Road trip? Early West Coast start time? You might think that Stanford might have another Northwestern on its hands in Colorado on Saturday.
Now I know you're saying to yourself, this is Colorado we're talking about.
Or is it? They've been playing with confidence recently, giving UCLA a big scare last week, falling by just four points at the Rose Bowl and outgaining the Bruins by more by 150 yards.
Don't get too scared yet, it's just Colorado.
Okay, fine. Stop trying to convince yourself otherwise — this won't be a push-over, automatic confidence booster for Stanford. It has trap game written all over it because of the start time and the high altitude in Boulder, even though Colorado is isn't all that great, or anywhere close to great. Here are my keys for Stanford to turn Saturday morning's game into a way to put their performance against Washington State squarely in the rear view mirror:
Get Back to Playing Stanford Football
Remember when I said Stanford was back? Maybe I spoke too soon, or it didn't make the trip to Pullman, but Stanford lost its identity on Saturday. They couldn't protect Kevin Hogan, allowing four sacks, couldn't establish the run as well as they would have liked in the early going, save for a few Hogan runs, and couldn't control the clock. Sure, Stanford did win the time of possession (30:19 vs. 29:41), but they were pushed around by Wazzu's defensive front.
To make sure this isn't another horror film, Stanford has to get its calling card, the offensive line, back in prime form. Wazzu provided the blueprint to stopping McCaffrey — stacking the box. David Shaw will have to make some adjustments in his game plan for Colorado (4-5) like he did in the second half last week, because everyone in the conference took note.
Ideally, you don't want to have Hogan to running the option as much as he did last week (14 carries, 112 yards) — that isn't how Stanford's offense is supposed to run. Stanford needs to find a way to overcome a defense that hones in on McCaffrey, and McCaffrey only — which should be play-action passes. Look for Stanford to pound the rock early and often to set up a play-fake, and maybe another bomb to Francis Owusu.
On paper, it shouldn't be that difficult — this trip away from home for Stanford brings Christian McCaffrey close to his home in suburban Denver, which might make him feel more at home or happy he left for college. And Colorado is 106th nationally in rushing yards allowed, behind such juggernauts as Rice, UCF, and UTEP.
Oh, UCF. They're so bad a local bar is literally offering free beers until they win. Great idea, if they want to go out of business.
Make Friends With the Energizer Bunny
For a college student, 10:00 AM on a Saturday morning is really early. Like Monday morning at 6:30 early for the rest of us. It seems even earlier when all of your other games start when the entire East Coast is asleep.
It's part of the reason why they lost to that team in Evanston in the game that shall not be named. They looked really flat and slow, and didn't start to stir, much less get out of bed, until maybe late in the fourth quarter. Even though they had time to adjust and practiced early in the days leading up to the game, you could tell it affected them greatly. David Shaw always notes that he can tell that his offense is going to play well when they look ‘fast,' which they had up until Saturday.
The Cardinal need to find a way to wake up and play fast if they want to play up to their potential, not down to the Buffs. They should learn the secrets of the Energizer Bunny, better known as David Shaw.
Keep Spruce and Liufau In Check
Stanford corner Ronnie Harris is going to have his hands full on Saturday: he has to match up against 6'1", 195-pound receiver Nelson Spruce, Colorado's all-time receiving leader. He doesn't have top-notch speed, but is a great play-maker.Look for Stanford to game plan around him.
Stanford's secondary will have to focus in on Spruce and his signal-caller, Sefo Liufau. The kind of dual-threat (single-and-a-half-threat?) true junior has three years under his belt at the helm of Colorado's offense, and has rushed for 213 yards this season, scoring five touchdowns in the process. If you take out the 21(!!!) sacks he's endured, Liufau has run for 359 yards — not a shabby figure.
At 6'4" and 245 pounds, he's big and hard to bring down and "faster than he looks," if you believe his head coach, Mike MacIntyre. Stanford will have to keep him inside the pocket and force him to throw, which he isn't all that great at (48.9 Adjusted QBR, distorted by blowouts against UMASS and Nicholls State). He's merely an average quarterback that has regressed from last season (61.1 QBR), and if Stanford can take his legs out of the equation, it'll be a whole lot easier to shut down Spruce.
Stanford *should* be able to put away Colorado fairly easily if they don't play down to the Buffalos or forget to wake up. Big "ifs" for this team, but still.