NCF Nation: Beau Johnson
November, 19, 2009
By Tim Griffin | ESPN.com
Here are some things I'll be watching when Colorado travels to Oklahoma State for tonight's game (ESPN, 7:30 p.m. ET).
What I'm looking for from Oklahoma State:
What I'm looking for from Oklahoma State:
- Will Zac Robinson be ready to play? Only five days after a vicious head-to-head shot from Texas Tech defensive back Jamar Wall, Robinson’s condition is questionable coming into tonight’s game. Robinson has displayed a lot of toughness and moxie over his career and undoubtedly would like to play on his Senior Night. But the Cowboys likely won’t need him to beat the struggling Buffaloes. Backup Alex Cate would be ready to play if needed and the Cowboys have a consistent running game keyed by Keith Toston, Kendall Hunter and Beau Johnson to carry the team. It might not be really fancy, but that ground game could take a lot of pressure of a first-time starting quarterback -- if it was needed.
- Oklahoma State’s shot at the national spotlight: Tonight’s game provides the Cowboys and the Big 12 with a rare shot at Thursday night exposure. And a big performance is important as OSU attempts to prove its worthiness for the first BCS at-large berth in school history. If the 8-2 Cowboys can beat Colorado tonight and then defeat Oklahoma in Norman next week, their argument for an at-large berth would be strong. But in order to cement those hopes and likely make a trip to the Fiesta Bowl, Mike Gundy’s team needs a strong performance.
- Bill Young’s emerging OSU defense: Oklahoma State’s defense under veteran coordinator Bill Young has really made strides in recent weeks. The Cowboys will attempt to handcuff a Colorado offense that has sputtered with the exception of wide receiver Markques Simas, who has produced 14 catches in his last two games. All-Big 12 candidate Perrish Cox, the Big 12’s current defensive player of the week, will get the first shot at stopping Simas. It should be an intriguing battle between an emerging receiver and one of the nation’s most underrated lockdown cornerbacks.
- The play from streaky quarterback Tyler Hansen: Colorado's starting sophomore quarterback appeared to be headed for a redshirt season earlier this year as he rode the bench behind Cody Hawkins. But Hansen got the call midway through the season and has been alternately strong and struggling. He provides the Buffaloes more of a run-pass option than Hawkins and his teammates appear to gravitate to his inspirational leadership. But he’s thrown more interceptions (four) than touchdowns (three) and will likely face a huge amount of pressure from the underrated OSU defensive front.
- Can Colorado get anything from its offense? The Buffaloes have sputtered all season long, ranking 105th in total offense, 112th in rushing and 94th in scoring. They will need to produce something from their running game, particularly fumble-prone starter Rodney "Speedy" Stewart to keep OSU honest. And nothing from the past few weeks is indicative they will be able to do that. If they don’t start fast, this one could turn ugly for the Buffaloes.
- How Dan Hawkins approaches the game: With speculation swirling about potential replacements, the Colorado coach is coaching to keep his job. His teams have been one of the most penalized groups in the country, ranking 119th among the 120 FBS teams. He even had members of his operations staff dress in striped shirts at practice throwing penalty flags. The Buffaloes are at a huge competitive disadvantage as they try to stem a 10-game road losing streak against a team that is fighting for a spot in the BCS. The Buffaloes are the only team in the conference to already be eliminated from bowl contention. It will be a massive coaching effort to keep this group involved if they have some early problems. Can Hawkins keep his team close in the game? We’ll have to see.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
- Texas A&M's defense is improved, but still untested. It would be hard to imagine a more valuable player for them than hybrid linebacker/defensive end Von Miller, who has produced a nation-leading eight sacks after three games. The Aggies lead the nation with 14 sacks after producing 16 in 12 games last season. Despite that strong early start, the A&M defense will get a heavy dose of reality Saturday when they face Ryan Mallett and Arkansas in Arlington, Texas, their toughest challenge to date.
