There’s no place like home …

There’s no place like home …

The Colorado Buffaloes have demonstrated with great consistency that they cannot win on the road. It has now been almost three full seasons since the Buffs defeated Texas Tech in Lubbock on October 27, 2007. Within the friendly confines of Folsom Field, however, the Buffs have taken care of business this season, knocking off Hawai’i and Georgia.

The Baylor comes to Boulder this weekend with a 4-2 record and a high-powered offense. Can the Buffs score enough points to take down the Bears?

Keeping clicking your heels together.

This week’s “T.I.P.S.”:

T – Talent

Two weeks ago, the storyline was all about Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green. A sure-fire first round NFL pick, Green was playing his first game of the season, and looked to help the Bulldog offense get back on its feet while dazzling NFL scouts. Green proved to be all that – and a bag of chips – hauling in an ESPN Sportscenter highlight touchdown catch on his way to a seven catch, 199-yard, two-touchdown night (not to mention a 40-yard run on a reverse).

Ready to watch yet another big-time talent?

I’d like to introduce you to one Robert Griffin III.

Baylor’s sophomore quarterback has all the tools and game-changing abilities of Green – and he touches the ball on every play. Griffin, or RGIII, has put up ridiculous numbers over the first half of the 2010 season. Griffin leads the Big 12 and ranks 4th in the nation in total offense, at 329 yards per game. Of Baylor’s 24 touchdowns this season, Griffin has accounted for 19 (that’s 114 points – Colorado has 91 points total).  While opponents fear his speed (the Baylor media guide touts Griffin as a world-class hurdler and “the fastest quarterback in college football history”), Griffin has been dominating games with his arm. The past two games, both Big 12 contests, Griffin has passed for 380 yards (v. Kansas) and 384 yards (v. Texas Tech). He completed over 70% of his passes in each game, and, for the season, has 13 touchdowns and only two interceptions.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Robert Griffin III is good.

And now for the really bad news … he’ll be facing a depleted Colorado secondary. The Buffs lost their fifth defensive back of the season in the Missouri  game when safety Anthony Perkins was lost for the season with a torn ACL. Perkins joins safety Vince Ewing (injured in fall practice) and nickel back Parker Orms (injured in first quarter of the first game) on the out-for-the-season list. Defensive backs Travis Sandersfeld and Paul Vigo have also been injured, and will not be back for several weeks. Defensive backs coach Ashley Ambrose will likely put out red-shirt freshman Deji Olatoye or true freshmen Jered Smith or Terrel Smith to try and help hold off the Baylor passing attack.

When Griffin passes, wide receiver Kendell Wright has been a favorite target, collecting 33 passes already this season. Another player to keep an eye on is 6’3″ sophomore wide receiver Josh Gordon. In Baylor’s two Big 12 conference games, Gordon has nine catches for 157 yards and three touchdowns (he also has one arrest for marijuana possession in that same time frame, but Gordon’s punishment was handled “internally”, and he has missed no playing time).

Baylor can also run the ball, with senior tailback Jay Finley ranked ninth in Baylor history with 1,746 career rushing yards. Robert Griffin III is second on the team in rushing, with almost 40 yards rushing per game.

On defense, Baylor is much improved from last season, when the Bears were last in the Big 12 in rushing defense, 10th in total defense, and ninth in scoring defense. Baylor is surrendering a good number of yards per game – almost 380 per – but is giving up less than 20 points per game, good enough for 35th in the nation (and third in the Big 12). Freshman defensive end Tevin Elliott has been a pleasant surprise for the Bears, leading the team with five sacks and seven tackles for loss.

Any hope for special teams’ failures by Baylor, like those endured by Buff fans last weekend in the Colorado/Missouri game?

Not likely.

Senior punter Derek Epperson is a returning All-Big 12 pick, and a two-time Ray Guy Award finalist (remember when Colorado had those?). Kicker Aaron Jones already has been successful on 11 field goal attempts (to one for Colorado).

In short, the offense for Baylor is very, very good. Robert Griffin III will command the attention of the entire Colorado defense. If the defensive line cannot create pressure, and the decimated secondary blows coverages, it could be a long night for Colorado.

I – Intangibles

Of all the teams which the Buffs will face in their Big 12 farewell tour, the one which might be the most jealous is Baylor.

When the conference realignment was taking place this past June, Baylor was left at the altar. The Pac-10 was looking to expand into the Pac-16, and wanted all of the Big 12 South … except Baylor.  The Pac-10 wanted Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M … and Colorado. So incensed were Baylor fans that they would be left behind by their in-state big boy brethren that a full-scale attack on Colorado was launched. Buddy Jones, a politician, lobbyist, and Baylor regent, started sending incendiary emails to anyone who would listen, including most of the Texas state legislators. “Baylor is superior to Colorado academically,” Jones wrote. “Baylor has athletic facilities superior to Colorado … Baylor’s overall record in all collegiate sports dwarfs that of Colorado.”

Of course, Jones missed out on a few facts. As Neill Woelk pointed out in a June column for the Boulder Daily Camera, Jones was off on about all of his claims:

“Baylor is superior to Colorado academically” … Colorado Nobel prize winners: 4; Baylor 0. Colorado Rhodes Scholars: 19; Baylor 5.

