Jack Barsch, a contributing writer for the Ralphie Report, took the time to answer a few questions about the Colorado State Ram's upcoming opponent, the Colorado Buffaloes, and the annual rivalry known as the Rocky Mountain Showdown.
Josh: The Buffaloes had 59 rushing attempts in last week's win against UMASS and currently ranked 9th in the country in rushing offense. In your opinion, what has been the key to success running the ball this year?
Jack: Well, it's a young season and the quality of opponent has certainly played a part. Umass will struggle to stop the run, regardless of opponent, and once the Buffs figured that out, away they went. The main reason for the success is the number you highlighted in your question- 59 attempts. That's about 30 a game, wayyyy over the numbers we had last year.
To me, a solid run game only works if you stick with it. You can't just intermittently go back to rushing and expect 5 yards a carry. CU is taking advantage of the depth it has at the position, surprisingly led by 3rd stringer Michael Adkins (my personal favorite for a while), and just wearing down teams with its size and speed. Michael Adkins is seemingly having a bounce back year, and now that he's finally healthy, Adkins is running over and around fools and into the endzone. He has also benefitted from some nice run blocking by the maulers up front, though CU just lost a big one in LT Jeromey Irwin. CU has been running hard this year. If it can do so against a physically talented Rams team, that'll signal a big shift from 2014.
Josh: Quarterback Sefo Liufau, who had an efficient game against UMASS, really seemed to struggle against Hawaii. What are his strength's as a quarterback? What does he need to improve on in his third year as the Buff's starting quarterback?
Jack: Sefo's strengths as a quarterback largely don't show up on the box score, and sometimes they don't even make the field on Saturdays. He's a great leader, will never get outworked, and has a fantastic attitude. If only that was all you need. He struggles to make a good decision past his first read, and he gets really tight in the pocket. Hopefully it was just first-game jitters, but Sefo looked like the same quarterback. Liufau needs to relax and trust himself and his arm a bit more.
The good news is that he has a run game to lean on if things go awry. He still has the arm talent and the experience in this offense to do some real damage. If the Rams decide to key on the run game, the onus to falls on Sefo to make plays because he will find plenty of space to so. He has yet to prove that he can be leaned on this season, and Saturday looks to be his "breakout" game if he does well.
Josh: Continuing from the two previous questions; do you expect to see the Colorado game plan try to continue to dominate the run game with Michael Adkins III, Christian Powell and Phillip Lindsay this week against Colorado State? Or do you see them revert back to the Buffalos of 2014 letting Liufau throw about 40 times a game?
Jack: Well, I talked about it a little bit up there, but I think it depends entirely on CSU and the way they line up. Obviously, they're going to start by trying to run the ball, every team does, and they have success, expect them to keep doing that. Then if Tyson Summers stacks the box, which I'm sure he isn't afraid to do, Coach MacIntyre trusts Sefo Liufau enough to make plays that the Buffs can go pass heavy. That's what's nice about having a balanced offense, you can kinda go to whatever the defense isn't prepared for.
Josh: We all know about Nelson Spruce and the great career he has had at Colorado. Bryce Bobo and Shay Fields are supposed to be complimentary pieces to Spruce in the pass game, however, they have yet to impress this season. Who do you see stepping up as Colorado's true number two pass catcher?
Jack: I still think the answer is Shay Fields. No one in the passing game has been great yet save Spruce, and Fields has the physical talent to do so. After catching 50 balls last year, it's hard to imagine him struggling for long, though maybe the sophomore slump got him. The good news is, this is CU's deepest receiving corps in years. Plenty of talent to go to if someone is struggling. To be honest, no one has really had the opportunity to show their skills other than Nelson, who always gets his. Once the attempts start racking up, I expect Shay to show up and show out.
Josh: Just like we've heard all about Nelson Spruce, I know that you've heard all about Rashard Higgins. Higgins, coming off of a minor injury, is expected to play this weekend. Who in the defensive backfield will be assigned to Higgins to try and limit his impact on the game?
Jack: It's got be Kenneth Crawley, who did well on him last year. Crawley has struggled so far this year, and got beat twice against Hawaii and gave up a little bit of yards to UMass. He's a prototype physically for the CB position, and his head has always been his downside. It looked as if last year he got it screwed on straight, but this year's start was less than encouraging. If he ends up struggling in this game (something that can't happen), Chidobe Awuzie may draw the unenviable assignment. Chido is another physical freak, and you'd love to have him up on the line of scrimmage in his nickel role as usual.
Josh: What are your three keys for a Colorado victory?
Jack: 1. Run the dang ball. Nothing takes the air out of the opponent like a well-oiled running game. CSU is stout up front, but so is CU, and they should try to impose their will early. The success of the run game allows any team to control the clock, give the defense time to rest, and demoralize the opponent (see: CSU in 2014 RMS). The Buffs have the horses-let ‘em go.
2. Stop the dang run. CU got gashed by pretty much everybody last year, and a lot of that had to do with a slight front 7. The Buffs got bigger and better through age, JuCos, and a defensive scheme shift, and that has done wonders for the run defense, as well as the scoring D (thanks, Jim Leavitt). CU needs to put the Rams in as many 3rd and longs as possible and let Nick Stevens make the play rather than the backs.
3. No stupid mistakes. The Hawaii game was a catastrophe in this point. No one beat Colorado but themselves, and that really hurts the team going forwards. The game against the Minutemen was a huge step in the right direction, and might serve as a tune up for this game and conference play. NO TURNOVERS.
Josh: This one for fun. What is your prediction for the game?
Jack: I am way too nervous for this game. I don't buy into the rivalry aspect, and I root for both teams throughout the year. As the Buffs' best OOC opponent, CSU offers a litmus test for the team going forward. I don't know if Coach Mac can survive losing to Hawaii and CSU in the same season, and I doubt that he wins many more games if he doesn't win this one. Tyson Summers scares the crap out of me with his defense, and Treyous Jarrels ran roughshod over us last year. Higgins' health will be a huge wild card going into the game, but I would be surprised if he doesn't play. This could be the nerves taking over, but I have to go with the 10-3 team, CSU. It should be a nail-biter, though.
Thanks again to Jack for his time. For more coverage of the Colorado Buffaloes and the Rocky Mountain Showdown, be sure to check out the Ralphie Report and Mountain West Connection's Terrance Dicken's game preview.