The Colorado Buffaloes will continue their 12 competition this weekend when they travel to meet the ranked Stanford Cardinal, who own the nation's longest winning streak and continue to roll behind quarterback Andrew Luck.
Colorado dropped a 31-27 decision to Washington State last weekend in league play. The Buffaloes' only win came in the rivalry matchup with Colorado State back on September 17, and the stretch will not get any easier from here out in the programs first season in the Pac-12. Following this weekends matchup at No. 7 Stanford, Colorado will travel to Seattle to meet Washington, followed by a home clash with Oregon on October 22 and a trip to Tempe to meet Arizona State the week after.
"There are no easy breaks in the Pac-12," said Embree. "Every week you have to bring it."
Stanford owns the nation's longest winning streak at 13 games, and will face Colorado for the first time since 1983. Stanford's streak is the longest since 1939-1941, and the second longest in school history. Stanford has also been ranked in the Top-10 for 13 consecutive weeks, and has won eight straight home games. Luck showed his versatility last week, catching a flea-flicker pass on the first drive to set up the first score in its rout of UCLA, and gaining praise inside the Colorado war room this week.
"He's probably the best player in college football," said Colorado head coach Jon Embree. "He throws when his feet tell him to throw it...he runs well, he runs better than people think. He has great size. He's a big kid."
Colorado ran for 161 yards last weekend against Washington State, which marked a season-high. The Buffaloe offense is led by quarterback Tyler Hansen, who has completed 98-of-173 yards for 1,325 yards and 11 touchdowns, while throwing two interceptions.
"Tyler, he's our leader. I love Tyler, I think he has a great grasp of the offense, I like his thought process and when he does certain things and I think his teammates feel the same way about him. I expect Tyler to play well, I do," said Embree.
The passing offense, which also features wide receiver Paul Richardson (29 catches, 474 yards , five touchdowns), is averaging 265 yards per game. Colorado's rushing offense is near the bottom nationally, averaging 101.4 yards per game; running back Rodney Stewart leads the team with an average of 82 yards per game, and has scored just one touchdown on the ground this season.
Washington State was averaging 540 yards and 49 points per game heading into last weekend's matchup, and the Buffaloes held the Cougars to 455 yards and 30 points in the loss. The Buffaloes defense has allowed 20 plays of 20 yards or more in 2011, and is giving up 349.4 yards per game (127.4 rushing, 222 passing), good for 49th nationally. The Buffaloes are 89th in scoring defense (30.4), surrendering 138 points in four losses this season. Colorado has proved to be one of the better teams in the country in getting pressure, as it ranks sixth in sacks per game (3.4), led by Josh Hartigan, who has four sacks in five games.
The Stanford offense centers around Luck, who threw for 227 yards and three touchdowns last week against UCLA. For the year, Luck has thrown for 1,013 yards and 11 touchdowns against just one interception. His top target is Chris Owusu, who averages 5.5 receptions per game for 68.7 yards. Owusu had six catches for 48 yards and a touchdown against UCLA. The tight ends have also been critical in the passing game, as Coby Fleener, Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo have caught nine touchdown passes combined this season.
Stanford ranks 17th nationally in total offense at 471.5 yards per game, and seventh in scoring offense with 45.7 points per game. Running back Stepfan Taylor has been a major asset on the ground, rushing for 100.2 yards per game and has scored four touchdowns on 71 carries this season.
"I think he's one of the most underrated backs in the nation," said Stanford head coach David Shaw. "All the guy does is get positive yardage. He's sneaky quick. He runs low to the ground."
Taylor, who has rushed for over 100 yards in two straight games, had 112 yards rushing and two touchdowns against UCLA in one of his most productive outing of the season.
"Well, you have to stop the run first. I think that is the misnomer with having Andrew Luck, you think you have to go in there and stop the pass. If you don't go in there and stop their run, look out," said Embree. "They are a power running team. They are a very physical team. They want it to be a street fight and I don't think people out there who don't really watch them or go against them realize that. It is a street fight when you play them."
Stanford is allowing just 62.2 yards rushing per game, which tops the Pac-12, as well as leading the league in total defense (312 yards per game) and scoring defense (11.5 points per game). The unit has also been effective in establishing pressure through four games, averaging 3.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss per game. The unit has held opponents scoreless in nine of 16 quarters this season, including no points allowed in the first quarter. Linebacker Shayne Skov was supposed to be the defensive leader, but has been lost for the season with a knee injury. Others will need to stand up and fill the void the rest of the way.