“T.I.P.S.” for Sacramento State

All of the fun was taken out of the Colorado/Sacramento State game when the Buffs turned the ball over on downs with less than a minute to play at the end of the debacle which was the 2012 Rocky Mountain Showdown.

A victory over the Colorado State Rams would have set up the Buffs for a 2-0 start, with sacrificial Big Sky lamb Sacramento State coming to town to make Buff fans feel good about their team. The 45,000 – 50,000 sun-baked Buff fans would have had a spectacular fall afternoon in Boulder to enjoy an easy home victory, with the only issue heading into the game being the question of whether the new $7 million video boards were as spectacular as advertised.

Now, with a 22-17 loss to Colorado State on the ledger, the Sacramento State game becomes a desperation game. Nothing can be taken for granted, with the Buff Nation wondering whether the sputtering CU offense will ever get its act together.

In what may well be the last game of the 2012 campaign in which the Buffs are favored, let’s take a look at this week’s “T.I.P.S.” …

T – Talent

Enjoy this statement while you can Buff fans … Colorado will have a significant talent advantage over its opponent this weekend.

It may be the last time we get to say that this fall.

Sacramento State comes to Boulder on the heels of a 49-19 opening loss to New Mexico State, following a 4-7 campaign in 2011. Head coach Marshall Sperbeck is back for his sixth season at Sacramento State, which is significant if for no other reason than Sperbeck is the only head coach Colorado will face in the first six weeks of the season who is not in his first year at his new school.

The Hornets posted two signature victories in 2011, taking down Oregon State on the road in the season opener, 29-28, in overtime, then defeating Big Sky kingpin Montana for the first time in school history. After a great September, though, Sacramento State won only two other games the rest of the season, and those two wins were over Big Sky cellar dwellers Northern Colorado (0-11 last season) and Idaho State (2-9, with victories only over Northern Colorado and Western State).

The Hornets’ quarterback is sophomore Garrett Safron, who had five starts in 2011. In those five games, Safron threw for 394 yards and ran for another 286. With new offensive coordinator Paul Peterson, late of Utah State, Safron’s numbers will go up significantly this season. In the New Mexico State game, Safron almost matched last season’s totals, going 23-of-35 for 308 yards and two touchdowns. He threw one interception (on a tipped ball), and was sacked only once.

Safron has three main targets from which to choose, including junior Morris Norrise, a two-time All-Big Sky honorable mention recipient at wide receiver, who had seven catches for 84 yards last Saturday, and senior T.J. Knowles, a former junior college All-American, who had five catches for 75 yards and a touchdown against New Mexico State. Still, it is sophomore DeAndre Carter who should command the most attention from the Buffs’ coaching staff. Carter had four catches for 81 yards against the Aggies, including a 59-yard touchdown. Carter also handled the return duties, adding another 59 yards to his all-purpose yardage total.

If a very young CU secondary – with senior safety Ray Polk out and sophomore cornerback Greg Henderson questionable, CU may start three true freshmen in defensive backfield – can handle the Hornets’ pass attack, then it will fall upon the Buff front seven to contain the Sacramento State running game. Junior Ezekiel Graham is new to Sacramento State this fall, coming to the Hornets from Los Angeles South West Junior College, where he led all California junior college players with 2,277 all-purpose yards in 2011. Against New Mexico State, behind an offensive line with three returning starters, Graham posted 47 yards on 16 carries.

On defense, Sacramento State lost (to the Arizona Cardinals) All-American defensive lineman Zach Nash. The Hornets do return, though, their top three tacklers from last season, junior linebacker Todd Davis, senior safety Ryan McMahon, and junior linebacker Jeff Badger. Last season, the Hornets were fairly mediocre on defense, ranking between 66th and 78th in the FCS inthe major defensive team categories.

Last weekend, the Sacramento State defense surrendered 49 points, but the total is somewhat misleading. The score was 28-19 heading into the fourth quarter, with Sacramento State very much in the game, before turnovers doomed the Hornets’ chances. New Mexico State posted three touchdowns in the final stanza, but the scores came on drives of 38, 34, and 28 yards.

