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CU v. No. 20: “T.I.P.S.” for the Buffs’ second bowl game in five seasons

Time to erase some bad memories?

There are the four-year old memories, when No. 10 Colorado faced No. 12 Oklahoma State in the 2016 Alamo Bowl … and came away with a humbling 38-8 defeat.

Then there are the two-week old memories, when undefeated and 22nd-ranked Buffs had a 21-10 third quarter lead at home over 1-2 Utah, only to give up 28 straight points in a 38-21 setback.

With the Buffs posting just their second winning season in the past 15 years, its going to be hard to convince the skeptics that CU is back. “The Rise” in 2016 was not followed by sustained success, but rather three 5-7 campaigns … and three different coaches.

A loss to Texas, especially of the kind that is predicted (CU is a two-touchdown underdog, with the ESPN Power Index giving Colorado 19.8% chance of victory), and the narrative for the next nine months will be that the Buffs’ run in 2020 was an anomaly, with the Buffs regressing to their normal status in the final two games.

If the Buffs were to upset the Longhorns, however …

This Week’s “T.I.P.S” for Colorado v. No. 20 Texas, Tuesday, 7:00 p.m., MT, ESPN

T – Talent 

The Longhorns have won in shootouts this fall – 63-56 in overtime over Texas Tech – and have lost in shootouts – 53-45 in four overtimes to Oklahoma.

The Longhorns have also won low scoring games – 17-13 over West Virginia – and have lost in low scoring games – 23-20 to Iowa State.

Regardless, the leader of the team is senior quarterback Sam Ehlinger, a four-year starter who has seemingly been in Austin forever. Ehlinger has thrown for 2,406 yards in nine games, with 25 touchdowns to only five interceptions (Sam Noyer, by comparison, has 1,000 yards passing in five games, with six touchdowns and five interceptions).

Ehlinger, significantly, also has more carries than any Longhorn running back, and is the team’s leader in rushing touchdowns, with eight. With the Buffs’ leading tackler and defensive leader, Nate Landman, out for the season, the task of stopping Ehlinger the runner will be of primary concern for defensive coordinator Tyson Summers.

When Ehlinger does give up the ball, freshman Bijan Robinson is anxious to take the handoff. In the Longhorns’ last game, a 69-31 rout of Kansas State, Robinson only had nine carries … but he went for 172 yards and three touchdowns. Sophomore Roschon Johnson also had a career day against the Wildcats, who had 14 carries for 139 yards, and three more touchdowns. (In case you’re wondering, Texas ran for 334 yards on 33 carries against Kansas State … a nifty 10 yards/carry average).

The passing attack is less lethal, but there are several options for Ehlinger, with three different receivers this season collecting between 23 and 28 catches, and posting between 294 and 469 yards. However, the leader in both categories, Brennan Eagles, has joined the opt-out list for the Longhorns. Joshua Moore (25 catches, 386 yards, seven touchdowns) now becomes the primary threat.

The Texas defense has been a mixed bag. The unit is 114th in the nation in pass defense, and that was before the defensive secondary was hit by a number of late opt outs. Both safeties – junior safety Caden Sterns and senior safety Chris Brown – have opted out to declare for the draft. If CU quarterback Sam Noyer is ever going to have a chance to redeem himself on a big stage … the Alamo Bowl will be it.

In fact, six of the seven captains named in the preseason for the Longhorns will not be playing against Colorado. In addition to Caden Stearns and Chris Brown from the secondary, two offensive linemen – Samuel Cosmi (opt out), Derek Kerstetter (injury) – and two other defensive players – defensive lineman Ta’Quon Graham (opt out) and jack linebacker Joseph Ossai (opt out) – will not play against Colorado, according to burntorangenation.com.

The only captain from the preseason who will suit up against Colorado? Quarterback Sam Ehlinger.

That being said, the Texas roster is made up of four former five-star commits, 49 four-stars, and 30 three-stars, while the Colorado roster consists of one five-star recruit (Antonio Alfano, who has epilepsy, with an uncertain future), six four-star commits, and 72 three-stars.

