Preview – Kansas State

For one game, everything went right for the Colorado Buffaloes.

Against Iowa State last Saturday, the offense was efficient, and took advantage of scoring opportunities. Cody Hawkins was named the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week for his 266 yard, three touchdown performance. Rodney Stewart was the workhorse, gaining 123 yards on 36 carries, while freshman wide receiver Paul Richardson posted his second consecutive 100-yard game.

Against Iowa State last Saturday, the defense was dominant, registering eight sacks. The Buffs held Iowa State to a total of minus-six yards rushing, and a season-low 229 yards overall. A week after posting 30 points against the Blackshirts of Nebraska, the Cyclones could only muster 14 points against Colorado.

For a change, even the special teams contributed. The Buffs produced an 89-yard kickoff return and forced a fumble last weekend. Aric Goodman, who struggled early in the year, went two-for-two in field goal attempts.

The Buffs remain at home for the second game of the Brian Cabral regime. Colorado remains mathematically eligible for a bowl bid.

Can Colorado post a second consecutive complete game? We’ll see …

Here are this week’s “T.I.P.S.” for the game:

T – Talent

For the first time in several weeks, the Buffs will not be playing a team where stopping the quarterback is the main focus for the defense. Senior Carson Coffman was anointed the starter in Manhattan this season after starting four games in 2009, but Coffman’s play did not exactly stir memories of Josh Freeman (Coffman failed to throw a touchdown in the final 14 quarters of his 16 quarter debut). So far in 2010, Coffman has thrown for nine touchdowns and seven interceptions, but has been sacked 20 times. In Kansas State’s only victory in the past month, a big win over Texas, Coffman did not play. In his stead, surprise starter Collin Klein, from Loveland, Colorado, led the Wildcats to a 39-14 victory by rushing for 127 yards – but throwing only four passes, completing two.

Last weekend, both quarterbacks played in the 38-28 loss to Missouri. Coffman went 11-for-19 for 170 yards, while Klein went four-of-six for 65 yards … hardly intimidating passing numbers. This is not just a recent trend, as overall Kansas State is ranked 100th in the nation in passing in 2010.

Then how is Kansas State scoring almost 32 points per game (compared to 23 points by Colorado)?

Look no further than the backfield, where you will find the Wildcats’ workhorse, Daniel Thomas. The senior running back led the Big 12 in rushing last season, and is ninth in the nation in rushing this year (averaging 116 yards per game). When Kansas State opened with a 4-0 record, and was on the edge of the national rankings (No. 27), Thomas was considered a dark horse candidate for the Heisman Trophy. Thomas opened with 234 yards in the opener against UCLA, and followed up with 181 yards two weeks later against Iowa State. In the last seven games, though, the highest total Thomas has posted is 113 yards, and in four of the seven games Thomas has been held under 100 yards. Last weekend, Missouri limited Thomas to 66 yards on 12 carries.

The game plan against the Kansas State offense appears clear – stop Thomas (and perhaps Klein) from running the ball effectively, and force the Wildcats to pass.

On defense, Kansas State has been decent against the pass, but horrible against the run.

Horrible against the run.

Kansas State is 119th in the nation in rush defense. Only 1-9 New Mexico has fared worse than the Wildcats in stopping the run. The obvious answer for Colorado … “Run, Speedy, Run”. Rodney Stewart put the Buffs’ offense on his back against Iowa State, and fared well in the process. Stewart ran the ball a season-high 36 times against the Cyclones, gaining 123 yards. “It was more of a control the clock move, and to hold onto the ball,” said Stewart of his carries. “I didn’t think I was going to carry it that many times, but we won.” Stewart says that he feels as healthy as ever, and is more than content to take on the extra carries.

 If Stewart can hold up (The Buffs’ second leading rusher, Brian Lockridge, is out for the season, and hasn’t played in five games. The Buffs’ third leading ball carrier for the season, until just this past weekend, was Justin Torres – a player who quit the team before conference play began), then the Colorado running game should be successful.

The Colorado passing game, though, should also have success against Kansas State. The Wildcats are ranked 63rd in the nation in pass defense, and are not all that adept at getting to the passer (91st in sacks; 112th in tackles for loss). Paul Richardson will have his opportunity to become the first freshman wide receiver to post three 100-yard games, and Scotty McKnight will have the opportunity to become the all-time leader in touchdown receptions (McKnight currently shares the lead at 20 with Rae Carruth and Derek McCoy).

Special teams is always an issue for the Buffs, but Colorado did catch a break this weekend. William Powell is leading the nation in kickoff returns, averaging 34.57 yards per return. Powell, however, who is also the second leading rusher for Kansas State, was injured in the Texas game and is out for the season. The remainder of the Wildcats’ special teams units are average to above average, with Kansas State’s best ranking coming in net punting (10th nationally).

I – Intangibles

The stars were all aligned against the Buffs last weekend.

Coming off an unprecedented fold against Kansas, the Buffs lost their head coach on Tuesday. A 3-6 team on a five game losing streak, with a sparse crowd of 42,722 on hand, and a short week with a revamped coaching staff. No positives there from which to draw a conclusion that the Buffs would be victorious.

