CU At The Game Preview – T.I.P.S. for Texas A&M Game

Two-thirds of the way through the regular season, and what have we learned? The 2008 Buffs are capable of playing well for stretches, but really have not played a complete game since week one. The Buffs are also capable on complete implosion, inexplicably playing without coordination or consistency.

Bottom line: Colorado is 4-4, and the season can still be a success, or it can be a dismal disappointment. The next two weeks will likely be the deciding factor.

This week’s “T.I.P.S.”

T – Talent.

For the first time since week two, the Buffs clearly have more talent than the opposition. After running the gauntlet of Patrick White, Colt McCoy, Todd Reesing, Josh Freeman, and Chase Daniel, the Buffs finally will face a quarterback who is not up for any post-season awards. This is not to say that Jerrod Johnson should be taken lightly, however.

Who is Jerrod Johnson? Only the sophomore Texas A&M quarterback who threw for 381 yards and four touchdowns against Iowa State last weekend. Only the quarterback who hit on 31-of-39 passes against the Cyclones, with four of his Aggie receivers each collecting at least six passes.

While Johnson put up impressive numbers against Iowa State, that does not necessarily mean that he is the second coming of any of the aforementioned headline acts at quarterback. Nor does Johnson have the same supporting cast.

In August, it was assumed Texas A&M would be led by the versatile returning starter at quarterback, Stephen McGee. McGee would team up with speedy tailback Mike Goodson and bruising fullback Jorvorskie Lane to provide the Aggies with a power rushing offense. McGee, though, has been benched in favor of Johnson, as the Texas A&M running game has struggled. Texas A&M is 101st in the nation in rushing, and the offense is being remodeled under first-year head coach Mike Sherman into more of a pass first attack.

While the offense for A&M has struggled for most of the season, the Aggie defense has been, well, awful. Texas A&M gave up 35 points to Iowa State, and that total was the lowest of the Big 12 campaign for the Wrecking Crew. Iowa State, in a losing effort, still put up 574 yards of total offense against A&M last week, amassing 34 first downs and converting 11-of-16 third down conversions (and this was a winning effort for the A&M defense).

If the Buffs, shut out last week for the first time since 1988, are to have a successful offensive output to put aside the memory of the Missouri debacle, they could hardly have been given a better Big 12 opponent.

I – Intangibles

….. but all of that depends on which Colorado team shows up at Kyle Field on Saturday. Will the Buffs, wounded and deflated, be able to put the Tiger massacre behind them? Will the Colorado offense be able to sustain any semblance of consistency? Will the Colorado special teams be able to make a play to help the team, rather than hurt it? Will the Colorado defense be able to withstand the crowd and the momentum of the A&M offense long enough to keep the Buffs in the game early?

When asked about how his players responded Sunday after the demoralizing loss to Missouri, CU head coach Dan Hawkins, rarely at a loss for words, responded, “Good”.


We can take that response one of two ways. Either Hawkins has no answers for what has happened to his team, and the Buffs are in disarray and ready for another November to forget (1-3 in 2006; 1-3 in 2007), or that the CU head coach (and, presumably, his staff and players), are chomping at the bit to get back on the field and prove themselves.

Let’s hope that it is the latter.

Remember how, a few weeks ago, I wrote in the “T.I.P.S.” for West Virginia: “The first quarter of the Colorado/West Virginia game may be the most important quarter of the Buffs’ 2008 season”? Okay, so I got lucky on that one. The Buffs put together a great opening stanza, putting up 14 first quarter points on their way to a 17-14 overtime win over the Mountaineers. Why was the first quarter so important? Colorado was facing a ranked team, on national television, after almost losing for a second time to a 1-AA team. A sluggish start could have been devastating. Instead, the Buffs came out with fire, and had just enough energy to hold off a good but not great West Virginia team.

What about this weekend? Let’s raise the stakes: The first quarter of the Colorado/Texas A&M game may be the most important first quarter to date of the Dan Hawkins’ era.