Point being, the fact that Texas has had some opt outs means that the Longhorns who play in San Antonio may be more inexperienced … but no less talented.

I – Intangibles 

The last time the Buffs were in a bowl game: 2016.

The last time the Longhorns were not in a bowl game: 2016.

Suffice it to say, Texas, which has played in 56 bowl games in its history (30-24-2) is far more accustomed to playing in the postseason than is Colorado (12-17).

Perhaps, though, this might work to CU’s advantage. In this strange year, there may be some bowl fatigue in the Texas locker room. The Longhorns were just in San Antonio last year, again relegated to the Alamo Bowl after watching their archrivals, the Oklahoma Sooners, win another Big 12 championship (Oklahoma’s sixth consecutive title, which has to burn the burnt orange faithful to no end).

Meanwhile, there is – or should be – some excitement in the Colorado locker room. The Buffs are participating in just their second bowl game in the past 13 years, and are enjoying just their second winning season in the past 15.

If there is advantage to be had in terms of motivation … it should belong to the Buffs.

“It’s super exciting, playing Texas back in our old home state, it’s an exciting feeling,” said left tackle Will Sherman, who graduated from Allen (Tex.) High School in 2017, and is one of 22 players from Texas on the CU roster. “Everybody’s locked in. All the California guys have our back on this one because it’s kind of like our USC or UCLA, so all the Texas guys are fired up and ready to go to work and just excited.”

“I think it’s a really good bowl game for our program”, said CU athletic director Rick George. “We need to earn respect and you’ve got to play good teams to do that. Next year, we’ve got Texas A&M coming here. We’ve got Minnesota coming here. We’ve got good teams on our schedule and it’s about respect and the only way you get respect is you earn it and that’s what we’re going to be focused on.”

Your not going to hear that sort of talk out of the Texas locker room, whose players will not have seen Colorado be successful, really, in their lifetimes.

P – Preparation/Schedule 

Colorado is returning to San Antonio for the second time in five seasons.

Texas is returning to San Antonio … for the second year in a row.

Last season, the 7-5 Longhorns took on the 11-2 Utah Utes. Utah had been ranked No. 6 in the nation two weeks earlier, but got smoked by the Longhorns, 38-10.

That final score is not too far removed from the 38-8 embarrassment the Buffs suffered in the 2016 Alamo Bowl loss to Oklahoma State.

Not a good omen, if you are looking for how the Longhorns are looking – expecting – this game to play out.

Colorado has played before one “crowd” this season, and that was in front of 504 friends and family in the opener against UCLA. Since then, the Buffs have been in a Pac-12 blackout, with no fans allowed to attend.

Not the same for Texas, playing in the Big 12. The Longhorns have played before crowds ranging from 9,851 for the Kansas State game to 24,000 for the Red River Shootout against Oklahoma.

There will be 11,000 fans permitted for the Alamo Bowl, and, if CU fan bowl attendance form holds, most of those 11,000 will be Texas fans.

Will it have an adverse affect on the Buffs to be facing an opposing crowd for the first time this season?

You won’t think so, but … you never know.

Both teams were off last week. In fact, Texas didn’t play the final two weeks of the regular season.

Texas was supposed to play Kansas on December 12th, but that game was called off two days before the game. Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte said nine players and 13 staff members tested positive and were isolating. There are also 14 players and 15 staffers who were identified as close contacts and who were placed in quarantine.

Texas hasn’t had consistent practices the past two weeks due to positive tests and quarantines. The Kansas game has, in fact, has been called off twice – November 21st and December 12th. As a result, while Texas did play a nine game season this fall, the Longhorns have only played twice since November 7th.

The Longhorns had a three week layoff between the West Virginia game November 7th and the Iowa State game on November 27th … and went out and lost to the Cyclones, 23-20.

Leading up to the Alamo Bowl, the Longhorns will have had a three week layoff since the the Kansas State game …

S – Statistics 

Can the Buffs stop the Longhorn offense? Texas is 12th in the nation in scoring, averaging 41.3 points per game, posting point totals over 41 in five of their nine games.

While the Buffs may not be able to completely contain Ehlinger & Co., they may have a shot at outscoring them.