“Baylor’s overall record in collegiate sports dwarfs that of Colorado” … Colorado’s national titles in football: 1; Baylor 0. Colorado major award winners (Heisman, Butkus, Thorpe, etc.): 9; Baylor 0. Colorado Big 12 titles: 4 Division; 1 Conference; Baylor: 0 Division; 0 Conference. Colorado bowl games: 28, including eight as a member of the Big 12; Baylor 16, none as a member of the Big 12 (we could go into other sports, but Baylor would then have to match up with Colorado 16 national championships in skiing, so the Bears probably don’t want to go there).

Does this mean that the Colorado players will have a chip on their shoulders, having been slighted by the Bear Nation? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Looking for another reason for the Buffs to play with more intensity? Look no further than the starting quarterback.

Yanked by his head coach in the third quarter of the Missouri game, junior quarterback Tyler Hansen is – at best –  frustrated by the move. “Well, naturally it’s going to strike your confidence a little bit and you’re going to be frustrated a little bit,” said Hansen. “So I just have to go out there and perform and kind of get a little mad, and play with a little chip on your shoulder. Today (Tuesday), I think I had a little chip on my shoulder and people knew that. I feel like on Saturday I’m going to go out there with a chip on my shoulder.”

Head coach Dan Hawkins reiterated early this week that Hansen remains the starter, but that doesn’t make it any easier on Hansen to live with the knowledge that he can be replaced at any moment by the head coach. “‘You’d like to think that you’re the spark that needs to be out there,” said Hansen. “That wasn’t the case. I gotta go out there into this Saturday and earn my spot back, I guess. I’ll be playing for myself and my teammates. I just have to go out there and perform.”

Whatever it takes …

P – Preparation / Schedule

On October 16, 2010, Baylor will play a football game outside the state of Texas for the first time this season.

To date, Baylor’s road games have been to play at TCU (Dallas), at Rice (Houston), and at Texas Tech (a neutral site game in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas). Truth be told, other than a November trip to Stillwater to play Oklahoma State, Baylor plays ten of its 12 regular season games in 2010 within the friendly borders of the state of Texas.

Baylor is 4-2 on the season. The pressure is on for the Bears to find two more wins and become bowl eligible for the first time since 1994. Last spring, Baylor negotiated its way out of games against Wake Forest and Connecticut this fall in order to line up all-but guaranteed wins over Sam Houston State and Buffalo. The results were 34-3 and 34-6 victories – mission accomplished. Texas Tech, fresh off of a loss against Iowa State, looked like a likely candidate for victim No. 5 this past weekend, but the Red Raiders continued their domination of the series, winning 45-38.

Halfway through the schedule, the Bears know even a 2-4 record down the stretch means a likely bowl game (the Texas Bowl, played in Houston, would be a virtual home game). Baylor, with games still remaining against ranked Big 12 South foes Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, (not to mention Texas), will have to find two wins against Colorado, Kansas State and Texas A&M (with the latter two at home).

Counting the Colorado game, though, three of the next four games for the Bears are on the road. In the Art Briles era, Baylor is only 3-12 on the road (and, interestingly enough, 0-7 on natural grass).

Saturday just might be “put up or shut up” time for Baylor …

… and Colorado.

The Buffs are also in desperate need of a victory. A 3-2 record after a 3-9 season is normally nothing to be ashamed of. However, Colorado faces the same dilemma as does Baylor – the schedule gets harder down the line, and no one outside of the Dal Ward center has been particularly impressed with how the Buffs got to 3-2.

Colorado has two remaining road games against top ten teams in Oklahoma and Nebraska – almost sure losses. The only opportunity for a road win comes in early November against Kansas.

The four home games are all winnable – Baylor, Texas Tech, Iowa State, and Kansas State – and they are all games which Colorado could lose.

Six weeks from now, Colorado and Baylor fans may both be looking back at the mid-October match-up in Boulder as being the pivotal game of the 2010 season for their team – one set of fans looking at the win as being the catalyst for a bowl season; the other looking at the loss as the beginning of a march to yet another losing campaign.

S – Statistics

There are not enough pages to give you all of the superlatives about Robert Griffin III, so I’ll give you just a few more …

– In 2009, without RGIII, Baylor scored 20.8 points per game. In 2010, the Bears are posting 33.5 points per game.

– In six games, Griffin has thrown touchdown passes of over 40 yards … to five different receivers.

Other statistics of note:

– Overall, Colorado leads the series with Baylor 9-6, with a 5-3 record in Boulder;

– In each of the last five games between the teams, the winner has scored over 34 points (to date, Baylor has scored 34 or more points four times; Colorado has yet to post that high a number this season);

– In the third quarter this season, Colorado has dominated, out-scoring opponents 46-10 (in the Missouri game, neither team scored, but Colorado had its best quarter, holding the ball for over 11 minutes, and out-gaining Missouri 97-17).

– One last statistic for Buff fans to grasp onto as the Baylor game approaches … Baylor has a good percentage of success in the red zone, converting 17-of-21 opportunities. However, of those 17 scores, only nine are touchdowns, and eight are field goals. Moral of the story? Baylor is going to gain yards and will score points, but if the Buffs are to win, they must keep the Baylor offense from converting those long drives into touchdowns.

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