With the Buffaloes (well, except for the shaggy guy above) coming to Pasadena this weekend, we typed up Jon from the great CU blog Ralphie Report to pick his brain about the state of the Buffs football team, how the season has gone, and how things look going into this weekend. We really appreciate him sharing his time and insight with us. Our answers to his questions should be up at Ralphie Report today.
Bruins Nation: I think most people expected a transitional period with Coach Embree taking over this year, but the Buffs have struggled far more then I expected. Is this is the product of a first year coach, or a new system, or the previous coach (Dan Hawkins) leaving the cupboard empty, or a combination of things? Where was Embree on your list of candidates when he was selected and who else was considered?
Ralphie Report: The record certainly isn't what we expected, but we knew this season was most likely going to be a major rebuilding year. The other writers on the site and I preached all year that this team had plenty of talent and could make some noise if they stayed very healthy. Because of a pretty severe lack of depth, we were worried about what would happen if the Buffs lost one of their key players. Well, you're now seeing what would happen if Colorado lost ALL OF THEM. What you saw against Arizona last week, and against Cal and WSU earlier in the year is much closer to what this team could have been this year if everyone had stayed healthy.
Really, outside of some ridiculous wishful thinking that wasn't going to happen, the job came down to Jon Embree, Eric Bienemy or Bill McCartney. When we were able to get both Embree and Bienemy I was very happy and this year has done nothing to change that.
lots more after the jump...
BN: What are your long term thoughts for Coach Embree and the rest of the staff? Does he get a pass this year while he develops his program, or are you seeing things this year which may be a concern going forward? Any thoughts what the Bruins' record would look like with Embree and Bienemy running the show in Westwood? (no, we aren't looking to poach anyone).
RR: The only slight concern has been on the recruiting front, but there is still a lot of time until February and this staff has actually done very well all things considered. Embree most certainly gets a pass for this year and we have seen improvement when this team has been healthy. The non-conference schedule softens considerably next year, but it's years 3 and 4 that we expect to be in contention to win the South Division.
With the way the UCLA team is built I think they would have success as they believe in a run-first offense, but that's a pretty tough question to answer until we have seen them run the Buffs with their talent in place.
BN: You guys got your first Pac-12 win last week when you whipped up on Arizona (hmmm, wonder what that would be like...). What was the difference last week from the previous games? Do you feel like the team has been improving week to week through the season, and do you expect a more Arizona-like performance in your final two games vs U.C.L.A. and Utah?
RN: The big change was finally getting Rodney Stewart, Tyler Hansen, Paul Richardson, and a ton of secondary players healthy, combined with the much improved play of wide receiver Toney Clemons. Those injuries (and some suspensions) fell right in the middle of a stretch of schedule that included @Stanford, @Washington, Oregon, @Arizona State, and USC (and every one of those teams except for one faced the Buffs the week after a bye). There aren't a lot of teams across the country that wouldn't have struggled with a gauntlet like that.
The positive side of me thinks that we can expect some very competitive games against both UCLA and Utah, but until we see the Buffs actually perform well (and win) on the road I can't really listen to the positive side of me.
BN: The Buffs' defense has had a tough time this year, ranking 116th in points allowed (37.8 pts/game), and holding only one opponent (Colo St) to under 29 points. In contrast, your cornerback Travis Sandersfeld was just named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week. Have the defensive struggles this year been due to players or scheme/coaching or just some really prolific offenses? How do you think the Buffs' D matches up with the Bruins' run heavy pistol offense?
RR: I put very little blame on the scheme/coaching staff for the defensive struggles. I know I am sounding like a broken record but injuries and suspensions occurring during the toughest portion of the schedule just decimated our secondary. Over the past few weeks Colorado has started a true freshman cornerback in one spot (although he has started nearly the whole season) and a combination of a converted wide receiver and two converted running backs, one who is a true freshman (all three practiced for two weeks or less before been thrust into the starting role).
To be quite honest I'm not sure what to make of the match-up of the pistol against the Buffs defense. It's something we haven't really seen this year. The success that Chris Polk and Stepfan Taylor had against the Buffaloes scares me a bit though.
BN: We saw WR Paul Richardson get off to a great start prior to his injury, QB Tyler Hansen can be a very effective manager of an offense, and RB Rodney Stewart just went for 180 yds and 4 TD's as CU put up 48 points last weekend. There is clearly some offensive talent on the CU roster. Who are the Buffs playmakers that we should watch for this Saturday, and how do you see the CU offense match up with the Bruins' own porous defense (ranked 92nd in points allowed at 31.4/game)?
RR: Well, you just named the three playmakers on offense, although Paul Richardson is still being hampered by an injury. The other guy to watch out for on offense is Toney Clemons, who has really come on of late with 324 yards and 4 touchdowns over the last four games.
I think you'll see an offensive game plan very similar to what we saw against Arizona. Lots of Rodney Stewart on the ground and through the air.
BN: Hopefully Seattle and Palo Alto and Pasadena compare favorably to Lincoln and Stillwater and Manhattan. Scores aside, which trips have the Buffs fans enjoyed the most so far?
RR: Personally, I really enjoyed heading out to Columbus for the Ohio State game, but all of the road games have gotten extremely favorable reviews. Buffs fans are ecstatic to be out of the Big 12 and we have had great turnouts for all the match-ups away from home. I would expect the biggest turn out so far at the Rose Bowl. I've heard from a ton of fans that are attending.
BN: Do you miss Nebraska yet? Do you hate Southern Cal yet? What are your general impressions of the Pac-12 (the refs really are awful aren't they?) as we near the end of the season? Have you seen any affect of the new conference affiliation in terms of recruiting for CU?
RR: Utah. We hate Utah. A lot. Aside from them everything has been amazing about the move. We're very excited to get the basketball season going as well. The Buffs will surprise a lot of people on the hardwood this year.
It's a bit hard to tell on the recruiting front so far, but we know that California is going to be a huge part of the effort going forward.
Thanks and good luck on Saturday! Wish I were going to be there.
(I wish the same, Jon. I wish the same. - gbruin)