Nebraska vs Colorado - The Final Countdown Q&A (and Happy Thanksgiving!)

Happy Thanksgiving! 

In a little while, I'll go across to the neighbor's where we've been having Thanksgiving for the past... oh, several years. My neighbor usually asks me to say the prayer before the meal. I normally start with "We can all be thankful that we're all here again this year" , but  this year will be a little different because someone is missing, so it will have to change a bit. 

Perhaps I'll pray for the strength and courage to recognize that since the time we have here on earth is short we should realize that it's always time to do those things you're putting off whether it be something as simple as football or as difficult as repairing a relationship that needs to be repaired. 

Oh, football, yeah. I didn't forget.

I teamed up with the guys from the Ralphie Report for a Q&A interview before our last game as members of the Big 12 conference. 

JJ: Dan Hawkins is gone and Friday is your last game in the Big 12 conference, and probably the last game against Nebraska. Describe what you and your fellow Colorado fans are feeling right now.

RR: Last game against Nebraska...say it ain't so. Honestly, the absolute only thing I am disappointed about leaving the Big 12 is not being able to play Nebraska every year after Thanksgiving. Yes, it may not be as important to Nebraska as we have discussed over the past few years but we certainly view it as a rivalry game and a game that we look forward to. Other than that, Colorado fans are ecstatic with the move to the Pac-10.

Overall, though, CU fans are feeling pretty good. After firing Dan Hawkins, the Buffs are playing the best they have played in years going 2-0 with rather dominating performances. The offense looks, dare I say, explosive, the defense is shutting down the opposition's running attack and interim head coach Brian Cabral has this team playing with a passion the Buffs have been missing. Certainly, we are worried about Nebraska's vaunted defense and the team's lackluster road record the last three years but Cabral has us believing..

RR: Must ask about the rumors swirling around. Did Taylor Martinez miss a Sunday practice? Is he in the dog house? Is their a possibility that the Pelini brothers will be suspended for the game Friday? Finally, is Taylor Martinez the best option at quarterback right now or is the team better off going with a healthier Green or Lee?

According to Bo Pelini's Monday press conference, there are no "team meetings" on Sunday. They have team "shake outs", which was described as "jogging around and getting the kinks out". Martinez did not attend, but it's not required, and since he went to practice Monday wearing a boot, I'd guess he wouldn't be jogging around during the "shake out" either. Pelini also said that Martinez would start if he's healthy, so I don't think he's in the doghouse. All of this stuff was rumor.

The rumors appeared to be started by a Nebraska blog called "Big Red Critic" that apparently existed so the author could write an article for Bleacher Report that referenced Big Red Critic and make everything seem plausible. After a few hours, everything was taken down.

Regarding the Pelini bros. getting suspended - doubtful. Bo apologized for being over the top against Texas A&M and that's all we'll probably see about that. Regarding Carl Pelini - the explanation was that the camera guy got in between Carl and a football player Carl was trying to help. Photos from the game clearly show no football player in the vicinity of the incident, but I doubt it amounts to much other than Carl buying the dude a new camera... and maybe a new tripod. And some lenses, and a boom mic.....

Aha! A football question, and a tough one at that. Cody Green played most of the game against Iowa State, and the offense did okay - not great, but okay. I thought Green played well. Against Texas A&M, Green couldn't score, but then, it wasn't like Martinez was tearing up the field either, before or after his injury.

Even though Pelini said Lee was available last Saturday, I'm not sold on the idea that he's fully healed. Lee's best asset is his deep ball (and knowing the full offense). If he can't throw deep, he's not that big an asset.

There isn't a firm answer here. I doubt Martinez is fully healed by Friday, so we'll probably see Cody Green start.

One thing you didn't ask - Rex Burkhead has made good yardage running the Wildcat in basically a straight-ahead point-of-attack type fashion. You may see a lot of that if your defensive line and linebackers aren't up to the task of stopping the run.

JJ: You know Nebraska is going to run the ball. How good is your defensive line, linebackers, and how good are the Buffs at stopping the run? Who's the guy (or guys) we should be aware of?

RR: Well, it is hard to think the Buffs run defense can be playing any better right now. Over the last two weeks, Iowa State and Kansas State, two running teams, have run the ball 64 times for just 95 yards, an average of 1.4 per carry. Against the Wildcats, the Buffs held Daniel Thomas to a season low 58 yards. Against Iowa State, Alexander Robinson was held to a season low 22 yards. Two good running backs completely shut down.

Defensive linemen Curtis Cunningham and Will Pericak have been instrumental in slowing down the run in the middle. Pericak had eight tackles, two for a loss last week and was very disruptive. But it isn't just those two guys. Two weeks ago seven different Buffs registered a sack. Over the last two weeks, CU has sacked the quarterback 14 times which is a huge improvement. Cabral & Ron Collins has this defense playing well.

