Colorado Football: 5 things Buffaloes must do to win Alamo Bowl
Sep 19, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Buffaloes mascot Ralphie is run onto Sports Authority Field at Mile High before the game against the Colorado State Rams at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Buffaloes defeated the Rams 27-24 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
The Colorado Buffaloes are just about ready for their first bowl game appearance since 2007.
However, this Colorado team isn’t just happy to be there. Far from it, actually. Colorado has been one of the feel-good stories of the 2016 season, bouncing back from being the whipping boys of the Pac-12 conference to one its top teams.
But for the season to end on a high note, the team has to dispatch Oklahoma State in the Valero Alamo Bowl on Thursday night. Both teams bring a ton of offense and plenty of points are expected to light up the scoreboard.
For the Buffs to win, they’ll have to do much more than just show up in San Antonio.
Oklahoma State is a solid team that is well coached. They will give the Buffs all they can handle in this one. So in order for Colorado to come out on top, there are five aspects of this contest they’ll need to get the better end of.
Nov 19, 2016; Boulder, CO, USA; Colorado Buffaloes running back Phillip Lindsay (23) carries the ball in the first quarter against the Washington State Cougars at Folsom Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Oklahoma State has one of the better offenses in the country so it may make sense for the Buffs to try and shorten this game by possessing the ball and using the rushing attack of Sefo Liufau and Phillip Lindsay to control the clock.
The Cowboys average nearly 39 points per game and though many analysts see this game as a shootout where the team that wins the game must score over 40 points, it doesn’t have to be.
Colorado has the type of running game that slowly churns out yards, moving the chains on short third downs. That is the kind of offensive attack that will wear out a defense and keep a high-scoring offense on the sideline.
Colorado has shown the ability to win games in which they need to score more than 30 points this season, but if they can wear out the Oklahoma State defense and try to steal a possession with a well rested defense, they could turn this game into their favor.
Nov 26, 2016; Boulder, CO, USA; Colorado Buffaloes defensive tackle Josh Tupou (58) and Colorado Buffaloes linebacker Bryan Meek (51) tackle running back Joe Williams (28) as offensive lineman Salesi Uhatafe (74) assists in the first half at Folsom Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Oklahoma State has one of the best passing attacks in the nation, slinging the ball all over the field with junior quarterback Mason Rudolph, but its running game is also quite dangerous.
The Cowboys average nearly 170 yards per game on the ground behind the combination of Justice Hill and Chris Carson. Hill averages 5.6 yards per carry while Carson is gaining a staggering seven yards per attempt. Together, they have rushed for 13 touchdowns.
In an offense that gains an average of 322 yards per game through the air, you can’t lose sight of this rushing attack. It will be a big night for Colorado defensive lineman Josh Tupou as well as linebackers Rick Gamboa and Kenneth Olugbode. These three players will patrol the middle of the field for the Colorado defense and will need to get penetration up front to wreck plays before they have time to materialize.
December 2, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Washington Huskies wide receiver John Ross (1) runs the football against Colorado Buffaloes defensive back Chidobe Awuzie (4) during the third quarter in the Pac-12 championship at Levi
At the end of a long season, particularly when you’re not playing for a conference or national championship, bowl games are all about motivation. In many cases, teams are just playing for school pride.
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Though Oklahoma State will be looking to bounce back from a devastating loss just like Colorado after getting blasted by in-state rival Oklahoma, the Buffs should have no problem getting up for this game.
Colorado was embarrassed by Washington and they’ve had nearly a full month to sit and stew over that 31-point defeat. The Buffs are a much better team than the one that took the field that night and though Oklahoma State will be looking to prove it is better than the team that got dominated by the Sooners, Colorado should have plenty of motivation to show the country that though Washington is good, its not that much better than them.
Sep 24, 2016; Eugene, OR, USA; Colorado Buffaloes defensive back Ahkello Witherspoon (23) intercepts the ball against Oregon Ducks wide receiver Darren Carrington II (7) at Autzen Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports
Wining the turnover battle is a key in any game, but it could be especially crucial in this game if the Buffs can force some turnovers.
Oklahoma State has a +10 turnover margin this season. Only 10 teams in the entire nation put up a better number than that this season and Rudolph threw just four interceptions all season.
The Buffs came up with 15 interceptions on the year and they will trot out one of the country’s best secondaries for this game. In a game where points could be put up left and right, it will benefit the team that can create some turnovers and give their offense a short field to work with.
For those wondering, the Buffs had a +7 turnover margin on the year, good for a tie for No. 25 in the nation.
Even in an 18-point loss to Oklahoma, the Cowboys didn’t turn the ball over one time. The Buffs will need to be aggressive on defense in order to make a play to turn the game.
Oct 1, 2016; Boulder, CO, USA; Colorado Buffaloes wide receiver Shay Fields (1) carries the ball or this third touchdown reception of the game in the first half against the Oregon State Beavers at Folsom Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
With two talented, explosive offenses, it only makes sense to get the ball in the hands of your top playmaker. For Colorado, that player is Shay Fields.
Fields caught 52 passes for 845 yards this season while finding the end zone nine times. He caught at least five passes in four games and had at least 70 yards receiving in six. Yet, he all but disappeared in the Pac-12 Championship Game against Washington, catching just two passes for 26 yards.
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That can’t happen in this game.
Liufau needs to target Fields early and often. He needs to be a big part of the team’s game plan. If Oklahoma State has a weakness, it is its pass defense. The Cowboys give up 252.6 yards per game through the air, which ranks No. 97 in the country.
This will be the last time Liufau suits up for the Buffs, so he should take some chances to his deep threat and see if he can beat the Cowboys over the top.