In terms of scoring defense, Texas is average, giving up 29.1 points per game (62nd nationally), with the pass defense being the most susceptible. The Longhorns are giving up 274.2 yards per game through the air (114th nationally) … and, as mentioned, that was before their two starting safeties opted out of playing in the Alamo Bowl.

Texas is much more stout against the run, ranking 31st nationally, so expecting Jarek Broussard to go off for 300 yards is unrealistic. What it will take for the Buffs to be successful is to control the ball and the clock (CU is 28th nationally in time of possession; Texas is 108th), keeping the Texas offense on the sidelines.

Another stat to keep an eye on during the game? Penalties. Texas is 118th in the nation in penalty yardage (CU, even with all of those pass interference penalties, is 76th). The Longhorns will be plugging in some new starters on both sides of the ball in San Antonio … and it would certainly be in CU’s best interests to try and exploit some of that inexperience.

One final stat which will play a significant role in the outcome … third down conversions. The Colorado defense is giving up first downs on third down only a third of the time (.338), which is good enough to be ranked 17th in the nation. This is quite an improvement from last season, when the Buffs surrendered first downs on third down almost half of the time (.474), which was 125th in the nation.

Some of that third down renaissance on defense is attributable to the ball-hawking prowess of Nate Landman, who won’t be on the field in San Antonio. The Buffs will need to be aggressive on third downs against the Longhorns, with the goal, again, to keep the Texas scoring machine on the sidelines.

Prediction … You’ve read it here many times before … college football is a game of emotion.

If games were all about star ratings and NFL prospects on the roster, outcomes would be predictable, and the games themselves would be boring.

But it’s not all about talent. It’s about the “want to”. It’s about desire, resolve, and motivation.

Texas has no reason to care about this game. They played in the Alamo Bowl last year. The game is being played 80 miles away from Austin, which may bode well for how many fans the Longhorns have in the Alamodome, but it isn’t exactly a prize destination for the players. The fact that a number of starters – including captains of the team – have opted out of playing in the Alamo Bowl is a testament to that reality.

Still, there is one star, and one captain, who will be playing, senior quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who will be playing in his final game for the Longhorns. His motivation to go out a winner may be enough in and of itself to carry the Longhorns. Ehlinger will not be rattled by blitzes, and will exploit weaknesses in the CU secondary. And … I’m afraid to say it … I can see him scrambling for ten yards on third-and-seven enough times to keep Texas drives going, and keep scoring opportunities alive.

Colorado has a lot to prove to the nation. One winning record in an asterisk season will not be enough. The skeptics will rise again next summer, predicting the Buffs will revert to the mean, and slide back down the Pac-12 South standings.

A win over a ranked team in the Alamo Bowl, however, would likely net CU a spot in the final Top 25 rankings. It would be more difficult to write off a 5-1 season than a 4-2 campaign with two losses to finish the year.

Are the Buffs up for it?

I certainly hope so.

But without Nate Landman’s presence on defense, and with Sam Noyer struggling in his most recent games, it’s hard to see the Buffs scoring enough times, and stopping the Longhorns enough times, to pull off the upset.

Maybe next year …

No. 20 Texas 38, Colorado 27 … 

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9 Replies to ““T.I.P.S” for the 2020 Alamo Bowl”

  1. I don’t have a good feeling about this game. Maybe I’m still bitter about the 2016 bowl game and watching the Buffs stumble (AGAIN) on national TV. I remember leaving the Alamodome that night and wanting to go straight to the airport because I was so frustrated.

    Until the Buffs prove they’re to take the next step, I’ll take the Longhorns and give the 7.5 points.

    UT 35 CU 10

  2. VK has it right. CHEV’ ya’ better call a better game and forget the Smell Mel (thanks e.p.) offense.

    I get so damned flustered seeing a dive into the middle of the D-line on 1st down, on our own 5 yd. line…then it’s 2nd and 8-9 to go for a 1st down, and then on 2nd down it’s called again….. or worse, when you have 2nd and 3rd with 15 to 20 yds. to go for a First Down.

    I know, I’ve harped on this point to the end of perpetuity and back. (How’s that for illogical rationality ?)