In addition, Colorado was facing a 5-5 team in Iowa State. The Cyclones needed to post their sixth win over the Buffs in order to qualify for bowl game – so they wouldn’t have to rely on a win over Missouri to get to 6-6.

Last weekend, everything pointed toward an Iowa State victory.

So naturally the final score was: Colorado 34, Iowa State 14.

This week, for better or worse, the stars are aligned in favor of the Buffs. Colorado remains at home, and are suddenly infused with optimism. The Buff players have received a “fresh start” under interim head coach Brian Cabral, and they came out and played with enthusiasm against Iowa State. “I think he did a great job of keeping this team together,” said senior linebacker B.J. Beatty of Cabral. “I think what was so contagious was that we were back at home and we felt we had something to prove. It’s so contagious.”

The feeling is spreading. For Senior Day, the call has gone out to “Fill Folsom”. Discounted tickets are available. The weather will be considerably nicer than it was for the Iowa State game, which should only add to the size of the crowd (as will the sense that the Buffs will have a good chance at victory).

One final intangible favoring the Buffs … the attitude of the coaching staff. With the convincing win over Iowa State, Brian Cabral has suddenly risen near the top of the list of potential candidates for the head coaching job at Colorado. While Cabral insists his primary focus is on the next two games, and just the next two games, the future can’t help but be a matter of concern for Cabral and the rest of the coaching staff.

Still, the math is easy – the better the Buffs do in the next two weeks, the more likely it will be that some, if not all, of the coaching staff could be retained. In short, it is not only the players who are auditioning for the next Buff head coach, so are the coaches. As a result, rather than spending time on their resumes this week, the coaching staff should be all consumed with making a good showing against Kansas State.

Kansas State, meanwhile, doesn’t have much in the way of additional incentive to beat the Buffs. True, the Wildcats would like to pick up a seventh win to ensure a bowl bid, but 6-4 Kansas State has a fall back – the Wildcats finish their season next week against a weak North Texas team.

So, everything this weekend points toward a Colorado victory … just like everything pointed toward an Iowa State victory last weekend.

P – Preparation / Schedule

Another plus for the Buffs.

Kansas State, as mentioned, plays North Texas next week. The Wildcats have the dubious distinction of finishing their season against two teams who have already fired their head coaches. The Mean Green head coach Todd Dodge was fired after accumulating a 6-37 record in 3 1/2 seasons, including a 1-6 record this season. Like Colorado, North Texas has enjoyed something of a renaissance after the coaching purge, winning two of its last three games to up its overall record to 3-7. Still, the Wildcats cannot be too concerned about facing a team which has only posted victories over the likes of Florida Atlantic, Western Kentucky, and Middle Tennessee.

A seventh win for Kansas State, and a guaranteed ticket into the post-season, is already all but assured for the Wildcats. A win over Colorado would just be  a bonus.

The same cannot be said for Colorado. Without a victory over Kansas State, there is no remaining hope for a bowl bid. A loss to the Wildcats would leave the Buffs with a 4-7 record with only one game to play. If there is to be any chance at a trip to the post-season, it has to start with a win on Saturday.

The other quirk which favors the Buffs in this category is that Kansas State chose to front-load its 2010 schedule. The Wildcats played four of their first five games at home, with the fifth game being a “neutral site” game against Iowa State in Kansas City. Kansas State did not actually leave the state of Kansas for a game until mid-October, a loss at Baylor. As a result, Kansas State celebrated Senior Day November 6th against Texas, and finishes its season with three straight road games (commenced with a road loss to Missouri last weekend). 

Colorado, meanwhile, finishes its home schedule this weekend. Senior Day comes with only one remaining road game, a Big 12 farewell bash against Nebraska in Lincoln. The Buffs will not have any trouble getting up for a game against the Cornhuskers, but that game can wait. The Nebraska game will only be for pride if the Buffs look past the Wildcats.

If Colorado can beat Kansas State, the Nebraska game will have even more meaning for the Buffs and their coaching staff. It will mean a potential bowl bid …

S – Statistics

– Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein has rushed for over 100 yards in each of the past two games, while throwing only ten total passes. Meanwhile, star running back Daniel Thomas has thrown five passes of his own this season, completing three, including one for a 67-yard touchdown against Baylor. Translation: Expect the unexpected from the Kansas State backfield.

– The Kansas State defense has six interceptions in the past two games. Colorado quarterback Cody Hawkins has thrown only two interceptions (to go with nine touchdowns) since returning as starter after the season-ending injury to Tyler Hansen.

– Colorado leads the all-time series against Kansas State 44-20-1. Colorado is 11-6-1 against the Wildcats with Bill Snyder as head coach.

– Kansas State wide receiver Aubrey Quarles leads the Wildcats in catches (41), receiving yards (562) and touchdown receptions (4). Quarles is a native of Aurora, Colorado.

I’ll leave you with this sobering statistic … Colorado has not won consecutive Big 12 conference games since opening 2007 conference play with wins over Oklahoma and Baylor …

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