Colorado at Hawai’i Preview – “T.I.P.S.” for the Buffs’ trip to the islands

Note … For those of you new to CU at the Game, “T.I.P.S.” is my weekly preview for CU’s upcoming opponent. Divided into sections on “T – Talent”; “I – Intangibles”; “P – Preparation/Schedule”; and “S – Statistics”, “T.I.P.S.” will try and give you some good information, and perhaps a few insights, into what to expect each weekend.

The good news?

Colorado doesn’t have to open up its season against Colorado State. So, for a change, little brother from Ft. Collins doesn’t have a month to prepare for its Super Bowl.

The bad news?

The three times the Buffs have played someone other than the Rams to open the season over the past 15 years, the result has been a disappointing loss (2001: a 24-22 loss to Fresno State; 2006: an embarrassing 19-10 loss to Montana State; 2011:  a tough 34-17 loss to Hawai’i).

The Buffs have about as good a feeling about themselves as a team coming off a 2-10 season and riding an eight-game losing streak can have …

– Colorado scored a home run in hiring new defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, who has a legacy of not only helping defenses, but of creating powerful defenses from scratch;

– The Buffs have many of its starters from last season returning, elevating Colorado, in coach Mike MacIntyre’s words, from a junior varsity team to a Pac-12 competitor;

– Other than losing Josh Tupou and Tyler Henington for the season, the Buffs have been relatively lucky this off-season in keeping the roster clean from attrition and injury; and

– The team has moved into its new Champions Center, with all of the positives that come with moving into a new place … a fresh start and a clean slate for the entire program.

How long the positive vibe will last will depend, in no small part, on how well the Buffs play against Hawai’i on Thursday night (11:00 p.m., CBS-SN).

So, what do we know about the Rainbow Warriors?

T – Talent

Max Wittek. Max Wittek, Max Wittek.

The transfer quarterback from USC has opened and closed most discussions about Hawai’i this the off-season. A star recruit from the recruiting Class of 2011, Wittek hasn’t been on the field in two years. He red-shirted in 2011, started two games for an injured Matt Barkley in 2012, and had mop duty in five games in 2013 before transferring to Hawai’i.

His career stats … 50-for-95 for 600 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.

Sefo Liufau’s stats … 46-for-67 for 455 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception … against Cal last season.

This Thursday will be Wittek’s third career start; it will be Liufau’s 18th.

Wittek has yet to establish he can lead a team for a season, so all eyes will be focused upon the fifth new starting quarterback in five seasons at Hawai’i.

Advantage: Colorado.

The real new name to know, however, won’t be suiting up. The name is Don Bailey, the new offensive coordinator. Bailey comes to Honolulu from Idaho State, whose Bengals led the FCS in passing yards (348.1 per game) last season.

So, Hawai’i will  run a spread offense, and will throw the ball early and often.

Who will Wittek be throwing to?

The two leading receivers from last season, Marcus Kemp and Quinton Pedroza, return, and both have good memories of playing against the Buffs. Last season in Boulder, the pair combined for 14 catches and 132 yards.

Lest the Buffs sell out against the pass, it would be good to recall that Steven Lakalaka, who had 19 carries for 123 yards in Boulder last fall, returns, and will be running behind an offensive line with a combined 59 career starts (CU’s offensive line, for sake of comparison, comes in with 60 combined career starts).

Talent is there, but coordinator Bailey has his work cut out for him … Hawai’i was 98th in total offense last season, and 108th in scoring.

As for the Hawai’i defense, the 2014 numbers were slightly better … 82nd in total defense; 64th in scoring defense.

The issue for new defensive coordinator Tom Mason, though, is that much of the front seven has departed, leaving the Rainbow Warriors depleted and inexperienced. Two players who led the team in tackles – linebacker Simon Poti and safety Trayvon Henderson – return (each had 63), but there are question marks up and down the defensive roster.

Verdict … Hawai’i will run an up-tempo offense which will score against the Colorado defense, but it shouldn’t be enough points to keep up with what the Buff offense will put up against the Warrior defense.

I – Intangibles

The 2015 season will open in Honolulu pitting two teams against one another which are used to being snake-bit.

Colorado fans well know that the Buffs were close – thisclose – to winning several games they lost last year. The two double-overtime losses to Cal and UCLA were the most obvious, but there were other chances in the final quarter. “Finishing” has been the mantra for the Buffs this past off-season, with Buff fans being asked to raise their hands with four fingers at the start of the fourth quarter at every CU game this fall.

The Buffs, though, will get no sympathy from the Rainbow Warriors.

Hawai’i has lost nine one-possession games over the past two seasons, including close losses to Pac-12 foes Washington (17-16) and Oregon State (38-30) last September.

So … it may come down to which team can “finish” late Thursday night … and which team continues its pattern of a late game collapse.

Otherwise, the Rainbow Warriors and Buffs have the uncertainty which always comes with the first game of the season, but even more than usual.

The teams don’t have new head coaches, but three of the four coordinators are new. As mentioned above, Hawai’i has two new coordinators, adding uncertainty as to which schemes and formations will be utilized.

The Buffs only have one new coordinator – defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt – but are not above a little bit of gamesmanship themselves. The CU depth chart for the Hawai’i game has been released, with the Buffs listed a base 4-3 defense.

