Fast Five: Keys For Buffs At Minnesota
MINNEAPOLIS — Karl Dorrell's Colorado Buffaloes need a boost of confidence.
They aren't headed to the easiest place in the nation to find that jump start. The 0-2 Buffs face 2-0 Minnesota on Saturday in a 1:30 p.m. game at Huntington Bank Stadium and the Golden Gophers are off to as hot a start as anyone in the nation.
While their opponents haven't been high-level FBS teams — New Mexico State and FCS program Western Illinois — the Gophers have nevertheless racked up some impressive numbers. They lead the nation in both total offense (582 yards per game) and total defense (allowing just 142.5 per game).
The Buffaloes, meanwhile, have yet to manufacture anything resembling consistency on offense, averaging just 255 yards and 11.5 points per game, near the bottom of the national rankings.
Defensively, CU has managed to keep games close into the third quarter, but in the end, has yielded 428 yards and 39.5 points per game.
There's also this — Minnesota visited Boulder last season and walked away with a 30-0 victory, and the Gophers have a long list of returning players who participated in that win.
But Dorrell and his players believe they are ready to put together a much-improved performance. Question is, will it be enough for the Buffs to collect their first win and gain some momentum heading into the Pac-12 portion of the schedule?
Our keys to this week's game:
1. Don't let opportunities slip away. While the Buffs ultimately came out on the short end of some lopsided scores in their first two games, they did have their chances to eat — and they left way too much meat on the bone.
In their opener, they drove into the TCU red zone on their first drive of the night — and came up empty, then collected only a field goal on another trip deep into Horned Frogs territory. Thus, what could have been a comfortable halftime lead ended up as a 7-6 deficit — and TCU caught fire in the second half and pulled away.
Last week, after falling behind 20-0, the Buffs had two solid chances to cut the deficit to 20-17 in the third quarter — and again came up empty both times. One drive ended on a fumble at the goal line; another on a failed fourth down conversion.
CU's margin for error is razor thin. Colorado can't let opportunity's knock go unanswered again.
2. Establish some offensive consistency early. Somehow, some way, the Buffs have to give their quarterback — whoever it is — the chance to succeed early.
That means some quick opening short passes, a consistent run game and some first downs. Minnesota is allowing just seven first downs per game, but Colorado needs to shorten this game, pick up yards in small chunks and move the sticks.
3. Force the Gophers into third and long. Minnesota is averaging 302 yards per game on the ground and 280 in the air. But if the Buffs are going to stop UM's offense, they have to keep the run game in check on first and second down and make the Gophers go to the air on third down.
Minnesota QB Tanner Morgan, a sixth-year senior, isn't prone to mistakes. He hasn't thrown an interception this year, but he did throw nine last season. The Buffs — who don't have a quarterback sack or an interception this year — need to change those numbers in a hurry Saturday.
4. Win the turnover battle. Despite three turnovers last week, Colorado stayed within striking range well into the third quarter against Air Force because the defense forced three fumbles.
They need to win that battle this week. Nothing changes the complexion of a game like a turnover — and CU will need a few of those momentum-shifting moments Saturday.
5. Play complementary football. That's more than just playing good offense and good defense.
For the Buffs, it means an offense that moves the sticks, keeps the defense off the field and puts pressure on the Gophers. For the defense, it means producing some game-changing moments — sacks, turnovers and big stops to give the offense a few extra possessions.
Thus far, Colorado has shown some brief flashes of good football. It's time for the Buffs to weave those moments into some long stretches and give themselves some confidence.