“T.I.P.S.” for Iowa State

Saturday, Colorado seeks to post back-to-back wins for the first time since opening the 2008 season with a 3-0 record, traveling to Ames, Iowa, to take on the 5-5 Iowa State Cyclones. Seen as potentially being one of the Buffs’ best chances at a road victory back in August, Colorado needs to win out just to become bowl eligible. For the Cyclones, the math is much easier – defeat Colorado, and a bowl bid for the first time since 2005 is in the offing. Jack Trice Stadium holds up to 55,000, with a crowd of 40,000 to 45,000 expected.

Can the Buffs pull off their first road win in over two years? Can Colorado make the trip to Stillwater next Thursday relevant? Can the Buffs keep the Iowa State offense from regaining its early season form?

Let’s find out … Here are this week’s “T.I.P.S.” …

T – Talent

For the first time since the Kansas State game, and perhaps for only the second time since the Wyoming game, Colorado will field a more talented squad. Iowa State is 5-5, but has struggled since non-conference wins over North Dakota State, Kent State, and Army propelled the Cyclones to a 3-1 start.

One problem for the Buffs – Iowa State, after weeks of playing with walking wounded, is healed up. Tailback Alexander Robinson had four 100-yard rushing games in the first six games of 2009.  He sat out against Nebraska, and has been limited since, is now fully healthy. Starting center Reggie Stephens, who had been participating in one play in three as he recovered from a mid-season appendectomy, is back to full time paticipation. 

And then there is quarterback Austen Arnaud …

The junior quarterback had a bruised hand which kept him out of games against Nebraska and Texas A&M, but Arnaud returned to play in the 34-8 loss to Oklahoma State last weekend. Arnaud suffered three interceptions against the Cowboys, after throwing only five in the first seven games of the season. Despite the rocky first outing, Iowa State offensive coordinator Tom Herman is not concerned. “I feel a lot better about the state of the offense going into this week than last week,” said Herman. “This week, we’ll be the healthiest we’ve been since the Kansas game (Oct. 10th)”.

With Arnaud out, the Iowa State offense suffered. The past three games, Iowa State has scored nine, ten, and eight points. An offense which was ranked 36th in the nation has dropped to 69th; an offense which was ranked 68th in scoring has now fallen to 99th. “We’ve got everyone back,” said tight end Derrick Catlett. “Now we have to start playing like we played in the beginning.” Arnaud, who is the top five all-time at Iowa State in passing yards, touchdown passes, completions, and total offense, is the all-time leader in Ames in completion percentage (.594 percent)

Colorado fans have to hope that the Iowa State offense will take at least one more week to gel.

As for the Iowa State defense, the name which you will hear most often on the radio (no television; Buff fans are relegated to KOA and the internet) may well be Jesse Smith. The senior linebacker is sixth in nation in tackles, averaging 11 per game (Jeff Smart leads the Buffs, averaging just short of eight tackles per game). In addition to his 110 tackles, Smith has two interceptions on the season. Smith leads a defense which forced eight turnovers against Nebraska, holding the Cornhuskers to seven points in preserving the Cyclones’ first win in Lincoln since 1977 (breaking a 15-game losing streak in Lincoln, and a 14-game Big 12 road losing streak).

I – Intangibles

Got motivation?

The 35-34 come-from-behind win over Texas A&M kept alive the Buffs’ fleeting chances at a bowl bid and a winning seaason. The only way to avoid a fourth straight losing season is to win out, and that starts Saturday against Iowa State.

In a sense, Colorado is returning to the scene of the crime.

If 2009 proves to be the final season of the Dan Hawkins’ regime, there are a number of games which could be considered as the turning point. The true cynic would point to game one – a home loss to Division 1-AA Montana State. Others might point to the 59-yard field goal by Nebraska last November, costing Colorado the chance at a bowl game and a winning season. Still others might single out the debacle at Toledo.

I would point to the last time Colorado ventured into Ames.

The scene: Colorado was 5-5 on the 2007 season, Dan Hawkins’ second in Boulder; Iowa State was 2-8. The Buffs were a win away from securing a bowl bid a season after a 2-10 nightmare; the Cyclones were going nowhere under first-year head coach Gene Chizik. The Buffs, riding the momentum of three second quarter scores, held a 21-0 halftime lead.  On the first series of the third quarter, the Buffs drove into Cyclone territory.  A holding penalty on third-and-one was declined. Iowa State was all but daring Dan Hawkins and the Buffs to go for it on fourth down at the ISU 43-yard line. They Buffs took the bait – and failed. Before anyone knew it, Iowa State scored 21 third quarter points to tie the game, then took a ten point lead late into the game. A Cody Hawkins to Scotty McKnight touchdown pass pulled the Buffs to within three, at 31-28, with 2:40 to play. Colorado then had not one, but two chances to tie the score late. A 50-yard field goal by Kevin Eberhart was negated as Colorado long-snapper Justin Drescher was cited for snapping the ball too quickly. The subsequent 55-yard field goal by Eberhart was also good – and also didn’t count. This time, the officials ruled that the snap did not get off in time. Game over. 31-28, Iowa State.

