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After getting trounced by Miami, Ohio State welcomes Colorado to Ohio Stadium for the third time. The Buckeyes lead the all-time series 3-1, winning the last three games. Colorado's lone victory came in 1971 in Columbus against the Woody Hayes coached Buckeyes.
Colorado enters the game 1-2, coming off a victory against arch-rival Colorado State. The Buffaloes, in their first season in the Pac-12 Conference, lost at Hawaii and in overtime to California. They also bring the nation's longest road losing streak, now standing at 18 games - 19 straight out-of-state losses - with them. The streak dates back to 2007.
After the debacle that was the Dan Hawkins era, Jon Embree takes over the Buffaloes. Embree, a former Colorado tight end, served as an assistant at his alma mater for 10 seasons under three different head coaches. As a player he earned ﬁrst-team all-Big 8 honors in 1984, setting school single-season records for receptions and receiving yards. Embree has brought the high-powered passing offense back to Boulder. He coached in the NFL and brought a pro-style offense with him.
"Obviously, we won't know for a few years whether or not Jon Embree and the staff he has assembled at Colorado will ultimately be successful," Adam Munsterteiger, publisher of BuffStampede.com, said. "But it appears today, that he was the right type of hire for this football program. Dan Hawkins was often more of a life coach than a football coach, as starting quarterback Tyler Hansen has pointed out since the coaching change. In Hawkins' five years in Boulder, the Buffs never enjoyed a winning record and they never established a team identity."
Three games into the season, Colorado has displayed a potent offense, averaging 394 yards a game, which puts them 22nd nationally.
"Offensively, the Buffs want to develop a smash-mouth running attack," Munsterteiger said. "Colorado's offense has been up-and-down early on this season, but their 10 minute game-clinching touchdown drive against Colorado State last Saturday was an example of what they want to become. Embree has been a breath of fresh air to the media here in Colorado. He is a straight shooter that does not try to sugarcoat things. The players that are on the roster right now have bought in. The players that didn't buy in were sent packing after spring ball."
In a Week 2 loss to Cal, Hansen, coming off a ruptured spleen that sidelined him last season, set a school record by tallying 474 passing yards. Hansen ranks 17th nationally in total offense at nearly 310 yards per game. In last weekend's victory over Colorado State, Hansen was sacked seven times but still completed 17 passes for 223 yards. Despite the high yardage totals Colorado has put out, they enter Saturday's game 75th in scoring offense.
"Hansen is a streaky quarterback," Munsterteiger said. "Sometimes he looks like an all-conference caliber quarterback with great improvisational skills in the pocket. Other times, he looks out of sync and has trouble helping the Buffs' offense move the chains. The quarterback nightmare is finally over at CU because Cody Hawkins has graduated. I hate to speak negatively towards Cody because he is the nicest kid I have ever come across and was a solid quarterback at times for the Buffs, but it was just a bad situation at CU having the son of the head coach on the team playing quarterback. It divided the locker room."
Hansen's most popular target, wide receiver Paul Richardson, is 11th in the country in receiving yards per game with 120. He totaled 284 receiving yards - a school-record - against Cal but had just 27 in last week's win over Colorado State. Richardson is a home-run threat, accounting for four of the Buffaloes' seven longest plays last season.
"Since midway through his true freshman campaign last fall, Richardson has actually been extremely consistent with last Saturday being the one exception," Munsterteiger said. "He dropped four passes against Colorado State, which was very surprising. Richardson is usually as sure-handed as any receiver in the country. He is fast, and while he is skinny at 6-foot-1, 175-pounds, he is deceptively strong."
Overall, the offense returns eight starters, which bodes well for any team. The offensive line, though, was a concern for Colorado entering the season. It lost Nate Solder, a first-round draft pick and center Mike Iltis to a season-ending knee injury. Ryan Miller, a preseason Outland Trophy candidate, anchors the line that has been opening holes for senior running back Rodney Stewart.
"The Buffs have suffered quite a few injuries on the offensive line and that has led to inconsistent play up front," Munsterteiger said. "Left tackle David Bakhtiari, who graded out as CU's second best offensive lineman behind Solder last season, is expected to return to the starting lineup on Saturday. He only played seven snaps in the Buffaloes' opener before suffering an MCL sprain. Starting center Daniel Munyer is listed as questionable for Saturday's game. It looks likely that Gus Handler, who played limited snaps in each of the Buffs' first three games, will be starting at center against the Buckeyes."
Stewart, a Columbus native and Brookhaven graduate, is coming off a performance in which he racked up 191 yards (98 rushing, 93 receiving) of total offense. The 5-foot-6 Stewart - nicknamed "Speedy" - rushed for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns last season and entered his senior year 1,196 yards shy of the school record. Ironically, the record holder is his position coach, NFL veteran Eric Bieniemy. Stewart added 29 catches for 290 yards.
Stewart (might be short), but he is very muscular, and is as shifty and elusive a running back as you will find," Munsterteiger said. "He has been very dangerous catching screen passes this season. He is averaging 92.3 receiving yards per game."
Stewart is one of three current Buffaloes from Ohio. The other two are cornerback Ayodeji Olatoye and linebacker Doug Rippy, Colorado's second-leading tackler.
On defense, Colorado returns seven starters but must replace Jimmy Smith and Jalil Brown - both cornerbacks who were NFL draft picks. Despite Smith and Brown, Colorado's pass defense was still ranked 110 out of 120 teams. They are keeping the base 3-4 defense they ran with the prior staff instead of transitioning to a 4-3 look.
"Colorado's defense is fairly solid," Munsterteiger said. "It was expected that cornerback would be a glaring weakness. But Greg Henderson, the first true freshman to start at cornerback for CU in a season opener since 1980, and sophomore Parker Orms have actually done a respectable job at the position through three games. The Buffs currently rank 42nd in the country and fourth in the Pac-12 in total defense. CU's defense typically plays well enough for them to stay in the game, even against tough opponents, but will typically give up some big plays throughout the course of a game. Opposing quarterbacks have had success running against the Buffs' defense early on this season."
The strength of the defense is the clearly the front seven and in particular the defensive line. The Buffaloes rank 12th in the country with almost four sacks per game. Any pressure the line can put on Ohio State is a plus to take the load off the secondary. Senior Josh Hartigan, who recorded seven sacks last season, is the prime candidate at applying the needed pressure.
There is youth among the linebackers, but sophomore Liloa Nobriga is a star in the making. He recorded 46 total tackles during his rookie campaign, half of which were solo. So far in 2011, he has been held out of action due to a hamstring injury. Jon Major, a junior, was lost to a season-ending knee injury last season. His return provides a boost for the Buffaloes.
"He has picked up where he left off before the injury and is playing well early on this season," Munsterteiger said in regard to Major. "Rippy has developed into the Buffs' best linebacker. He currently ranks second on the team behind Orms with 26 tackles."
If there is one spot the defense needs to improve the most - other than the obvious points allowed - it is takeaways. Colorado forced just 19 turnovers last season. Being the underdog Saturday, turnovers could be the equalizer. So far, though, there hasn't been much change. Colorado has intercepted one pass in three games.
The Buffaloes' are fielding a true freshman place kicker, Will Oliver. But he has handled the bright lights just fine, nailing all five field goal attempts. Colorado's return games are both pretty poor, at least based on numbers and should not be as scary. Punter Darragh O'Neill is just outside of the Top 10 in punting.
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