- Mike Leach's inexplicable gamble. It was obvious that the hot, humid conditions at Robertson Stadium contributed greatly to the problem with cramping for both Houston and Texas Tech Saturday night. But those sticky conditions still can’t explain the brain cramp that Leach suffered when he passed on a field goal that would have given his team an eight-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. That decision went against all conventional wisdom because it would have forced the Cougars to score a touchdown and a two-point conversion to merely tie the game. Leach’s red-zone hubris ended up costing the Red Raiders the game.
- Oklahoma State has the Big 12's deepest collection of backs. The development of Oklahoma State freshman running back Jeremy Smith underscores that Cowboys might have the best collection of productive players at that position in the conference. With 2008 leading rusher Kendall Hunter hobbling, Keith Toston rushed for 84 yards and three touchdowns in the first half. And then Smith produced a school freshman record total of 160 rushing yards in the second half. Throw in Beau Johnson and you have a collection of talent that most other schools will be challenged to match once Hunter is healthy.
- Kansas' defense made a statement with its late stand: For all of the talk about Kansas’ explosive offense, the Jayhawks needed a big defensive effort against Southern Mississippi. And despite some early struggles, the Jayhawks' defense came up big as it turned the Golden Eagles away without scoring on four-straight possessions to salt away the victory. Southern Mississippi was limited to 32 yards on 22 offensive plays in the fourth quarter as the Jayhawks produced three-and-outs in two of the final three drives and allowed one first down on the other drive. The late stand is something for co-coordinators Clint Bowen and Bill Miller to build confidence as they head into conference play.
- "The Sea of Red" remains constant. How about a shout-out to the Nebraska fans, who packed Memorial Stadium for their 300th consecutive sellout Saturday night? The streak has stretched from Kennedy to Obama, withstanding recessions and even the Steve Pederson/Bill Callahan era. The record crowd that jammed the old stadium Saturday night witnessed a vintage performance by the Blackshirts in a 55-0 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette. If the Cornhuskers can keep playing like that, the legions of Nebraska fans could be treated to their second championship-game trip of this decade after making three visits in the first four seasons of the Big 12. And that kind of throwback would be a lot more enjoyable to them than any 1960s vintage uniform the Nebraska athletic department might be selling.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
After struggling through one of my worst weeks in recent history, I'm hoping for a turnaround in these picks.
Here they are.
Kansas 41, Duke 17: The Jayhawks have too many offensive weapons and an improved defense with a knack of making big plays. Jake Sharp and Toben Opurum provide an emerging 1-2 weapon at running back and Dezmon Briscoe will juice production in the passing game with Todd Reesing as he becomes more comfortable in the offense. Duke coach David Cutcliffe will likely alternate Sean Renfree and Thaddeus Lewis at quarterback. Both will likely struggle against an emerging Kansas defensive front that has produced nine sacks in its first two games.
Missouri 45, Furman 6: Look for the Tigers to jump on their FCS opponent quickly, hoping to make amends after last week’s closer-than-expected victory over Bowling Green. Blaine Gabbert regressed in his second start, but should be ready to show improvement this week. If they can find the edge exhibited against Illinois, this one won’t be close for very long.
Colorado 24, Wyoming 21: It can’t get any worse for Dan Hawkins and the Buffaloes, can it? If they lose this one, it will. Despite the struggles stopping big plays and operating the offense in losses against Colorado State and Toledo, the Buffaloes will rebound. Even though the Cowboys turned the heat up on Texas last week and Dave Christensen had his way against the Buffaloes when he was offensive coordinator at Missouri -- he outscored Colorado by a combined 113-10 margin last season -- it won’t be that easy this time. The Buffaloes will rebound and win a gritty game that won’t be very spectator friendly.
Oklahoma 38, Tulsa 17: Landry Jones makes his second career start against Tulsa, an underrated program under Todd Graham that will be itching to earn some national revenge against their “big brothers” from across the state. This should be a good matchup between the Golden Hurricane, who led the nation in total offense each of the past two seasons, and the salty Oklahoma defense. Sooners coaches are familiar with Tulsa quarterback G.J. Kinne, who they tried to recruit as a linebacker. Even without Sam Bradford, the Sooners still should have enough offense to win.
