October 7, 2011

Predicting Stanford-Colorado

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By Willys DeVoll

tanford and Colorado meet for their first football match-up since 1993, when the Card beat the Buffs, 41-37. Back in the early 90s, a Stanford-Colorado game was no rarity–the teams had also met in 1991, when Stanford won by 7–but CU’s entrance into the Pac-12 will create a period of more frequent games between schools that have collided on the gridiron a total of 6 times since their first tilt in 1904.

Unfortunately for the Buffaloes, Saturday’s game will likely be a rude introduction to playing in Stanford Stadium. Colorado’s inaugural season with the West Coast big boys has so far been a disappointment, as the team has managed just 1 win in 5 games. The lone win came at home in Boulder against in-state rival but non-AQ school Colorado State, and none of the 4 teams that have defeated Colorado even sniffed the national Top 25 this week. The Buffs won’t have momentum on their side, either, after a heartbreaking, 31-27 loss home loss to Washington State in Week 5.

Colorado is in a self-proclaimed rebuilding period, with new head coach Jon Embree now at work rebuilding a program that won a national championship just over 20 years ago and has the potential to re-emerge as a national power with a few years of good program building. Even Embree acknowledges that his team is years away from consistently competing on Stanford’s level, as he explained in an article on CU’s athletics site on Tuesday:

Jon Embree will line up his football program on Saturday against the program he envisions his becoming. For a long, long time, Embree has had Cardinal envy, and it has little to do with Stanford now featuring a quarterback he calls “the Peyton Manning of the college game.” [. . .] “[Stanford is] a program I’ve always admired from a distance, ever since Tyrone (Willingham) was there,” Embree said. “I always felt like if I was building a program I would want to build in a similar manner.”

He’s certainly worked hard to establish that his regime will be tougher on players and hold them to higher behavioral standards than former coach Dan Hawkins required. Thursday morning, Embree announced the suspension of 5 players–defensive backs Josh Moten, Ayodeji Olatoye, Parker Orms and Paul Vigo and linebacker Liloa Nobriga–for violations of team rules.

The loss will further complicate matters for a team that has struggled to keep opponents’ scores low enough for the pedestrian Buff offense to stay competitive. Although Orms is the only starter of the bunch, the newly inactivated players create an even greater lack of depth among a defensive secondary that was already littered with converted offensive players and underclassmen. Washington State’s back-up quarterback, Marshall Lobbestael, recorded a career-high 376 passing yards in Boulder while completing 65% of his passes. And lest we forget, Andrew Luck is just a little bit better than Marshall Lobbestael. Add in that Luck will face a weaker defense than Lobbestael did, that Luck will do so on his own campus and that Colorado is likely suffering the emotional let-down of an embarrassing loss and the distraction of the fresh discipline and you can just imagine how easily the Heisman favorite will be able to find open receivers on Saturday.

Marshall Lobbestael recorded 376 passing yards in Boulder while completing 65% of his passes. And lest we forget, Andrew Luck is just a little bit better than Marshall Lobbestael.

So what can we expect from Colorado’s offense? The team averages a bit over 24 points per game, but failed to break 20 points against Hawaii and Ohio State. Of the 4 teams Hawaii has faced since the season opener against the Buffs, only UC-Davis has scored fewer points than the 17 that Colorado put up. (UNLV scored 40 against the Rainbow Warriors.) Similarly, Toledo and the somewhat offensively-challenged Miami scored more against the Buckeyes than CU did. To put it concisely: Colorado can’t win by outscoring opponents.

Dave over at described the play of senior quarterback Tyler Hansen as “serviceable,” and Hansen’s 57% completion rate and 140 passer rating back that up. Hansen has avoided throwing interceptions exceptionally well considering the players around him and the porous offensive line that buys him time to throw. He has thrown 2 interceptions all year, putting his touchdown-to-interception ratio at 5.5:1. Every 86.5 throws, Hansen has thrown 1 pick; Luck has thrown an interception in 112 season attempts, but Hansen’s rate well outdoes the 1:47 interception-to-passing attempts ratio of USC’s famed Matt Barkley this season.

Hansen will surely be looking for star wide receiver Paul Richardson, who is capable of nationally outstanding games. Against Cal, Richardson caught 11 passes for 284 yards, including a 78-yard catch, and 2 touchdowns. Yet in the 3 games since, he’s been much less of a threat, and has barely caught more balls in those games combined (15) than he did against the Golden Bears. Nevertheless, if the Colorado offensive line can occasionally give Hansen time to find Richardson, the combination could cause problems in the Cardinal secondary.

Senior running back Rodney Stewart is also an inconsistent gamebreaker for the Buffs. After failing to pick up 100 or more yards in any of the season’s first 4 games, Stewart ran free for 132 yards and a touchdown against Washington State and added 34 more yards receiving. But Stewart has been shaky this season and has often struggled throughout his career to gain yards against good teams. In Columbus he gained only 55 yards rushing, and he probably won’t gain many more than that on Foster Field.

Considering the early-season disappointment in Boulder and the late-week suspension that will only make it easier for the nation’s top quarterback to surgically annihilate the Buffs’ defensive gameplan, this Saturday is the closest thing to a sure conference win that Stanford will get in 2011. When’s Dave answered how Colorado could achieve the upset, he seemed to agree:

Several things will have to go very, very wrong for you. A Chernobyl-level set of chain reactions and oversights resulting in Stanford only being up 2 late, then turning the ball over late in their own territory where we can kick a field goal. Barring that: hell freezing over.

Maybe the linear accelerator will go awry and bestow Colorado’s roster with the antimatter it needs to get such a reaction going. But I’m not betting on it.

Verdict: Stanford beats Colorado, 55-14


 How to Follow the Game

4:30 pm PST, Saturday, October 8

Stanford Stadium, Stanford, California

Live: Tickets at TiqIq

TV: Versus

Radio: KZSU (90.1 FM or streaming online); KNBR (1050 AM)

Social Media: @DailyAxe on Twitter


(Headline image courtesy of Monica’s Dad on Flickr)

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About the Author

Willys DeVoll
Willys DeVoll is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Daily Axe. He writes about Stanford sports for and writes fiction, reviews and commentary elsewhere.


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