Colorado should be able to put together drives against the Sacramento State defense, and the front seven of the Buff defense should be strong enough to prevent its inexperienced secondary from being exposed …

… but, then again, that is what we thought would happen against Colorado State.

I – Intangibles

Sacramento State beat Oregon State in Corvallis last season, 29-28, in overtime.

Colorado is only 1-1 against teams from the Big Sky Conference, losing to Montana State in 2006, and needing to score two touchdowns in the final four minutes to come from behind to defeat Eastern Washington, 31-24, in 2008.

There, we got that out of the way. Those two sentences will be put out there so often this week that you could make a drinking game out of how many times they are repeated.

But what else is there?

Does the loss to Colorado State doom the Buffs to another losing season? Probably. Given that USC and Oregon are still on the calendar, the Buffs will have to go 6-3 against the rest of their schedule to qualify for bowl consideration, which right now seems very unlikely.

Does the loss to Colorado State doom the Buffs to be susceptible to doubt and despair? Perhaps. “I told them it’s OK to be disappointed, but don’t be discouraged. Discouragement leads to failure.” Embree to his players after the CSU loss.

“To me, it’s no different than playing Colorado State or UCLA,” said graduate assistant Cha’pelle Brown (who was on the field – and beaten for a touchdown – against Montana State as a true freshman) when asked about preparing the Buffs for Sacramento State. “For us, we can’t take any game lightly because we haven’t proved anything yet and we’re trying to get to a bowl game.”

In a bass-ackward sense, the loss to Colorado State may make it easier for the Buffs to stay focused against Sacramento State. Had the Buffs gotten their act together at some point during the second half of the Rocky Mountain Showdown, and eeked out a victory, there might have been a false sense of security about posting a victory over an FCS team at home. Now, as Brown put it, the Buffs can’t take any game lightly.

The interesting point of the game will come when Sacramento State does have some success on the field. The Hornets know that Colorado will have its moments, but they also know that they can bounce back. Sacramento State was down 28-3 just before halftime against New Mexico State, but scored the next 16 points of the game to make Aggie fans very nervous heading into the fourth quarter last Thursday.

The Buffs, meanwhile, did not bounce back from adversity. Recall that, even after the muffed punt and the subsequent touchdown, the Buffs still had a 14-9 halftime lead. Colorado then got the first possession of the second half. Instead of taking the ball and regaining control of the game which they had dominated in the second quarter, the Buffs played tentatively, allowing Colorado State to retain the momentum for the rest of the game.

What happens if Sacramento State makes a big play early? Anyone here expect patience from the Folsom Field crowd? The Buffs will hear murmuring at best; boos at worst.

How will the Buffs react? Will they fight through the adversity, as the Hornets have proven they can do?

Or will they fold, as they did against Colorado State?

P – Preparation / Schedule

Sacramento State opened its season last Thursday night. In a sense, the Hornets do have an advantage in the scheduling this week, earning two extra days of practice to prepare for Colorado.

Still, this early in the season, extra rest and preparation might not be that great of an advantage. The teams are just getting out of fall camp, and are anxious to get into the routine of the season. So, while the Hornets were able to sit back and watch the Rocky Mountain Showdown on television last Saturday, focusing exclusively on the tendencies of their next opponent, the two extra days of rest and practice should not be a deciding factor.

Colorado does, of course, have the home field advantage, and, even if a “partial sell-out” shows up for the game, the crowd will be much larger than the Hornets are used to facing.

Sacramento State plays in a stadium with a capacity of 21,195, but rarely sees nearly that many warm bodies at home games. Only once in the past nine seasons have the Hornets attracted a home crowd of more than 13,000. Crowds of similar size are to be found throughout the Big Sky Conference (though Sacramento State did have to work against 18,847 in Bozeman last season in a 31-21 loss to the Montana State Bobcats).

Last week, against New Mexico State, the Hornets had to work against an Aggie home-opening crowd of … 12,118.

If Colorado does fairly well to open the game Saturday afternoon, and gets an otherwise … skeptical? lackadasical? … Folsom Field crowd energized, it may be more than the Hornets are used to having to handle.