Virginia Tech 28, Nebraska 21: Nebraska quarterback Zac Lee will be looking to stop the Hokies’ 31-game home nonconference winning streak in his first career road start. There might be tougher first-game assignments in college football, but I don’t know of many. Lee leads the conference in pass efficiency, but will be stepping up in class when he faces the active Virginia Tech defense. Ryan Williams and fellow freshman David Wilson both rushed for more than 160 yards last week and the Hokies will be looking to set the tempo by using them. Still, the Cornhuskers might make this one closer than expected with a strong pass rush against Tyrod Taylor and if they can stay away from special-teams mistakes.
Baylor 31, Connecticut 21: The Bears will be gunning for their second straight conquest over an opponent from a BCS-affiliated conference against Connecticut, which beat them in Storrs last season. But this is a different Baylor team, which has had a bye week to settle down after an upset victory over Wake Forest in its opener. Backup quarterback Cody Endres steps in as Connecticut’s starter after Zach Frazer was hurt last week against North Carolina. One item to watch will be how Baylor’s young Canadian tackles Danny Watkins and Phillip Blake will handle Lindsay Witten, who leads the Big East in sacks.
Kent State 24, Iowa State 21: Paul Rhoads will try to halt the Cyclones’ nation-worst 17-game road losing streak. Iowa State quarterback Austen Arnaud will be trying to rebound after throwing four interceptions in the Cyclones’ 35-3 loss last week to Iowa. Look for Giorgio Morgan and Eugene Jarvis to share snaps for the Golden Flashes, who ranked 96th or worse in each of the four major offensive statistical categories. In the end, this one might be settled by which of two of the nation’s worst turnover margin teams -- Kent State is 94th and Iowa State is 108th -- does the better job of protecting the ball.
Texas A&M 38, Utah State 10: Texas A&M hopes to build on a strong opening-game performance against New Mexico where the offense and defense were both productive in a 41-6 victory. Jerrod Johnson looked more comfortable starting his second season as quarterback and the Aggies showed strong skill players. The defense, while still not at the “Wrecking Crew” standards of the past, had a strong effort with five sacks keyed by three from Von Miller. Utah State was challenging for Utah, but likely doesn’t have the firepower to stay close to the rejuvenated A&M attack for long in this game.
Oklahoma State 45, Rice 17: The Cowboys are intent on rebounding after last week’s disappointing home loss to Houston. They likely will play without Big 12 leading rusher Kendall Hunter, but backups Beau Johnson and Keith Toston averaged nearly 8 yards per carry against Houston. The Cowboys gave up more yardage in the first half last week than against Georgia in the previous week. They shouldn’t face much of a challenge from Rice, which is rebuilding from last season’s 10-win team. Coach David Bailiff alternated among three quarterbacks last week and could do the same against an Oklahoma State defense that will be intent on improvement this week.
Texas 54, Texas Tech 31: Even though they claim otherwise, rest assured the Longhorns have been awaiting this rematch ever since their 39-33 loss in Lubbock last season. They should have the upper hand in this one because their secondary is a year more experienced and this will be Texas Tech quarterback Taylor Potts’ first road game as a starter. The Longhorns looked lethargic in the first half last week at Wyoming, but blew the game by scoring 28 unanswered points in the second half. It won’t be that easy this week against Potts and the Red Raiders, but look for the Longhorns’ offense to produce similar late success.
UCLA 21, Kansas State 10: This one figures to be a low scoring game as the Wildcats have sputtered offensively and UCLA will be playing without starting quarterback Kevin Prince, who sustained a broken jaw late in the Bruins’ victory at Tennessee. Look for both teams to try to take control on the ground with UCLA employing Johnathan Franklin and Kansas State countering with Big 12 rushing leader Daniel Thomas. The Wildcats have also struggled mightily with special teams in their first two games and must improve for any upset hopes. But the UCLA defense is too formidable, winning this one as they pick up the slack for an offense missing Prince.
Last week: 7-3 (70 percent)
For the season: 16-6 (72.7 percent)
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
1. Texas: The Longhorns could afford to sleepwalk through the first half against a team like Wyoming, but they won’t be that fortunate once Big 12 play begins. Tre’ Newton looks like he could be the featured back they are looking for. The biggest concern after two weeks has to be the offensive line developing as finishers after early struggles.