Why? A loss to A&M all but assures Colorado will finish outside the bowls, posting a third consecutive losing season. Dan Hawkins will be on all of the “hot seat” watch lists in the 2009 preseason magazines, and recruiting can’t help but suffer as a result.

A win, conversely, sets the Buffs up for a sixth win next weekend with Iowa State coming to town. Two consecutive wins and a 6-4 record allows CU to play with house money against Oklahoma State and Nebraska, as a bowl game will be all but assured. The program will again be perceived as being on the upswing overall, and the Missouri debacle will be reduced to a bad memory.

Two huge games for the Colorado program the next two weeks.

But the second game will matter little unless the first game is a win.

P – Preparation / Schedule

What about the Aggies? Texas A&M, even with the win over Iowa State, is only 3-5 on the season. The Aggies lost in the season opener to Arkansas State, then almost lost to New Mexico on the road and to Army at home (the other non-conference game was a blowout loss at home to Miami, 41-23). The 35 points given up to the Cyclones last weekend is the lowest point total given up this year by A&M to a BCS team.

In case you skimmed over the last sentence, I’ll give it to you again: The 35 points given up to the Cyclones is the lowest point total given up this year by A&M to a BCS team.

While the Aggie fans can certainly be heartened by the first road win of the Mike Sherman era, that certainly doesn’t mean they are ready to erect a Mike Sherman statue down at Fitzwilly’s Bar and Grille in College Station (okay, so I’m getting a little excited about our trip to see Kyle Field and all of the trappings of an A&M home game this weekend).

For Texas A&M to become bowl eligible in its first season under Sherman, they must win three of their final four games. After the Buffs, the Aggies play Oklahoma (the Sooner effect again), at Baylor, and at Texas. Even the most loyal A&M fan would be hard pressed to see three wins in that stretch. Most Aggies, including their players, must realistically see this season as a 12 game effort. A win over Colorado would help show progress, but the rivalry games to follow probably carry more weight with those who live and die with the maroon and white than a game against the Buffs from Boulder.

For the Buffs, you already know the math. Two wins, and the Buffs are going bowling (with two BCS bowl bids all but assured, there are nine spots for the Big 12 to fill. Iowa State, Texas A&M, and Baylor are not likely to get to six wins – and don’t be surprised if Kansas State repeats its swoon of 2007 and finishes 5-7). Oklahoma State looks very impressive, and, hard as it is to admit, Nebraska is much better than many of us anticipated.

That leaves A&M and Iowa State as the best bets to get the Buffs to six wins.

Really kind of hard to understate the importance of this game to CU and its fans.

S – Stats.

Two weeks ago, I gleefully pointed out a number of unimpressive statistics which represented the efforts of the Kansas State defense. While the scoring output of the Colorado offense in the 14-13 win over the Wildcats was far from impressive, the CU offense did put up decent numbers. The Buffs scratched out 353 yards of total offense, 24 first downs, and held onto the ball for 36 minutes.

Against the Aggies, similar numbers are realistic, if not anticipated. The highest national ranking the Wrecking Crew defense can boast is 84th, and that is in pass defense. In most other categories, A&M slips into triple digits: 106th in rushing defense; 103rd in total defense; and, in the number most important to the numerically challenged Buff offense, 109th in scoring defense.

The only games in which Texas A&M has surrendered fewer than 20 points have been in a loss to Arkansas State (18 points), and 17 points in a 21-17 win over Army. These are the same cadets who this season scored all of three points against Akron, seven against Temple, and ten against New Hampshire.

Other than their passing offense, where Texas A&M ranks a more than respectable 26th (still only good enough for 8th in the Big 12), the Aggies are in the bottom half of the nation in every statistical category – both on offense and defense.

No, the Buffs have not exactly burned up the stats sheet this season, and there are plenty of numbers from which Aggie fans can take solace.

Fact is, these are two fair to middling teams right now – but Texas A&M is worse.

If the Buffs can pull their collective chins off of the floor long enough to withstand the initial heat of the enthusiasm of 82,000 desperate Aggie fans, they can more than hold their own this weekend.

The Buffs need to win.

They have to win.

Or it will be a long, cold winter in Boulder.


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