RR: Keeping with the Nebraska offense. Two weeks ago, they score 20 points on Kansas. Just 6 points last week against Texas A&M. Everyone knows about the injury to Taylor Martinez but is that the sole reason for the lack of offensive production the last two weeks?

This one took me a while because I want so badly to say "No" that I'm really hunting for other reasons.

A Husker offense largely guided by Cody Green scored 24 points against Iowa State. The Cyclones played well against us, and they were aided by turnovers. The Kansas game was a snooze-fest, so conservative it was hard to watch, and left this Husker fan wondering if they really weren't trying to embarrass Turner Gill.  

Against Texas A&M, it was lack of execution in the passing game that ultimately doomed the Huskers. Two interceptions, both coming on the Aggies side of the field, killed scoring drives. Cody Green has had difficulty with accuracy on long throws forever, and after Martinez' injury, he couldn't plant his foot and throw deep with much velocity or accuracy. Add in the fact that Martinez is a freshman, and a whole bunch of penalties for holding and false starts, some timely drops by wide receivers and you've got a dead offense.

It's clear that Nebraska's Shawn Watson wants to run something similar to Oregon's offense, but he only has one quarterback capable of doing it - Martinez. Cody Green runs the same plays, but he isn't making reads when he's in the game, he's just handing the ball off. Opposing defenses know that, so they key on the running backs and stack the box when we're in those spread formations.

When the Huskers have lined up and run in Wildcat or I-formations, they move the ball pretty well, although you can't just run the Wildcat all of the time. Why Watson hasn't used utilized the I more, I can't say (other than he really really wants that spread offense to work).

JJ: Or maybe Colorado stole our offensive mojo because in the last two weeks, the Buffs have scored 78 points in the past two weeks. What's going on with your offense - what change happened and who are the playmakers?

I have no other explanation than this is a different team without Dan Hawkins. Every facet of this team has improved (penalties, turnovers, third down conversions, running game) except for special teams play. Now, are Iowa State and Kansas State world beaters on defense? Absolutely not, but for the most part, Colorado did whatever they wanted against them.

Offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau looks like a different coach to a point where people would probably welcome him back next year. He has brought a little of that Boise State offense/creativity to the team that we never got with Hawkins. He ran the wildcat for the first time this year to perfection against Kansas State, had a HB pass for a score and most important, has gotten the ball into the playmakers hands.

The strength of this unit is running the ball and Rodney Stewart with the offensive line has not disappointed. Fresh off a 195 yard performance against the Wildcats, Stewart now ranks second in the Big 12 in rushing. What makes this even more impressive is, for the most part, the 5'8" running back is the only true ball carrier so he is carrying the entire load.

Also, true freshman WR Paul Richardson has emerged as one of the more explosive players the Buffs have had in a long, long time. Only really playing in five games this year, Richardson has five scores and just under 500 yards receiving. He is the big play threat Colorado has been missing.

Can't leave out QB Cody Hawkins either. The much maligned signal caller has been lights out the last three weeks. Even with all the distractions, Hawkins has thrown for 790 yards and nine scores the last three games. The offensive line has given him time to make plays and he has responded.

But I don't think the Buffs will have that much success against one of the more impressive defenses in the country. You look at the game by games for the ninth ranked defense in the nation and have to be impressed with how they have controlled the opposition's offense.

RR: What makes this defense special and is their any potential weaknesses for Colorado to potentially exploit?

I realize it sounds cheesy, but Bo Pelini is what makes it special. He may be a screaming, angry nutball Italian at times, but he understands defense, and has surrounded himself with a good set of coaches.

As for the players - Nebraska has good defensive backs coming out of their ears. Prince Amukamara is known to be as good a corner as any in the country, and Alfonzo Dennard may be better.  That depth allows the Huskers to blanket a set of receivers, shutting down a passing game.

The defensive line is good, not great, and if there's a weakness, there it is. Colorado will need to mix it up, though, Pelini will adjust to take away the run if the passing game has been shut down. Still, I guess if our offense can't score much, there it is.

JJ: It's a huge game come Friday and both teams would love for nothing more than to ruin the other's season. What do you think will happen?

Tons of intrigue surrounding this one considering what happened last weekend with Bo Pelini/Carl Pelini/Taylor Martinez and Brian Cabral rolling off two wins in a row. If the Buffs win, they go bowling and if Nebraska wins, Big 12 championship.

How Nebraska responds will be interesting. Will it be a buzzsaw for the Buffs or a golden opportunity to win the Big 12 finale against a top team? Great drama, the way it should be for these two teams this year.

Colorado hasn't won on the road since 2007 but this is a different team under Cabral. A couple years ago, Colorado easily could have won in Lincoln if it wasn't for a 57 yard Alex Henery field goal. I think Nebraska's offense is sputtering and they may be lacking some confidence. This should be a low scoring game but I think the Buffs are playing a little better right now so I am going with Colorado to upset the Huskers in Lincoln.

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