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CU at Stanford Preview: “T.I.P.S.” for the Buffs’ trip to Palo Alto

Related … If you prefer your predictions verbally, “CU at the Game Podcast: ‘T.I.P.S.’ for CU at Stanford” can be found at Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or pretty much wherever you download your favorites. Or, if you would prefer, you can listen to the podcast here or  here.

Respect is earned, not given.

Colorado is 1-0 on the new 2020 season, having outlasted UCLA with a 48-42 win Saturday night. The Buffs finished the 2019 season with a 5-7 record, including a November win over Stanford.

Stanford is 0-1 on the new 2020 season, having used two backup quarterbacks in a 35-14 loss to No. 12 Oregon Saturday night. The Cardinal finished the 2019 season with a 4-8 record, including a November loss to Colorado.

And yet in the CBS Sports latest bowl projections, Colorado is nowhere to be found, while Stanford is listed as earning a bowl invitation to the Independence Bowl.

For the game this weekend in Palo Alto, Las Vegas (vegasinsider.com) has Stanford as a seven-point favorite.

Respect.

We’ll see if the Buffs under Karl Dorrell can take another step forward Saturday towards regaining CU’s long-lost national relevance.

This Week’s “T.I.P.S” for CU at Stanford – 1:30 p.m., MT, ESPN

T – Talent 

Stanford lost last Saturday to  lost to No. 12 Oregon, 35-14, playing without their starting quarterback, Davis Mills, who was out due to coronavirus testing results and contract tracing protocols. As of now, Mills’ status for Saturday remains unknown.

Stanford was also without starting receiver Connor Wedington, who tweeted that he tested negative for COVID-19 but had to miss the game due to contact tracing.

“We still have four COVID-related situations that we’re waiting to be resolved,” Shaw said Tuesday afternoon. “We’ll see how that gets resolved, whether or not those young people will remain isolated or be able to work back. So it’s not in our hands, but we’ll work with whatever comes our way there.”

Jack West, a redshirt sophomore, started against Oregon (his second career start), going 13-of-19 for 154 yards, with no sacks and no turnovers. “Jack West has had a bit of a fire in his belly since the game last year (a 34-16 loss to UCLA),” Shaw said. “He was determined to play much better than he did last year, and I thought he did. He ran the operation well, threw the ball accurately, made some great decisions.”

Freshman Tanner McKee, a four-star recruit who spent the past two years on an LDS mission in Brazil, appeared in both halves and went 3-of-7 for 62 yards.

Whoever takes the snaps, they will be relying heavily upon the running game to keep the Stanford offense going. Against Oregon, which has perhaps the best defense in the Pac-12, Austin Jones had 100 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries in his first game as the lead back, while Nathaniel Peat had 93 yards on six carries, including a 73-yard run that set up a late touchdown.

“We ran the ball better than we did at any time last year,” Shaw said.

The defense played well for the most part against the Oregon offense. Linebacker Levani Damuni, playing his second career game, intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble on consecutive possessions in the first half to keep the Cardinal close. A 96-yard touchdown drive by Oregon to close out the first half, coupled with scoring drives on the Ducks’ first two possessions of the third quarter, turned a 7-7 game into a 28-7 runaway.

On the evening, the Ducks were able to run for 269 yards against the Cardinal, averaging a healthy 6.7 yards per carry. Overall, the Stanford defense – which was ranked 93rd in the nation in total defense last season – surrendered 496 total yards to the Oregon offense.

The opportunities will be there for the CU offense to be successful this weekend … we’ll just have to wait and see if the Buffs can exploit Stanford’s weaknesses.

I – Intangibles 

If the game is going to be close, it may come down to the kicking game.

If that turns out to be the case, fans for both teams will be chewing on their fingernails.

Colorado fans are well versed in the fact that Buff kickers went 2-for-5 in field goal attempts against UCLA, with two of the kicks being blocked. To make matters more unsettled, senior kicker James Stefanou announced on Monday that he was retiring from football.

“James feels that he can no longer physically perform as well as he would like and has decided to end his career,” Dorrell said. “He has been a valuable member of the team for three years, and we understand why he has made this choice. We certainly wish him nothing but the best.”

Stefanou’s 199 points scored for CU is eighth all-time in university history and fourth among kickers.

