Colorado vs. Hawai’i – A Preview – The “T.I.P.S.” for the battle with the Warriors

It’s easy to go back and forth in debating what to make of Colorado’s game against the Rainbow Warriors of Hawai’i this Saturday (noon, Pac-12 Networks).

Pro … Hawai’i won only one game last year, and is 1-2 this season.

Con … Yes, but the Rainbow Warriors were within one score of Washington and Oregon State, and led the Huskies 10-0 in the first quarter.

Pro … But those games were on the islands. Hawai’i has yet to win a game on the road with Norm Chow as its head coach.

Con … Well, the last time Hawai’i played in Boulder, the Buffs fell behind 10-0 before rallying.

Pro … These are not the 2010 Buffs. Did you see how CU out-gained Arizona State 523-204 over the final three quarters last weekend?

Con … Yea, but have you noticed how the Buffs have given their fans glimmers of hope in the past, only to fall apart the following week?

It’s hard to know which Colorado team will show up this Saturday. The Buff Nation is excited about the possibility that the team has turned a corner, that the players finally “get it”, and that the strong showing in the Arizona State game will be a springboard to much better (and more consistent) play.

Then again, the Buffs who repeatedly were their own worst enemies against Colorado State could return, or the Buffs could relapse (see: 2013 – good effort vs. UCLA followed by a 59-7 blowout by Washington), or …. well, you know the downsides.

We’ve been living them for the past eight years.

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

T – Talent

While ardent Buff fans could make the argument that Colorado is getting close to having the talent on their roster comparable to several other Pac-12 schools, the Hawai’i game will mark the last time in 2014 when the Buffs will take the field knowing with some degree of certainty that they have superior personnel.

After making two starts in 2013, sophomore quarterback Ikaika Woolsey has started all three games for Hawai’i this fall, completing 57-of-122 passes (only 46.7%) for 631 yards, one touchdown and one interception. While Woolsey did pass for over 200 yards against both Washington and Oregon State (while rushing for over 30 yards in both contests), Woolsey is not the dynamic quarterback the Colorado defense faced in seniors Grayson (CSU) and Kelly (ASU) to open the season.

Steven Lakalaka is the top Hawai’i running back coming to Boulder. Other than having fun saying his name, however, Buff fans are somewhat fortunate in that Hawai’i will be without its top back this weekend. Senior running back Joey Iosefa missed the first seven games of the 2013 season with a foot injury, but came on strong in the final five games, rushing for a team-leading 590 yards and five touchdowns. Iosefa carried the ball 30 times for 134 yards against Washington, scoring a touchdown in the Hawai’i’s first drive of the 2014 campaign, but subsequently fractured his ankle, and is out for at least another month. Lakalaka did have 124 yards rushing against Northern Iowa last weekend, but he is not the threat Iosefa represented.

The wide receiver Buff fans will be talking about is senior Scott Harding. Not so much for his numbers (third on the team with nine receptions for 130 yards), but for his other jobs. Harding is also the starting punter for Hawai’i, and is on the Paul Hornung Award watch list, an award given to the nation’s most versatile player. In his spare time, Harding also returns punts, averaging over 10 yards per return this season.

Hawai’i’s failings last season weren’t so much on offense as they were on defense. While Hawai’i was a respectable 57th in total offense last season (CU was 87th), the Rainbow Warriors were (like Colorado) 100th or worse in every major defensive category in 2013.

So far this season, under former Utah State defensive coordinator guru Kevin Clune, Hawai’i is making progress. The Rainbow Warriors gave up only 17 points to Washington in the opener. While Colorado fans are excited that the Buffs are down (up?) to 79th in total defense nationally, at 399.0 yards allowed per game, Hawai’i is even better, at 58th, surrendering only 373.3 yards per game.

Last weekend, the Colorado offense posted 545 yards of offense against Arizona State, the most surrendered by a Todd Graham team in his four seasons in Tempe.

Buff fans will be looking for similar production this weekend against Hawai’i.

I – Intangibles

Buff fans have been teased before.

Remember 2008, when the Buffs beat No. 21 West Virginia in overtime, to go to 3-0 after a bowl season in 2007 … and then crashed back to earth, going 2-7 the rest of the year?

Remember 2009, when the Buffs upset No. 17 Kansas (CU’s last win over a ranked team) … only go to 1-5 the rest of the season?

Remember 2010, when the Buffs beat Georgia, 29-27, to move to 3-1 on the season … only to go 2-6 the rest of the year?

Remember the “brick game” in 2011, the first game under Jon Embree, and how the Buffs fell flat … against Hawai’i?

Remember …

Okay, you get the idea.

There are plenty of other examples, but I’m sure you get the picture. It’s been a long eight years of losing in Boulder, and Buff fans have grown weary of seeing sparks of improvement, only to be disappointed the following week.

“I didn’t see a look in their eyes that said ‘Hey, we just played good.’ I saw a look in their eyes that they were disappointed that they didn’t win”, said Mike MacIntyre of the Buffs’ effort against Arizona State. “There’s a whole different look in that to me, a whole different mindset.”

MacIntyre went on: “We need to just keep fighting, keep competing and I think we’re playing faster and more aggressive on defense now. I think we’re understanding it and all of our young guys are starting to get it”.

It’s been awhile since Colorado dominated an inferior opponent. Even against 1-AA Central Arkansas and Charleston Southern last year, the Buffs struggled. Colorado fans are longing for the Buffs to come out, assert themselves, take the lead and never look back.

Against a team like Hawai’i, that’s actually a possibility.

We’ll see if the Buffs can deliver.

P – Preparation / Schedule

For the road game against Massachusetts, the Buffs flew out a day early, in order to be better acclimated to the eastern time zone. This, despite the fact that the 3:00 p.m. local time kickoff would translate to a 1:00 p.m. game in Boulder.

