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The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 3rd, 10:15 p.m. (et).
FACTS & STATS: Site: Aloha Stadium (50,000) -- Honolulu, Hawaii. Television: ESPN2. Home Record: Colorado 0-0, Hawaii 0-0. Away Record: Colorado 0-0, Hawaii 0-0. Neutral Record: Colorado 0-0, Hawaii 0-0. Conference Record: Colorado 0-0, Hawaii 0-0. Series Record: Series is tied, 1-1.
GAME NOTES: Life in the Big 12 Conference is old news for the Colorado Buffaloes, as they begin play as a member of the newly-named Pac-12 Conference this week with a season-opening matchup against high-scoring Hawaii in Honolulu.
Not only are the Buffs kicking off action in a reconstituted Pac-10, the squad is doing so with new head coach Jon Embree who takes over for the departed Dan Hawkins. Embree, who played tight end for the program back in the mid-1980's, has his work cut out for him after Colorado put up a 5-7 record in 2010 and won only two games against the rest of the Big 12. Granted, the team did begin last season with three wins in four tries, but after that the setbacks came rolling in and out went Hawkins early in November as athletic director Mike Bohn named long-time assistant Brian Cabral as the interim head coach.
As for the Warriors, they are under the direction of fourth-year head coach Greg McMackin who managed to guide his team to a 10-4 record overall last season, a 7-1 mark in the competitive Western Athletic Conference which was his best record in league play in his first three years with the program. Thanks to tying both Boise State and Nevada for the top WAC mark, Hawaii was invited yet again to take part in the Hawaii Bowl in their own stadium in Honolulu, but for all the success the Warriors have had in their own backyard, the squad was squashed by Tulsa in a 62-35 rout to close out the campaign.
The series between these two teams is tied at one game apiece, with Colorado claiming a 31-13 win at home last season. The only other meeting took place way back in 1925 with the Warriors capturing a 13-0 win in Honolulu.
Even though he is a senior, quarterback Tyler Hansen still has a lot to learn about playing the position after spending so much time behind the previous coach's son. Hansen did get to play in seven games last season, completing an impressive 68.3 percent of his pass attempts, leading to more than 1,100 yards, but still he finished with just as many touchdowns (six) as he did interceptions before going down with a ruptured spleen against Texas Tech in the middle of the campaign. Hansen could have returned for the postseason, had the Buffaloes qualified, but instead he'll be starting fresh in 2011 and hopefully not looking over his shoulder for others competing for his job. Senior Toney Clemons is the top returning receiver for the group after placing second on the squad with 43 catches for 482 yards and three touchdowns and now in his second season, Paul Richardson will be expected to boost his numbers from 2010 when he caught 34 balls for 514 yards and six scores. Providing the offense with stability should be senior running back Rodney Stewart who led the team with more than 1,300 yards on the ground and scored 10 times carrying the ball. Stewart came on strong in the second half of 2010 with three straight 100-yard rushing efforts, including a career-best 195 versus Kansas State, although he might not last the year if he takes the same sort of pounding he did when he logged 290 carries.
The pass defense for the Buffs last season was simply atrocious, allowing just under 260 ypg to rank ninth in the Big 12 and 110th in the nation. The group had an efficiency rating of just 153.29 which was last in the league and 112th in the country as well, so it's clear that Colorado has to find a way to strengthen that aspect of the defense in particular. Early indications show that right cornerback might be especially in need of attention given that freshman Greg Henderson is listed as the starter, followed by sophomore Parker Orms. Operating with a 3-4 scheme, the weakest link on the front line could well be Chidera Uzo-Diribe who tallied a mere 11 tackles in 12 games a year ago, although he did register 3.5 sacks which means he can disrupt plays in the backfield when he fights hard enough. Unfortunately, linebacker Michael Sipili, who led the team in tackles a season ago with 94, producing a team- best seven tackles for loss along the way, has to be replaced. Junior Jon Major will played a significant role in the middle of the field after he placed fifth on the team with 57 tackles last year, even as he played in just seven games.
First things first for the Warriors, on Monday it was announced that two starters, receiver Darius Bright and linebacker Aaron Brown were arrested early on Sunday morning following a fight at a club in Honolulu. Bright, who spent two years at City College of San Francisco before arriving at Hawaii, is expected to be a significant contributor on offense now that the squad has to find a replacement for leading receiver Greg Salas and Kealoha Pilares, a tandem that combined for an astonishing 29 touchdowns and more than 3,000 yards through the air. Luckily the Warriors retain the services of quarterback Bryant Moniz who passed for more than 5,000 yards and logged 39 TDs, against 15 interceptions. Another issue with the Hawaii offense, one that will endure far beyond the first week of the season, is finding a top-notch running back to replace Alex Green who gained almost 1,200 yards and tallied an incredible 18 TDs for an offense that's has not been known for running the ball in quite some time. Sterling Jackson has been penciled in as the go-to guy coming out of the backfield for the time being, but assume that like most seasons the offense will revolve around the passing attack.
As stated previously, Brown will be sitting this one out and that means fellow linebacker, Corey Paredes, will have the spotlight shown even brighter on him given the circumstances. Paredes was tops on the team a season ago with a staggering 151 tackles and he also tallied four interceptions and forced a couple of fumbles which means he's capable on handling many aspects of the action. Unfortunately the unit will have to find a replacement for Mana Silva who was not only second on the team with 85 tackles, he was one of the nation's leaders with eight interceptions. Brown will eventually be a solid performer for the unit, once he is reinstated, although he'll have a hard time living up to his own standards seeing as how he logged five sacks and returned two of his three interceptions for touchdowns in 2010. Along the front line the Warriors will enlist returning starters Vaughn Meatoga and Kaniela Tuipulotu as their go-to guys as they try to pick up the pieces from losing both defensive ends (Elliott Purcell and Kamalu Umu). Tuipulotu was a Second Team All-WAC performer after starting 13 games at tackle a year ago.
With the recent news of the Warriors losing a couple of key players for this opener, perhaps the hosts won't run away with this contest quite as easily. However, assume the attack plan will remain the same for the hosts as they pass early and often to avenge the loss against Colorado from last year.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Hawaii 31, Colorado 23
08/31 10:31:35 ET
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