Friday's Fast Five: Keys For Buffs vs. Texas A&M
BOULDER — Colorado coach Karl Dorrell called Saturday's matchup with fifth-ranked Texas A&M in Denver (1:30 p.m., Fox) a great opportunity for the Buffaloes.
But if the Buffs are going to take full advantage of the opportunity, they will have to be at — or near — their best in all three phases of the game. The Aggies are loaded with talent throughout their roster and have earned their No. 5 ranking for a reason.
Not to say the Buffs can't produce what would be considered a major upset (they are double-digit underdogs). But to do so, they will have to create some havoc on defense, be consistent on offense and eliminate some of the silly mistakes they committed in their season-opening win over Northern Colorado last weekend.
Granted, that's a formula for a win just about every week, but the difference Saturday is a dramatically reduced margin for error. There will be precious little room for mistakes.
Thus, our weekly Fast Five Keys for the Buffaloes:
1. Establish a run game early. This may take some patience, as the Aggies have a formidable front seven that will be focused on making the Buffs go to the air. They'll likely load the box and dare CU to throw.
But the Buffs don't want to get behind the sticks and find themselves in third-and-long situations early. A&M had five sacks last week in its win over Kent State and would no doubt love to put CU in obvious passing situations, especially with a freshman quarterback at the helm.
If CU's offensive line can get a consistent push early and put together some time-consuming drives, it will accomplish two things. One, it will allow QB Brendon Lewis a chance to find a comfort zone. Two, it will take its toll on a team unaccustomed to altitude.
While A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said he doesn't expect altitude to be a factor, it was obvious he'd done his research on the topic. (Fisher, by the way, was an assistant coach with Florida State in 2007 when the Seminoles played in Boulder). Fisher said the Aggies will have oxygen on the sidelines; if the Buffs can make them go to their masks on a regular basis it will be a psychological edge in their favor.
2. Force the Aggies to throw. This is much, much easier said than done. A&M has a big offensive line, anchored by All-American tackle Kenyon Green, who helped pave the way for a 303-yard rushing game by the Aggies last week. A&M also has a pair of outstanding running backs in Isaiah Spiller and Devon Achane, both of whom surpassed 100 yards in their opener.
But the Buffs somehow need to make A&M go to the air. Aggies freshman QB Haynes King is talented, but he also threw three interceptions last week, keeping the game close until the third quarter. Colorado needs to force the Aggies into passing situations, then disrupt the pocket and hopefully create a turnover or two.
3. Win third-down battles. The Buffs were fairly efficient on third down last week, successfully converting six of 10 tries. The Aggies, though, were 9-for-13 in those situations and did not punt once last week.
The Buffs have to end some A&M possessions early, force some punts and get the Aggies defense back on the field.
Again, this is where altitude can be a factor. If Colorado can sustain some long, time-consuming drives — and force at least a handful of short A&M possessions early — it will keep the tempo in CU's favor and set the stage for a fourth quarter in which conditioning could be a difference maker.
The Buffs are altitude trained. This is an opportunity to take full advantage.
4. Get playmakers in space. After CU threw just 15 passes last week, some fans (and media) were quick to wonder why the Buffs didn't get the ball to their talented wideouts more often.
The simple answer is they didn't need to — and they didn't want to show more than absolutely necessary.
But this will be a game when providing opportunities for players like Dimitri Stanley, La'Vontae Shenault, Brenden Rice and Montana Lemonious-Craig will be critical — and could be a factor in establishing a ground-control, clock-consuming offense.
CU's receivers and running backs are capable of big plays in quick-hitting, one-on-one situations. If the Buffs can create those situations on the perimeter, it will keep the Aggies honest on defense and give Colorado's rushing attack room to operate.
5. Avoid self-inflicted wounds. Penalties happen. Mistakes happen. They are part of the game.
But it is the unforced errors — penalties before the snap and after the whistle — that can be killers. The Buffaloes can't afford to extend any A&M drives with silly penalties; and they can't afford to prematurely end their possessions with the same.
This will be a game with a razor-thin margin for error. If the Buffs are going to give themselves a chance to win this one in the fourth quarter, they have to reduce those errors wherever possible.
That means not giving away cheap yards with self-inflicted, easily avoided mistakes.