2. Oklahoma: Sure, it was against Idaho State, but the Sooners’ performance was exactly what was needed to restore some confidence. Kevin Wilson didn’t simplify the offense too much for Landry Jones and the personnel changes in the offensive line resulted in a better performance. The Sooners’ defensive effort was outstanding as Idaho State didn’t advance past Oklahoma’s 49. And the best news is that Sam Bradford is a week closer to returning to the lineup.
3. Oklahoma State: Chalk up the Houston game as a tough learning experience. Zac Robinson just doesn’t look right to me compared to his early-career performances. The defense couldn’t keep up with Case Keenum and yielded too many big plays. The schedule turns soft the next couple of weeks, meaning Kendall Hunter can take his time returning to the lineup -- particularly with Keith Toston and Beau Johnson playing as well as they did on Saturday.
4. Kansas: Where did that defensive performance against UTEP come from? Even the late touchdown by the Miners doesn’t diminish the strong effort, particularly the rushing defense and pass rush.
5. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers have handled everything thrown their way in the first two games and are ready for the challenge of Virginia Tech. A quick start put the Arkansas State game away early. Zac Lee is exceeding expectations. But despite allowing only 12 points this season, Nebraska’s defense looks inconsistent and spotty. But the Cornhuskers have won six straight games -- their longest streak since winning 13 in a row during 2000-01.
6. Texas Tech: After a slow start in the first half against Rice, the Red Raiders boat-raced the Owls as they scored on six straight possessions. Taylor Potts’ big night helps give him the confidence he’ll need to prepare for the first road trip as a starter at Texas. The defense had a balanced performance with six sacks, eight other tackles for losses and 12 pass deflections. But they’ll be tested in Austin, where Mike Leach is 0-4 and his teams have allowed an average of 49 points per game to the Longhorns.
7. Missouri: Hold off on those comparisons between John Elway and Blaine Gabbert just yet. Gabbert looked like a second-game college starting quarterback against pesky Bowling Green before the Tigers’ comeback from a 14-point deficit late in the third quarter. But despite not playing their best, Missouri still found a way to win. One of the main reasons was that offensive coordinator David Yost still had faith in his running game even when behind.
8. Baylor: The Bears took the week off after their impressive victory at Wake Forest. But it won’t be any easier as they try to maintain those high expectations against a Connecticut team still stewing after its close loss to North Carolina on Saturday. Baylor should have plenty of confidence for the Huskies after their near miss on the road last season.
9. Texas A&M: I bet Mike Sherman probably wished he was playing somebody on Saturday after the first-week triumph. Instead, the Aggies took the weak off to prepare for this week’s game against Utah State. They had a strong outing that arguably was the Big 12’s most complete game of the first week. They shouldn’t be challenged much by Utah State.
10. Kansas State: Is Bill Snyder really up for five more years of this job? After losing to Louisiana-Lafayette the day after his new contract was announced, he might have some doubts. Daniel Thomas played as advertised as a running/passing/receiving threat and the Wildcats showed some resiliency to put themselves into position for the comeback against the Ragin’ Cajuns. But inconsistent quarterback play and too many special-teams mistakes paved the way for their eventual upset loss.
11. Iowa State: Paul Rhoads’ early onside kick turned the momentum of the game around and left himself open for a lot of second-guessing after the loss to Iowa. But that was only part of the problem. Austen Arnaud had four interceptions during a turnover binge that marked the spotty execution of the Cyclones’ offensive efforts. Despite a 32-point loss, the Cyclones’ defense played much better than the offense. And it won’t get any easier as the Cyclones will try to halt a nation-worst 17-game losing streak at Kent State.
12. Colorado: It can’t get much worse to start the season for the Buffaloes, who dropped two games to schools from outside BCS conferences and allowed 1,000 yards on defense to boot. The Buffaloes’ embarrassing defensive efforts have them ranked in the bottom 10 teams nationally in rushing defense, pass efficiency defense and total defense. And a rushing game that was thought to be the team's biggest strength ranks only 109th nationally.