Justin Drescher, now a senior who has been a successful four-year starter at snapper, refers to the game as “the debacle in Ames”. The lost left Colorado with a 5-6 record on the 2007 season. The Buffs did respond with a win over Nebraska at home, but then fell to Alabama in the Independence Bowl to finish with a 6-7 record.

If Colorado had won the game against Iowa State, the Buffs would have finished the 2007 season with a winning record. The frustration which comes with three straight losing seasons, and the heat which comes with a fourth straight losing season looming, would be lessened if Colorado had finished 7-6 in 2007.

The “debacle in Ames” may have cost Dan Hawkins a winning season – and more time.

A win in Ames in 2009 may help keep Dan Hawkins in Boulder for 2010.

P – Preparation / Schedule

This is a category which favors the Cyclones on all counts. First, the game is going to be played in Ames. The Cyclones have won two straight at home in the series. Colorado has dropped three straight in the series only once before – 1979, 1981, and 1983 (yes, during the heart of the dreaded “Blue” phase of Colorado history). Overall, the home team has won the last five games in the series.

Second, next week’s schedule leads to another advantage for Iowa State. Colorado has to play next Thursday, again on the road, against 19th-ranked Oklahoma State. Iowa State will also be on the road, against Missouri. While it can be argued that the players will not have to focus on next week until Sunday, the players know what’s coming. Iowa State has not won at Missouri since 2001, and if the Cyclones fall to the Buffs, they would have to pull off an upset in Columbia just to become bowl eligible. Colorado is Iowa State’s last best chance to go bowling.

Colorado, meanwhile, continues to wear the yoke of a road losing streak. With Oklahoma State appearing to be a loss, the Buffs are faced with the proposition of winning in Ames, or hearing all off-season dealing about their an ongoing losing streak. And it doesn’t look good for 2010. The Buffs’ road games next fall are against Cal, Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska – all teams which have spent time in the nation’s top 25 this season.

The math is simple – win in Ames, or Colorado faces the very real possibility of not being favored to win a game on the road until opening the 2011 season … against Hawaii.

S – Statistics

The Buffs put together one of their better offensive efforts of the season last weekend against Texas A&M, with 437 total yards. Did it help move Colorado out from underneath the dreaded 100’s in the national rankings?

Nope.

Nine games into the season. moving up the charts quickly is like trying to get an oil tanker to pull a 180. Colorado remains mired in the 100’s nationally in seven categories. The Buffs are even getting close to absolute bottom – No. 120 – in sacks allowed. The Buffs, having given up 16 sacks in the past two games, are now giving up an average of four per game, good enough for a No. 118 ranking. The punt return team, at No. 117, is not far behind (ahead?). With good numbers against Texas A&M, the Buffs did make marginal improvements in rushing offense (113th, up from 114th), and total offense (111th, up from 113th), but mediocrity is now a hope for next season. Overall, Colorado is in the top half in the nation in only three categories, and they are marginal ones at that – kickoff returns, sacks, and tackles for loss.

For a change, the Buffs are playing a team which is also struggling to make the grade. Iowa State is in the 100’s in four categories, with the Cyclones in the 90’s in four others. While Iowa State is still ranked high in running the ball – 29th overall – the Cyclones are 100th in passing. On the heels of games with nine, ten, and eight points, it is not surprisingly that Iowa State is down to 99th in scoring offense.

The Iowa State defense is also not faring well, with teams equally successful against the Cyclones in both phases. Iowa State is 81st in pass defense; 93rd in rushing defense, and 94th in total defense. However, while teams have moved the ball, they have not been scoring. Iowa State is only giving up 22.7 points per game, ranked 48th nationally.

Looking for stats to keep an eye on Saturday?

The sacks allowed by the Colorado offense should be a good barometer. As everyone knows, Colorado gave up eight sacks to Missouri; then eight more to Texas A&M. If the Buffs give up eight more against Iowa State, it will likely spell disaster. On the season, the Cyclones have registered 12 sacks – total. The 1.2 sacks/game average nets the Cyclones a 107 national ranking.

The reverse is true when it comes to keeping an eye on the Buffs’ punt returns. As noted, Colorado is 117th in the nation in punt returns, netting a paltry 3.04 yards per return. Iowa State, meanwhile, is leading the nation in punt return defense, giving up only 1.55 yards per return. It would be nice to see some three-and-outs from the Colorado defense, giving the Buffs a chance to improve on their low ranking.

One final stat which has no meaning – except in playing a role in the outcome. Last weekend against Texas A&M, Colorado held onto the ball for 35:20. Last weekend against Oklahoma State, Iowa State allowed the Cowboys to hold onto the ball for 39:38. Time of possession could play a critical role on Saturday.

The stats don’t lie.  Colorado has to hang onto the ball, produce long drives, keeping the ball away from what can be a potentially strong Iowa State offense.

A 21-0 halftime lead, as the Buffs had in 2007, would be a nice start.

2 Replies to ““T.I.P.S.” for Iowa State”

  1. Stewart,
    Good stuff again. I would like to see some commentary on why it is that the Buffs still aren’t calling many designed running plays for Hansen. The option was effective last week and zone reads QB draws would kill with Tyler. The zone read where he fakes to Speedy would get 7 or 8 yards minumum almost every time. Tyler is a gifted runner….why don’t Hawky and Kiesau take advantage of their team’s strengths? Keep it up.

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