(Sports Network) - The Colorado Buffaloes will attempt to go 2-0 under interim head coach Brian Cabral, but they'll have to tame the Kansas State Wildcats when the two square off in a Big 12 Conference clash in Boulder on Saturday afternoon.
Kansas State has lost three of its last four games, the most recent of which was last Saturday's 38-28 loss at 15th-ranked Missouri. At 6-4 overall, K- State is already bowl eligible with a non-league game at North Texas looming next week. Still, after finishing 6-6 last year and being shut out of a bowl bid, don't expect the Wildcats to let off the gas pedal.
Colorado must beat Kansas State this weekend and then pull off a big upset at Nebraska next Friday in order to become bowl eligible. The Buffaloes kept their faint hopes alive with last Saturday's 34-14 triumph over Iowa State to notch their first Big 12 victory in coach Cabral's debut. In the days leading up to that game, Dan Hawkins was fired as head coach in the midst of a five- game skid, a decision tipped over the edge by a historical fourth-quarter meltdown against Kansas.
CU holds a 44-20-1 edge in the all-time series with the Wildcats.
Kansas State put up 420 yards of total offense against nationally-ranked Missouri, but miscues cost the Wildcats. In all, they turned the ball over four times (three fumbles, one interception) which led to 17 points for the opposition. The fumble came on a center exchange at the Tigers' 1-yard line in the final minute of the first half, costing the Wildcats even more points. Another costly turnover came in the third quarter after a sack, as Mizzou defensive end Jacquies Smith scooped up the ball and returned it 53 yards to the end zone. K-State quarterback Carson Coffman went 11-of-19 for 170 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Backup Collin Klein provided a spark by completing 4-of-6 passes for 65 yards and a TD, but most importantly he ran for a team-high 141 yards on 18 carries. Daniel Thomas carried 12 times for 66 yards and scored twice for the second straight game. Thomas has been the workhorse all season, ranking second in the Big 12 with 116.8 rushing yards per game to go along with 14 rushing TDs.
While Kansas State's offense is capable of picking up yardage in big chunks, the defense has been guilty of allowing the same. Out of 120 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision, K-State enters this tilt ranked 119th in rushing defense (220 ypg). In all, the Wildcats are allowing 436.1 total yards (104th) and 25.7 points (62nd) per contest. They also haven't made many plays behind the line of scrimmage, ranking 112th nationally in tackles for loss (4.1). Missouri exploited that run D early and often last week by churning out 232 yards and a pair of TDs on the ground. The Tigers averaged a staggering 6.1 yards per carry as a team, and quarterback Blaine Gabbert led the way with 89 yards and a TD rushing. He also completed 17-of-25 passes against the K-State secondary, finishing with 208 yards, two TDs and an interception. Freshman linebacker Tre Walker paced the Wildcats with 12 tackles and an interception, while junior defensive back David Garrett had 11 stops and a pass breakup.
With his recently-fired father in attendance as a spectator against Iowa State, Buffaloes' quarterback Cody Hawkins responded with an effort that would nab him Big 12 Player of the Week honors, throwing for 266 yards and three touchdowns. Hawkins has already approached several career passing records at Colorado, but his clutch performance under the circumstances certainly answered some questions about his leadership abilities. On the season, Hawkins has completed 100-of-180 passes for 1,368 yards with nine touchdowns and three interceptions. Scotty McKnight paces the receivers with 43 catches, and Paul Richardson tallied five catches for 121 yards against ISU. While the Wildcats have their thoroughbred back in Thomas, the Buffs can lean on Rodney "Speedy" Stewart, the conference's third-leading rusher at 103.5 yards per game. Stewart has scored eight times on the year, and he is coming off last week's 123-yard rushing effort against the Cyclones. He has five 100-yard rushing performances on the season.
After allowing Kansas to score a record 35 unanswered points in the fourth quarter a week earlier, Colorado's defense was determined to shut the door against the Cyclones. And the Buffs did just that, holding ISU to 229 yards of total offense. They also forced two fumbles and limited the Cyclones to 3- of-14 on third downs. CU entered the fourth quarter with a 20-point lead, and this time that lead would stick. The Buffs totaled eight sacks on the day, including two by Forrest West. Travis Sandersfeld led the charge with nine tackles. On the season, linebacker Michael Sipili leads the team in tackles with 76, while Ray Polk has notched 60 stops. B.J. Beattys five sacks are tops on the squad, and in the secondary, Jalil Brown leads the squad with three interceptions. CU still ranks 112th nationally in pass defense (266.5 ypg) and 106th in pass efficiency defense (147.2), but last week the mission was to get after the quarterback, and the result was hard to ignore.
For the Buffs, the big question is can they sustain their new-found momentum under Cabral? The interim coach has preached a three-game season with bowl eligibility at stake, so an emotional letdown is unlikely. The key matchup will be K-State's No. 2 rushing offense in the Big 12 (199.8 ypg) versus CU's second-ranked run defense (131.7 ypg allowed).