Thing is, the Buffs lined up in a 4-3 defense to start the game exactly once last season. The base is more of a 4-2-5 with a nickel back, with defensive ends and outside linebackers (Derek McCartney; Leo Jackson; Jaleel Awini; et al.) constantly shifting roles in the defense.

Let the games(manship) begin!

Then, there is the ever-present issue of teams which have to travel to the islands to play on “The Rock”, where the Rainbow Warriors have a much better record than they do on the road.

Finally, there is the issue of the weather. While Hurricane Ignacio will be well out to sea by Thursday night, there is a good chance the game could be played in the rain. The Buffs practiced with a wet ball on Sunday, but it’s not the same as living in the tropics … something to keep an eye on Thursday night.

P – Preparation/Schedule

It’s axiomatic that the underdog has the better of it when preparing for a season opener.

With less (even nothing) to lose, the underdog can prepare some special plays and formations for the game, given a full month to prepare for the first game of the season. Colorado State, as Buff fans well know, has taken advantage of playing its main rival in the opener for years, with a much higher winning percentage against CU in season openers than in games played against the Buffs later in the season.

Hawai’i, an eight-point underdog to Colorado, certainly would like to post a win over a fellow FBS team … especially when you look at what the Rainbow Warriors face after taking on the Buffs.

After the CU game, Hawai’i heads off to the mainland to take on the first team to be a unanimous preseason No. 1 in the history of the Associated Press poll – Ohio State. Then, after returning home to face UC-Davis, Hawai’i again takes to the road, to take on … Wisconsin. Not rough enough? The Rainbow Warriors next open Mountain West Conference play – on the road – against MWC favorite Boise State.

That’s a tough run for any team.

It’s an especially tough run for a team which has won five games in the past two seasons, has a head coach in Norm Chow who is 8-29 in his first head coaching job, and has an athletic director who hinted last fall that dropping football was an option he considered.

Colorado, meanwhile, does not have the headaches in September which are facing Hawai’i. The Buffs return home next weekend to face Massachusetts, a team venturing west for one of the few times in its history, before getting CSU and Nicholls to close out September.

The Rainbow Warriors would be forgiven for looking ahead to the train wreck which may befall them in Columbus next weekend. The Buffs, meanwhile, have no reason but to focus exclusively on their road trip to the islands.

Advantage: Colorado.

S – Statistics

One team has won five games in the past two seasons, with one of those wins coming against an FCS team.

One team has won six games in the past two seasons, with two of those wins coming against FCS teams.

Not a great deal of difference between Colorado and Hawai’i the past two years, at least in the standings. Of course for Hawai’i, playing in the diluted Mountain West Conference, there are more opportunities for victories. The four Rainbow Warrior victories last season were against Northern Iowa from the FCS; Wyoming (4-8), San Jose State (3-9) and UNLV (2-11) … four games you have to believe the Buffs could also have won.

Against common opponents, both teams came close against Oregon State (CU 36-31; Hawai’i 38-30), and both teams lost to Colorado State (CU 31-17; Hawai’i 49-22).

Then, of course, the two teams played one another last September. After spotting Hawai’i a 3-0 advantage, Colorado raced out to a 21-6 halftime advantage. The Buffs kept the Rainbow Warriors out of the endzone the entire game, but failed to score themselves in the second half of a 21-12 Colorado victory.

The Stat of the WeekTurnover Margin

Last season, Hawai’i was 105th in the nation in turnover margin, gaining 20 turnovers but giving up 27.

Last season, Colorado was 112th in the nation in turnover margin, gaining 11 turnovers but giving up 21.

As it usually the case with teams with losing records, the Rainbow Warriors and Buffs often beat themselves.

Colorado is an eight-point favorite in this game, which means the Buffs, despite coming off of a 2-10 season and carrying the burden of an eight-game losing streak, would be a double-digit favorite if the game was being played in Folsom or at a neutral site.

It’s a game the Buffs should – (must?) – win, and while there will be moments of angst during the game (special teams are certainly an unknown), the 2015 Colorado football team is determined to win the fourth quarter.

This time they will.

Colorado 35, Hawai’i 27

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2 Replies to “CU at Hawai’i – A Preview”

  1. Buffs have more talent, depth and maturity. Enough to battle through adversity and first game jitters on the road. Buffs 33 – UH 17!

  2. Too many unknowns for me to hang my hat on then “Bet The Farm”….. although I am confident we will win.

    I expect to see considerably more “Fire-Power” in our Buffs’ offense with a much higher percentage of plays going over 10 – 20 yds and our runs avg’ better than 4 yds p/c. Key: Be effective and keep the ball out of Wittek’s hands.

    I also expect to see a “D” that is enthusiastic but making a few adjustment mistakes on critical downs in the first couple of games but not enough for the ‘Bows to win. I am expecting to see Wittek being effective and our improved “Leavitt to D” yielding too many key 3rd down conversions. Key: Bend but don’t break guys.

    As much as I love Leavitt, its going to take a couple of games for the seasoning to take effect and the “recipe” to ripen. Thankfully, we have a good lineup before we enter into any PAC-12 games.

    My prediction: Buffs 31 – Hawaii 24

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