    AND….CHEV’, REMEMBER, YOU HAVE T.E.’s….USE ‘EM AS AN OFFENSIVE TOOL, NOT JUST BLOCKERS. Remember how Michigan used T.E.’s to kick our butts the last time we played them ?

    GO BUFFS

    1. We actually don’t really have tight ends. Almost all of them are hurt. We finally got the grad transfer back and he dropped a key pass that was infinitely catchable on the 5. We are using a freshman fullback in the tight end spot…. good news is Russell might be back.

      I will say I rewatched the Utah game and I will say, Utah played a 3-4 cover 1 pretty much the whole second half and dared Chev to call a pass play to the outside. For some reason Chev would just not call it. He has called them in the past so maybe he has seen something on film or maybe Noyer is hurt and doesn’t have the zip on the ball he used to. I know the pick 6 against SDSU was bad but that dude was an elite corner which I am not sure Utah’s corners could be called that. There were only 2 plays of the entire game that made no sense to me at all. I suspect they were broken plays. Utah’s linebackers and line are extremely disciplined. They maintain gap responsibility really well, they do not over pursue often and they maintain proper leverage as they close to the ball. Running against this defense is extremely difficult. One thing I noticed when I watched the game closely as well Broussard is really gifted. He regularly makes one man miss. This is why he was able to regularly get 3 yards and occasionally break a bigger one. The issue is that the drives are too darn long. Something always goes wrong at some point and Broussard can’t run it every time. So at some point you have to trust Noyer and the receivers to beat cover 1 (though I would not throw that crossing corner route ever again. Noyer has thrown 3 interceptions on that route and while it is an amazing cover 1 beater Noyer just does not pick up the dropping linebacker ever (ok he did it once to Shenault and it was amazing) and so he does not put enough loft on the ball. But there are plenty of other cover 1 beaters out there. Frankly, we threw 4 of them (3 successfully) in the game (fade, backside shoulder, wide receiver screen, quick wide screen). We’ll see. I think we have the tools….

  3. As always I will predict then read Stuart’s great article, I don’t like to be unbiased in my picks. Now that being said. The Landman injury hurts times 10, game film especially play calling and our QB play, does not bode well. But I’ve been wrong 2 times this year….. Texas 37-24

  4. I like the penalty yardage stat. I think that could be very important. Penalties show a lack of discipline or execution. In CUs case it is execution by our corners. Though they do seem to be getting a little better. Has anyone looked at where Texas is picking up its penalties? Holding, pi, false starts, personal fouls?

  5. This is a game when we see what Sam can do. He is going to have to be a threat throwing the ball or this could get ugly. I am curious if he struggles if maybe Lewis gets a shot or two.

    Go Buffs

  6. I feel that a lot of things would need to happen for the Buffs to pull the upset. My wife went to both UT and CU so we watch both teams on a regular basis. UT has more talent and all their losses this year were in close games against quality opponents. CU lost Landman and Noyer has been struggling. On paper, it looks like the oddsmakers have it right. However, if the Buffs can run the ball, Noyer avoids turnovers, and we can harass Ehlinger and stop some of the designed QB runs, Buffs could be in this down the stretch. UT’s defense is not great and there is something intangible missing with the Horns (can’t close the deal in tight games, have strange lapses of focus and discipline). Head says UT 42 CU 24. Heart says CU 28 UT 27. Proud of the Buffs, win or lose. Happy Holidays to all.

  7. Dang the game is only 6 days .

    Yup, Noyer is gonna have to play his very best game of the year.
    And maybe more important Chev is gonna have to have his best plan and play calling game of the year. Chev has been a lot of talk, including the “I wanna be HC or else” game and to be honest his talk is much better than his actions….so far. Hoping for better and a breakout by Chev. He has not progressed in running the show.

    Now the defense? Landman will be sorely missed. But I like this DC and believe he will handle it as required.

    The HC? He will be calm and focused and hoping the entire team is the same way.

    Heart over mind. Nah.

    Buffs win
    31 to 24

    Go Buffs Make yourselves and us proud.

    Note: Chev…………………………DO YOUR JOB

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