Evan Price, who kicked both of CU’s successful field goals against the Bruins (he also had one blocked), will be the new regular place kicker. Last season, in limited opportunities, Price went 5-for-5 (with the longest kick being from 37 yards out).

While CU’s kicking game is in transition, Stanford’s kicking game is in disarray.

Senior Cardinal kicker Jet Toner, a second-team all-conference kicker in 2018, had four field goal attempts against Oregon … from 27, 35, 41, and 48 yards out … and missed them all.

Shaw said that Toner, who had made 47 of 57 attempts in his career, reportedly had an outstanding training camp and was hitting 54-yarders during pregame.

“Sometimes you just say, ‘I had a bad day,’” Shaw said. “Is he talented? Absolutely. Is he going to bounce back? You better believe it. And are we going to give him opportunities again? Yes we are”.

But this Saturday, don’t be surprised if you see Stanford going for it on a fourth-and-three at the CU 30-yard line, instead of trying a 47-yard field goal attempt.

Just sayin’ …

P – Preparation/Schedule

This is going to be a tough category all “season”.

The 2020 campaign is like no other, with precedents being set every weekend.

Last weekend, the Buffs defeated the Bruins at home, before a Folsom Field “crowd” of 554. At the same time, Stanford was facing a similar situation in Eugene against the Ducks.

This weekend, the Buffs are on the road for the first time; the Cardinal are at home for the first time.

Normally, Stanford Stadium (capacity about the same as Folsom Field, with 50,424) is one of the least feared stadia in the conference. The small undergraduate population (less than 7,000 when the students are on campus) is less than the average student attendance at Folsom Field (usually in the 10,000-12,000 range) … and not every undergrad attends the games.

As an example, the last time CU played at Stanford Stadium, in 2016, it was a big game. The Buffs were on their way to a Pac-12 South division title, and came to Palo Alto with a 5-2 record. The Cardinal boasted a 4-2 record, hot off a 17-10 road win against Notre Dame. Christian McCaffrey was the star running back for Stanford.

The attendance? 44,535.

For Saturday’s game, you can probably knock off the 44,000 from that number.

How will it affect the two teams?

Not as much as the reason why there are no fans in the stands.

“As you know, COVID is ruling everything that we do every day,” Karl Dorrell said Monday. “We had a healthy week last week and we were able to play everybody that we had in our game plan to play. Now that we’re going into a road game, that will probably present another set of issues that we haven’t experienced yet. Obviously the testing protocol is going to be in place and there’s some extra testing protocol that’s related to this game given the California ordinances. We’re just hopeful that we can continue to play and continue to stay healthy and move forward.”

With at least four Stanford players still yet to be cleared to be played for the game Saturday – including their starting quarterback –  it would appear that the Buffs have the advantage in terms of preparation.

But it’s an odd scorecard to be watching …

S – Statistics 

Nothing is so skewed as a team’s statistics after only one game.

Point: Colorado is currently third in the nation in scoring, at 48.0 points per game, just ahead of Alabama (47.2) and Ohio State (46.3).

Counterpoint No. 1: On the NCAA scoring list, the Buffs third in the nation, just behind two MAC teams who have also played just one game.

Counterpoint No. 2: Last season, the Buffs opened with 52 points, defeating CSU 52-31 … and ended the season averaging only 23.5 points per game, 100th in the nation.

So, for a little bit of guidance, we’re going to still look at the 2019 numbers, to see where Stanford’s relative strengths and weaknesses lay:

— Last season, Stanford struggled mightily on offense, finishing 97th in total offense (367.9 yds/game) and 108th in scoring offense (21.7 pts/game);

— On defense, the numbers for the Cardinal were only marginally better: 93rd in total defense (430.3 yds/game) and 79th in scoring defense (29.8 pts/game);

The strength of the offense this season should be the offensive line, which has four returning starters. On defense, all of the defensive backfield returns, but there is only one returning starter along the defensive line.

The key may be for the CU defense to bend, but not break. As noted, above, Stanford missed four field goals against Oregon, but the better point was that four field goals were attempted. Last season, the Cardinal kicked 14 field goals in 34 red-zone opportunities. The 41.18% rate was the second-highest in the nation.

If the CU defense can accomplish what the Oregon defense did last week, and what Stanford’s opposition did last year – force Stanford into field goal opportunities – the Buffs can win the game.