Next week, the schedule offers a reprieve for Sacramento State, with the Hornets finally heading home … to face a Northern Colorado team which hasn’t won a game since 2010. Meanwhile, the Buffs take to the road to face Fresno State.

You can spin this two ways. You could say that the Hornets can play more relaxed, knowing that a home victory awaits them regardless of how their last game against an FBS team ends, while the Buffs will play tense, knowing that a tough road game awaits them next weekend.

Or … you could look at it that the Sacramento State players will not be as invested in the CU game, while the Buff players will be desperate to be successful, and will remain focused throughout.

We’ll see …

S – Statistics

One game does not a season make, but it does give a window to what the season may produce.

If such is the case, it appears that the 2012 Colorado Buffs will be much improved on defense this fall, but will continue to struggle on offense.

The offensive statistics are not really a surprise. A disappointment, to be sure … but not a surprise.

After all, Colorado was 92nd in total offense and 109th in scoring offense last season – and lost its quarterback, running back, top two receivers, and its receiving tight end. Where exactly was the offense supposed to come from? Buff fans were optimistic that, with options at quarterback, exciting new running backs, an influx of speed at wide receiver, and a dominant offensive line returning, good things would happen. Eric Bieniemy had a year under his belt as offensive coordinator, we reasoned, and would be able to utilize more than just a fraction of the playbook.


The Buffs managed only 58 yards rushing, only 245 yards of total offense, and only 17 points. That ain’t gonna cut it against, especially when Colorado starts facing some of the top defenses in the Pac-12.

The Colorado defense, meanwhile, at least for the most part, held its own against Colorado State. The Buffs gave up exactly one drive of consequence (with the other two scoring “drives” covering 25 and 20 yards, respectively). The defense even created a red zone turnover … which should have turned the game in the Buffs’ favor, but only served to do the opposite.

Where the Buffs did make strides – at least for one week – was in special teams. Jon Embree’s unwillingness to have Will Oliver attempt a field goal of over 40 yards notwithstanding, CU special teams showed marked improvement over last season. Punter Darragh O’Neill opened the season ranked 8th nationally in punting, with the Buffs 5th nationally in net punting.

On the other side of the kicking game, the return game, Colorado also fared well.

Last season, Colorado ranked 105th and 115th in punt and kickoff returns, respectively.

This season, the rankings are 47th and 26th.

Only one game, to be sure, but freshman Kenneth Crawley had 38 yards in punt returns against Colorado State. Last year, Rodney Stewart accumulated more punt return yardage than anyone else on the team, with 22 yards … and that’s for the full season.

Special teams may not be the telling statistic against Sacramento State, but it is encouraging that the Buffs are at least making inroads in this third – the over-looked third – of the game.


So, how will the Buffs’ home opener turn out? Logic would dictate that Colorado is at home, and has superior talent. Logic would dictate an easy Colorado victory.

But logic doesn’t always rule college football – emotion often is the better yardstick of results.

Last week, Colorado State had less talent on the field, but played with more emotion than did Colorado.

That won’t happen – can’t happen – this weekend.

Sacramento State wants this game. Colorado needs this game.

Colorado 30, Sacramento State 14.

One Reply to ““T.I.P.S.” for Sacramento State”

  1. A couple of stats I am going to watch as we go along this season, in order to judge how we are doing, are offensive points scored and defensive points given up.

    Last year the offense averaged 19.8 points a game for the whole season. With Webb replacing Hansen, Harris now in the line and Miller gone, and the loss of Clemons and Richardson with Mc Culloch and Spruce stepping in, you would expect the offense to struggle to average 19 points a game for the whole season. If the average ever gets in to the high 20’s some games might be won.

    Last year the defense gave up an average of 36.5 points a game for the whole season. Embree stressed getting defensive players this past recruiting period. Even though they are young, they are better than what left. So, you would expect the points given up number to drop, and even though CSU is not good it was somewhat nice to see them held to 22 points.

    Going forward it will be interesting to see how these averages are affected by strong opponents like Oregon and USC and lesser opponents like the Arizona schools and WSU.

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