upside. Not only have the Buffs had an extra two days to prepare for the Florida State game, but Colorado enters the game with little at risk. A loss to the Seminoles only puts the Buffs back closer to where they were supposed to be. A victory puts the Buffs in the national rankings. Next week’s game, against Texas, looms large for the Buffs, but the Buffs have wins over Oklahoma and West Virginia to bolster their confidence.

Colorado can afford to play loose. Florida State may be tight.

S – Stats

It is true that Florida State, despite seven turnovers, gave up only four field goals to Wake Forest. The Seminoles enter the game against Colorado ranked fourth in the nation in rushing defense and total defense, and second in the nation in scoring defense. Florida State has given up one touchdown in three games in 2008 – the same defense which held Colorado to six points and minus-27 yards rushing in 2007.

It is also true that the Demon Deacons missed three field goal attempts against the Seminoles last weekend. Wake Forest also had a touchdown called back due to a holding penalty, and fumbled the ball away at the FSU two-yard line. The 12-3 final score could have been much worse if Wake Forest had taken full advantage of their opportunities.

On the offensive side of the ball, Florida State still has decent overall numbers, thanks to 69-0 and 46-7 wins over Western Carolina and Chattanooga, respectively. However, against Division 1-A competition, the Seminoles have scored over 30 points only once since 2006 (and that was in a 34-24 win over Alabama-Birmingham from Conference USA in game two of last season). The offensive coordinator for Florida State, who has yet to lead the FSU offense to dominating numbers? Jumbo Fisher, the designated successor to Bobby Bowden (this lack of offensive production is much discussed on the Florida State internet sites).

Still, the Florida State defense knows how to shut down teams, including Colorado. To add to the concern is the Buffs apparent inability to score in the state of Florida. In 2005, the Buffs posted only a long Mason Crosby field goal in a 23-3 drubbing by Miami, then struggled without a coach in a 19-10 loss to Clemson in the Champs Sports Bowl. In 2003, the Buffs were spanked, 47-7, by Florida State, with Jeremy Bloom’s 81-yard touchdown reception registering CU’s only points. Even in the Buffs’ last win in the Sunshine State, the 1991 Orange Bowl, Colorado only tallied one touchdown in a 10-9 win over Notre Dame (and only six points in the 21-6 Orange Bowl loss to Notre Dame the year before).

I’ll do the math for you: five games, 119-36 (or roughly 24-7). Yuck.

Bottom line? Look for a low-scoring affair. Neither offense has been consistent nor particularly effective, while both defenses have played well. As with most close games, it will come down to a few plays. A missed tackle here, a turnover there. Special teams will certainly be a factor.

I do like the attitude of the Buffs, and a positive attitude can bring about positive results.

I just can’t bring myself to predict a win for Colorado, though. It’s too close to call.

Other Buff tidbits:

One Buff in; Two Buffs out

Colorado lost a player this week, as wide receiver Kendrick Celestine left the program for “personal reasons”. Wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau was quoted as saying that the lack of playing time for Celestine was only “a small part” of the sophomore’s decision to leave Colorado.

The loss of Celestine, who had five catches in limited action this fall, leaves the Buffs somewhat short-handed at wide receiver. Celestine’s departure, coupled with the loss of Markques Simas in August (academics) may ultimately lead to freshman Chance Blackmon burning his red-shirt, though Kiesau said that would only take place “if something tragic were to happen.”

The Buffs also lost freshman guard Maxwell Tuioti-Mariner to a torn ACL in a non-contact drill during Tuesday’s practice. This gives CU, which was already playing with an inexperienced line, woefully thin at guard. Devin Head and Blake Behrens, both of whom have started this season, will likely be the starters on Saturday. Lose either one of these players, and it starts to get dicey for the Buffs.

On the upside, Colorado received its fourth verbal commitment for the 2009 freshman class. Nosa Eguae, a three star defensive tackle from Arlington, Texas, chose the Buffs over a number of other schools, including Big 12 rivals Nebraska, Kansas, and Iowa State.

The Buffs could be in line for a number of new commitments over the next few weeks. No fewer than eight prospects will be making their official visits the weekend of the Texas game (though two of the prospects, quarterback Jordan Wynn and wide receiver Jarrod Darden, have already committed to Colorado).


One Reply to “Florida State – Patience Remains A Virtue”

  1. Could Josh Smith have dropped more passes, or muffed more kicks? Only if in an overtime game. He certainly evened his season against FSU. No, he wasn’t the reason CU lost, maybe not even the biggest reason, but talk about coming down to Earth! This one is at the doorstep of Hawkins I and II. Poor play calling and poorer execution. A fear I have is that if they don’t play Scott more he will blast.

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