Colorado v. Northern Colorado Preview: “T.I.P.S.” for CU’s last easy game

The Buffs have one non-conference game remaining.

One last opportunity to get it right before the Washington Huskies come to town.

One last chance to show that the offense is as good as it was expected to be just a few short weeks ago.

One last pitch to the Buff Nation: We’re ready for our Pac-12 title game rematch.

Colorado is a 37-point favorite over Northern Colorado. Last weekend, the Buffs were 36 1/2-point favorites over Texas State, and won by 34.

It would be a surprise if the Buffs aren’t close to again matching the spread this Saturday.

 

This week’s “T.I.P.S.” for CU v. Northern Colorado … Saturday, noon MT, Pac-12 Networks

 

T – Talent 

Let’s try and find someone in the Northern Colorado lineup to be concerned about.

… still looking … still looking … still looking …

The Bears are 1-0 on the young season, having posted a 41-14 win over the College of Idaho from the NAIA two weeks ago. Northern Colorado was supposed to earn $625,000 last weekend for a body bag game against Florida, but the game was canceled due to the effects of Hurricane Irma (CU is giving UNC $350,00 for Saturday’s tilt).

The Bears are led by quarterback Jacob Knipp, who threw for 238 yards in the opener, and running back Trae Riek, who carried 18 times for 71 yards and three scores. “When Trae (Riek) is on, it makes teams be accountable for him, and that can open up the passing game,” UNC coach Earnest Collins Jr. said.

Wide receivers Alex Lesley and Hakeem Diggs are also weapons for the offense, according to CU head coach Mike MacIntyre.

Overall, the Bears, who went 6-5 in 2016, are adequate on offense. “We have some of the best skill-position players around, so now it’s time to also watch them,” Collins said this preseason.

And the defense?

When pressed, Mike MacIntyre said that the Bears have some quality cornerbacks … and that’s about all he said. Considering, though, that the Bears return just one defensive lineman and one linebacker from last season, giving props to the defensive backs makes sense.

So there you go.

Northern Colorado does have a good placekicker. Collin Root was named the ROOT SPORTS Special Teams Player of the Week for his 56-yard field goal against the College of Idaho, breaking a two-decades old school record.

All in all, Northern Colorado is not a bad Big Sky Conference team. The Bears are picked to finish in the middle of the conference, likely to post a third straight winning season.

But they are still a Big Sky Conference team, and the talent level at Colorado has risen to the point where playing a Big Sky Conference team should not be – cannot be – a serious threat.

The Bears likely understand what this game represents … a paycheck.

“We don’t look at the name on the schedule as much as we do that it’s a college football game and we have to perform well,” said coach Collins.

Performing well in Boulder, of course, is a relative goal.

 

I – Intangibles

Nottingham Field in Greeley (insert Robin Hood joke here) has a capacity of 8,533.

Folsom Field has a capacity of 50,183 … It’s a little bit bigger facility than the ones which the Bears are used to playing in.

That being said, there will be plenty of empty seats in Folsom come Saturday at noon.

The early kickoff will cut down on attendance, as may the weather (the current prediction has a high of 71, but with a chance of rain showers).

Neither of those factors, though, will cut into the attendance numbers as much as the quality of the opponent. Against FCS teams, the Buffs have been hard pressed to break the 40,000 barrier. Last weekend, the Buffs managed to lure 43,822 for Texas State. It’s doubtful the attendance will be even that high on Saturday.

Attendance at Folsom for CU v. FCS opponents:

2012 – Sacramento State – 46,843
2008 – Eastern Washington – 46,417
2006 – Montana State – 45,512
2016 – Idaho State – 39,505
2015 – Nicholls – 37,302
2014 – Charleston Southern – 36,730
2013 – Central Arkansas – 35,168

So, while the crowd will be much larger than the Bears are used to facing, it will be considerably smaller than the ones the Buffs are used to seeing.

Will the Bears be inspired by the “huge” crowd, or will the Buffs be lethargic due to the smallish crowd?

We’ll see …

 

P – Preparation / Schedule

Northern Colorado was supposed to come to Boulder with a team decimated by injuries.

The Bears were supposed to face Florida last weekend, a game in which they would have been over-matched and beaten up physically. Instead, due to the impact of a pending hurricane, the Bears were home in Greeley watching the Buffs on television, getting healthy for the Buffs.

The extra time off generated by a “bye” week usually helps the preparations of the resting team, but it shouldn’t make much of a difference this weekend.

The bigger impact from the schedule is not what was (or was not) played last weekend, but rather what is coming up next week.

And we’re not talking about the Northern Colorado/Idaho State matchup in Greeley.

