If I had written three weeks ago that the Colorado Buffalos (5-6, 2-5) had a shot to beat the big bad Nebraska Cornhuskers (9-2, 5-2) you all would have thought I was few fries short of a Happy Meal. Well, three weeks later these look like totally different teams as the Buffalos are rolling and the Huskers are stumbling down the stretch. The Buffs have won two in a row after the departure of Dan Hawkins and the Huskers have taken a distinct turn for the worse after stud quarterback Taylor Martinez hurt his ankle, which he re-injured last week. Add the rivalry factor along with the fact that it’s a must win game for both teams and anything can happen in Lincoln on Friday.
The Huskers are in a must win situation after being shut down by Texas A&M last week. It was an embarrassing game for Big Red on the field and on the sideline as they scored only six points with sixteen penalties and Head Coach Bo Pelini completely lost his composure while chewing out the officials and his quarterback. The Huskers need a win to assure they advance to the Big 12 Championship game, if they lose they open the door for the Missouri Tigers. With Martinez banged up the Huskers will probably also utilize sophomore Cody Green, who relieved Martinez last week and last year’s starter Zac Lee under center. The Huskers are in a precarious position because while they need a win against CU, they also need to get Martinez healthy for the Championship game against either the Sooners or Oklahoma State. I expect to see more of Green or Lee so the Huskers can get Martinez healthy.
The Buffs are literally playing for one more game. If they win they will most likely receive a bowl bid, lose and it will be a long cold winter in Boulder. The skeptic in me looks at how poorly CU has played on the road this year where they were blown out by the other Big 12 elite teams and stymied by the likes of Kansas but that seems like an entirely different team, which some would say it is. The fact is these Buffs under interim coach Brian Cabral have played with a renewed confidence and vigor that allowed them to beat two teams that play very similar to Nebraska. It’s true Nebraska has much better personnel than either Iowa State or K-State but they have one factor in common: they have to run the ball to be successful. The Huskers average almost 270 yards on the ground per game behind Martinez and stand out tailbacks Roy Helu Jr. and Rex Burkhead but with a banged up Martinez they could only muster 142 yards against the Aggies and 125 yards in a loss to Longhorns. The one thing this Buffs defense does best is stop the run so they have a chance to hold down the potent Nebraska ground game. The bigger question is can the offense generate enough points against the Black-Shirts who are allowing less than 17 points a game.
The trio of Cody Hawkins, Scotty McKnight and the reining Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week Rodney Stewart has come up big for the Buffs the last two weeks and they are all must work their magic one more time if the Buffs have a shot at winning this game. They will face a stifling Nebraska defense that is ranked first in the Big 12 against the pass and fifth against the run. Hawkins will have to be especially careful as the Huskers have picked off 16 passes in 11 games so McKnight will have to maximize his receiving chances and make them count. Stewart should find some running room as the Huskers are giving up just over 150 yards a game on the ground. The Buffs have been able run the ball and avoid interceptions of late and they will have to continue that trend against Big Red.
Can the Buffs win this game? Yes, but it is still a long shot. I would have like their chances better if Nebraska had beat Texas A&M, then the Huskers wouldn’t have had anything to play for but that’s not the case. This will be an absolute brawl with both teams desperate for one more win. I believe CU can win this fight by slowing down the Nebraska running game and score enough points to pull the upset. If I’m right or even if it’s a close game they should give interim Coach Brian Cabral the head coaching job because he will have done an amazing job with this team.
The pick: CU 20, NU 17
Side Note I: Offensive Tackle Nate Solder was named one of three finalists for the Outland Trophy this week. He is CU’s first finalist since 1990 when offensive guard Joe Garten was the runner-up for the award.
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Written by Matthew Stiles