I haven't left Folsom Field feeling that good after a loss since...maybe ever. The Colorado Buffaloes showed substantial improvement in their 14-point loss to 16th ranked Arizona State, outgaining the Sun Devils by 119 yards. Even after ASU's early offensive rampage and the duo of critical turnovers, the Buffs never let their heads down and were pretty much in it (the unfortunate Taylor Kelly injury notwithstanding) until late in the 4th quarter. The come-from-behind win over UMass may have been more telling than I had previously thought.
In order for all of these positive vibes to carry on, CU will need to take care of business against a mediocre but game Rainbow Warrior team. Thus far Hawaii has lost to Washington by just one point, rallied in garbage time against Oregon State only to come up short, and beaten FCS member Northern Iowa by 3, all in Honolulu. The Warriors will have to adjust to an early kickoff, 8:00 a.m. Hawaiian-Aleutian Standard time, and 5,430 feet of altitude on their first trip to the mainland in 2014.
The strength of the Hawaii offense has shifted to its passing game. They've turned to sophomore quarterback Ikaika Woolsey this season and he's found some success, producing 631 yards while completing 47% of his passes. Woolsey has had to shoulder more of the load due to the loss of star running back Joey Iosefa who suffered a severe ankle injury during the loss to OSU. Sophomore Steven Lakalaka has moved up to try and fill Iosefa's shoes but so far has averaged only 3.7 yards per carry.
The Rainbow Warriors possess both height and speed at the receiver position. 6'4" sophomore Marcus Kemp, who's accumulated 202 yards receiving through three games, is the number one option. 6'2" Quinton Pedroza is also a frequent target, compiling a team high 20 receptions and averaging 9.4 yards per catch. Hawaii also has somewhat of a Leatherman in former Australian Rules Football player Scott Harding. He's got 9 catches for 130 yards on the season but that's not all, he also punts, and then he also returns punts, but he doesn't return his own punts. At least he hasn't yet. He hit a career long 64-yard boot against UNI and averaged 10.9 yards per return on 7 chances, also a career high. He's a difference maker for the ‘Bows on special teams.
As for the Buffs, they'll need their offensive line to continue commanding the line of scrimmage. The Rainbow Warriors defensive unit brings a mobile linebacking group and two large human beings at nose tackle to bear. Picking up the various blitz looks that the Warriors present will be critical to keeping Sefo Liufau on his feet and giving the play-action time to develop. Against ASU Liufau did an exceptional job of recognizing and reacting to shifting defensive alignments. I expect Nelson Spruce and Shay Fields to have themselves another huge game.
Running the ball effectively will be the crucial key to unlocking Hawaii's 3-4 scheme. The offensive line will need to neutralize Hawaii's defensive ends and pick up the attacking linebackers quickly. CU's tailbacks, led by Christian Powell, will then be able to cut to that first hole and reach the second level. Zone reads and misdirections will be the order of the day. Alex Kelley and Daniel Munyer will have their hands full with the Warrior nose tackles but if one of those two is able to wrangle the big boy up front, the other will be free to find whichever linebacker is coming on the blitz.
Hawaii is no pushover, they're an athletic group and are statistically better than their recent record would suggest. But, away from Honolulu they are not the same team. Colorado's offense should be able to find its way up and down the field and come close to reaching the 500-yard mark in consecutive weeks. CU's defense still has a lot to prove, but they started to stand up against ASU after that 1st quarter. If they can keep the Warrior attack in check for even 3 full quarters, I think the Buffaloes claim their first home win of the season in convincing fashion. And the feeling when leaving Folsom after something like that happens has certainly been rare of late.