The Rainbow Warriors face a much stiffer challenge.

Not only is this the first road game of the season for Hawai’i. Not only are the Rainbow Warriors adjusting to a four hour time zone change.

It’s an early kickoff this weekend … a very early kickoff.

The noon kickoff for the Buffs is an early start, but it’s nothing like what the Rainbow Warriors are facing.

Do the math. The noon kickoff mountain time translates to an 8:00 a.m. kickoff for the Hawai’i players.

I’m sure that Norm Chow and coaching staff have been prepping their players to be up and ready to play what for them is a morning game.

But it’s got to be harder on the Hawai’i players than it was for the Buffs moving two time zones for an afternoon game.

It’s a poorly kept secret that Hawai’i doesn’t play as well on the road as it does at home.

Since 1998, Hawai’i is 1-10 on the road against teams from a Power-Five conference.

Since 2002, the Rainbow Warriors are 3-14 overall in road games, with the only wins coming against UNLV (2007), Washington State (2009), and Army (2010).

And did I mention … Hawai’i has not won a road game in the two seasons Norm Chow has taken his team to the mainland (0-12)?

S – Statistics

Damn, it’s nice to be able to get to this section and have nice things to say!

– Colorado’s Nelson Spruce, who was added to the Biletnikoff Award watch list this week, set a school record by opening the season posting two touchdown receptions in three straight games. He also tied a school record for consecutive games with at least one touchdown reception (five), a record he could break this weekend;

– Nelson Spruce also has six punt returns for 48 yards in 2014. Not a big deal? In 2013, Spruce had nine punt returns for 45 yards … all season! Yes, sports fans – Colorado, in three games, has exceeded its punt return yardage for all of 2013;

– In one area, the Buffs have made tremendous strides (pun intended). In recent seasons, Colorado has been smoked in the area of “explosion” plays (plays of 20 yards or more). In 2012, CU had 36 plays which went for 20 or more yards. The opposition? 81. In 2013, CU had 42 plays which went for 20 or more yards. The opposition? 73.

So far in 2014? Colorado has 15 “explosion” plays, to only 12 for the opposition (the Buffs also have a six-to-four lead in plays covering over 40 yards);

– It is also quite surprising (if not amazing) that Colorado has more total yards than the opposition so far in 2014. Last year, the Buffs were out-gained by almost 100 total yards per game – 468.0-to-369.9 – a ridiculously lopsided deficiency.

So far in 2014? Colorado is averaging 464.7 yards per game; the opposition, 399.3.

– And yet, there are still plenty of ugly numbers which need attention. Colorado, while out of the 100’s in many of the defensive categories, is still 99th in the nation in rushing defense (197.7 yards per game), and 103rd in the most important category, scoring defense (35.7 points per game);

– Other categories in triple digits: punt return yardage defense (114th); kickoff return yardage defense (114th); penalty yards per game (108th); and red zone percentage defense (101st).

I’ll leave you with this final stat, something to keep an eye on (but hopefully will not be counted upon to be the game-decider) … Colorado is terrible in red zone defense. The opposition is 14-for-14 in scoring against the Buffs, with 12 touchdowns and only two field goals.

Meanwhile, Hawai’i has struggled with its red zone offense. True, the Rainbow Warriors have posted 12 scores in 14 red zone opportunities, but only six touchdowns to go with six field goals. That’s six touchdowns in 14 total trips – not a good ratio.

If the Colorado defense is looking to make a statement that it is continuing to improve, this weekend the Hawai’i offense gives the Buffs a chance to make just such a statement.

Go Buffs!

As always, your comments are welcome and encouraged. If you want a chance to chat about the Hawai’i game, I will be the guest of Don Brenner on his CU on Mile High Sports radio show, 7:00 – 8:00 p.m. on Thursday, September 18th. You can find Mile High Sports Radio at 94.1 FM in Denver, or listen on line by clicking here.


One Reply to “CU vs. Hawai’i – A Preview”

  1. Yo Stuart,

    Be it Hawaii or CSU or Arizona State, Buff fans should want a victory first and foremost. They should also want the team to play fundamentallly solid football. You know, as in limited mental mistakes that cost the team in points (or first downs) surrendered, or that cost Colorado the chance to put points on the board.

    I keep hearing folks on the radio and TV saying that the Buffs should win by at least 20. Hawaii has already played two Pac-12 teams higher on the conference totem pole than the Buffs. Hawaii lost by a single point to a Washington team that destroyed Illinois last week 44-19.

    I think it is important for the Buffs to improve enough to win on a consistent basis once again. It’s hard to learn how to win and overcome adversity. It’s a little too early to judge the “style” points of these games. Win first, worry about style later.

    The 1989 team had more “style” points than any team in CU history. The finished the regular season undefeated. The only game that was even close was the game against #3 Nebraska. The rest of the schedule CU handing beatdowns to #21 Washington, and #10 Illinois. Texas and Oklahoma scored a COMBINED 9 points against that Buff team. In the Orange Bowl, Notre Dame crushed CU’s hopes for an undefeated season. The Buffs were so used to dominating that they did not respond well to being behind.

    The 1990 team played a killer schedule that included three top 8 teams and three more in the top 25. It included a loss to Illinois and a tie with Tennessee. It also included the infamous 5th down game against Missouri. But it also included 10 straight wins to end the season and the Buffs’ first National Championship.

    Fans need to forget about style for now, and focus on substance. Playing well is good, winning is even better. As Vince Lombardi pointed out, “Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.” Coach MacIntyre is so close to getting this group of men to becoming winners. It happens on the practice field, it happens in team meetings, and it happens in the classroom. When it all comes together, it will be a sight to see. Only then should Buff fans worry about style points.


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