Colorado depends on defense

Tuesday, October 21, 2008 | 9:07 p.m. CDT

If there’s one consistent thing about Colorado coach Dan Hawkins, it’s that he’s quick to compliment his upcoming opponent in some way.
When the Buffaloes traveled to Florida State, he joked that he would need a month to prepare for the Seminoles’ two-quarterback offense, and that he was going to call Florida State coach Bobby Bowden and ask if the game could be postponed until then.
When opening Big 12 play against Texas, Hawkins called the Longhorns "awesome” in “every” way.
So with Missouri the next opponent for the Buffaloes, Hawkins decided to play off the difficulty of slowing down the Tigers’ offense.
“Can you do that?” Hawkins asked. “I don’t think you can do it.”
That would be a comfort to the Tiger offense if that were true. But, in the last two weeks, Oklahoma State and Texas have slowed it down considerably from the breakneck pace of Missouri’s first five games. After averaging 53.4 points in its 5-0 start, Missouri has barely averaged half of that in its two losses.
 Hawkins knows his team has a difficult task ahead of it. At 4-3, Colorado is trying to re-establish itself as a winning team after losses to three ranked opponents, Florida State, Texas and Kansas, quickly erased a 3-0 start.
In Hawkins’ eyes, that isn’t an indictment of his team at all. All it says to him is that the Buffaloes have to meet the challenge that better opponents provide.
“I think our message every week has been trying to get better, trying to improve and working on things we can control,” Hawkins said before the Buffaloes’ home win over Kansas State last week. “We know we’re playing great football teams, and there’s more great football teams left on the schedule.
“You just have to make sure that your guys are getting enough information that allows them to be mature about the situation and deal with it appropriately,” he said.
The way the Buffaloes have dealt with it has been with defense, and their results to this point have been based on how well the defense has performed. In Colorado’s four victories this season the most points the defense has given up was 24 against Eastern Washington.
But in each their three losses, the Buffaloes have given up 30 or more points.
“They really have been carrying us in many respects,” Hawkins said, referring to his defense. “They have played great against some really awesome teams. (Against Kansas State), we held up for the entire game. The one touchdown that they did get came on a short field, so I thought our defense was magnificent.”
The defense has had to be magnificent because the Buffaloes have struggled on offense. Colorado ranks last in the conference in scoring offense, passing offense and red zone offense, and is near the bottom in most other offensive categories.
Although seven games worth of statistics suggest a serious problem with the offense, Hawkins said he thinks the problem will eventually solve itself with enough work.
“There’s a lot of things, and a normal person might say, ‘Well, that’s an excuse,’” Hawkins said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that our kids and our coaches are doing everything we can do get them in the right spot to create schemes and to create plays, so we’ll get there.
“We know what it looks like, we know what it smells like, we know how to get there; we just have to keep battling.”
Hawkins’ latest solution is to try a two-quarterback offense after removing freshman Tyler Hansen’s redshirt last week in the win over Kansas State. He’s not personally thrilled with the situation of rotating Hansen and incumbent starter Cody Hawkins, but if it works, he’s willing to deal with it.
“The bottom line is that we’re trying to put the best 11 or 22 guys on the field that we can in order to win the football game,” Dan Hawkins said. “(On) all great teams, people have to make sacrifices.”

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