The real question is whether the Buffs are looking past the Bears, anticipating next weekend’s game against No. 6 Washington (8:00 p.m., MT, Fox Sports).

“Everybody asks (about the Buffs looking ahead), so that’s always on their minds”, said Mike MacIntyre. “You can’t get away from that. I’ll find out this weekend, but I sure hope not. If we do (look ahead), then we don’t have a team that I think we have”.

It would be only human nature for a college athlete to look past an inferior opponent (ESPN’s Football Power Index gives CU a 98.9% chance of beating Northern Colorado, but only a 22.9% chance of beating Washington).

On the other hand, the Buffs have already had their share of playing down to the level of their competition, and should – should – be looking to put this game away early.

 

S – Statistics

It’s good to be the king.

Colorado is tied with Vanderbilt as the No. 2 scoring defenses in the nation, surrendering only six points in two games (Air Force, which shut out VMI in its opener, had last weekend off). The Buffs, along with the Falcons and Clemson Tigers, are the only teams in the nation to have yet to allow a touchdown (Vanderbilt allowed a touchdown, but not the extra point, tying CU at six total points allowed in two games).

“They’ve handled different adverse situations well and been able to line up correctly,” said Mike MacIntyre of his defense. “I know that sounds simple, but it’s not when teams are going fast and lining up in different formations. They make a lot of good checks that have really helped us. That’s an area where I thought we’d struggle with early. We haven’t really had any bone-headed mistakes. That’s a credit to players and I think that’s a huge credit to the way our coaching staff and Coach Eliot has been teaching them”.

The “bend-but-don’t break” effort is borne out in the statistics from the first two games. Despite giving up only two field goals in two games, the Buffs are 55th in the nation in total defense (340.0 yards per game), and no better than 51st (11-of-33) in third down conversion defense. Where the Buffs have made their mark so far this year is in the red zone. Colorado State and Texas State made a combined four trips into CU’s red zone the first two games, coming away with no touchdowns and two fields goals … the 9th-best mark in the nation.

Where the Buffs will be looking to improve (read: pad) their statistics this weekend will be on the offensive side of the ball. Colorado is 87th in the nation in total offense (387.5 yards per game), and 85th in the country in scoring (27.0 points per game).

Before we forget, though, let’s give a shout out to CU’s much maligned special teams. While the season is still very young, there is marked improvement in 2017.

For example, in 2016 CU was 118th in the nation in net punting (34.4 yards per kick). This year, Alex Kinney has the Buffs 32nd in the country (41.27).

Colorado is also 25th in the nation in kick return defense (with one of those returns coming as a result of having to kick off from the 20-yard line after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after a touchdown), and 21st in the nation in punt returns (average of 15 yards per).

The defense and special teams have done well in the first sixth of the season … now it’s up to the offense to find a way to keep up.

 

Prediction … This may be sacrilegious, but I hope Northern Colorado scores a touchdown against Colorado this weekend.

True enough, I don’t want it to come on the first offensive play of the game … like Texas State almost did.

I’m hoping it will come late in the third quarter, with the Buffs already up, 38-3.

This just in … Washington will score a touchdown (likely several) against the Colorado defense next weekend.

I just don’t want that first Washington touchdown to be a “thing” for the Buffs. I don’t want them to have to spend all next week talking about the “streak” of quarters/halves/games without allowing a touchdown. I don’t want to have it be a psychological let down early in the game against Washington when a Husky scores.

“I expect us for all 12 games not to allow a touchdown,” said Mike MacIntyre. “What I’ve been so surprised about is that we haven’t totally blown a coverage or blown a situation. We’ve lined up right, we’ve played hard, we’ve made checks, we’ve handled different situations and we’ve played third-down situations correctly”.

The Buffs need to play a solid game. They need to take the game seriously, and put the Bears away quickly and efficiently.

It didn’t happen last weekend against Texas State.

I believe it will this weekend against Northern Colorado …

Colorado 51, Northern Colorado 10

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4 Replies to “CU v. UNC – A Preview”

  1. This is a “should have in the bag” game but the offense still cannot find a rythum four four quarters. Let’s hope the can get some mojo together with Irwin being available on the OL.

    Defense also needs to pick up the pace from the first snap. They had some really good effort for most of the game however, I still do not see consistent effort from the DL.

    I like the Buffs but still struggling to get their issues resolved. CU 34 “Care Bears” 13

  2. Stuart I understand your thoughts on a TD by the Bears, it is just that, I think for this D not giving up a TD is an equal psychological benchmark.

    Sure I know, upcoming games will change the reality, but you’ve got to love that kind of Defensive attitude.

    CU 51 – UNC 6 ( then they can say, “WE doubled CSU’s point total!!” )

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