Prediction … It seemed like going out on a limb last week, predicting a CU victory (although my point total for the game was lower than what either team scored on Saturday).

The Buffs were 6.5-point underdogs against the Bruins, and face a similar number against the Cardinal – heading off to Palo Alto as seven-point underdogs.

And yet, I feel more confident about this game than I did the UCLA game.

Last weekend, the Buffs were facing a three-year starter at quarterback, and were going up against a third-year head coach who had to be feeling some heat, even with a shortened 2020 season. Chip Kelly was hailed as a savior for the program, but came into the game at Folsom with a 7-17 record in his first two seasons, and a track record in Westwood of not getting off to fast starts (UCLA lost the first five games of the 2018 season; the first three games in 2019). The Buffs, meanwhile, were countering with a first-year head coach, a first-time starting quarterback, a first-time starting running back, and with the leading returning receiver on the sidelines.

The fast start the Buffs produced was not predicted, least of all by me.

While the 35-7 first half lead was most impressive, how the Buffs dealt with the second half blitzkrieg by the UCLA offense (three touchdown “drives” of less than 90 seconds of game clock) was even more encouraging.

Sure, no one wanted to see the Buff defense playing flag football in the second half, but, instead of wilting under the pressure, the Buffs came back with scores every time the Bruins cut into the lead. It’s significant to me that, for the final 55 minutes of the game, the UCLA offense never took the field with a chance to either tie or take the lead. Every time the Bruins cut the lead to single digits, the Buff offense responded with a score.

Other than the Nebraska game last season, it’s hard to identify other games when the Buffs faced significant adversity … and responded positively.

Stanford has lost five games in a row, dating back to last November’s loss to Colorado in Boulder. That run is very “un-David Shaw like”.

You would expect the Cardinal to bounce back and play hard.

Perhaps the Buffs won’t be able to withstand what is thrown at them this Saturday.

But, until we see otherwise, we’re going to ride with Karl Dorrell and his 2020 Buffs …

Colorado 27, Stanford 20 … 

—–

11 Replies to “CU at Stanford: “T.I.P.S.” for the Buffs’ first road trip”

  1. I have given up on trying to predict what will hppen with any confidence. Going with my heart 35-31 CU over the Kindling.

    Is it too soon to call the Trees kindling?

  2. Welp here we go. Another Mighty Buff nemesis. Not Cal, but the pac 12 road trip. Always an issue for the Mighty Buffs no matter who the opponent is. A few exceptions but too few to mention really.

    The vaccine was tested last week (New HC, new staff, new attitude) and it appeared to stem the losing disease which has infected the Might Buffs for years. 2nd dose given this week. Is it the right composition to eliminate the road loss syndrome?

    Yup I believe it is.

    Buffs win 45 to 24

    Up the Buffalo

    VKB

  3. Okay I just had to do it again.

    Credit Tom Fernelli CBS Sports

    “Listen, Nebraska, I’m not trying to pick on you, but you can’t spend as much time crying publicly as you have been and just keep losing. Circumstances have been rough for you, I get it, but you’re far from the only program that’s been affected by the 2020 season. Stop acting like you’re being persecuted. Just shut up and win a game. Perhaps you could start with this week’s game against No. 17 Penn State because it’s The Bottom 25 Game of the Century of the Week.”

    Note: the underlining is mine.

    Special note: The kornkobs of Kornhole Komunnity Kollege SUCK KORNHAIR

  4. I do like that the Cardinal traditional pro style, smash mouth approach should put more reliance on the front 7 vs. UCLA and others. Will be good test for our DL/LBs, Mustafa/Landman need to play at All-Conf. level.
    Would like to see more Davis vs. Mangham (who did not show much quickness nor power).

  5. Stanford “held Oregon to 35 points, but the Ducks put up some pretty good rushing yards, was Stanford’s passing defense good? or was the rushing game just working for the Ducks?

    If CU can rush like they did in the opener, or even close & Sam can have 75% of his stats from Saturday with no TOs the Buffs should come close to matching what Oregon did, but Stanford won’t miss as many FGs & may score more, so 31 – 27 Buffs

    1. Darin, I didn’t copy you, I was typing while your post was being posted, funny thing is I originally typed 35-27, then changed right before posting to 31 thinking the Buffs will fall just short of matching the Ducks.

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