Buffaloes looking to avoid early stumbles

Colorado couldn't have started 2009 much worse. First came the season-opening loss to in-state rival and Mountain West member Colorado State. The Buffaloes let their in-state rivals score the game's first 17 points and made the final 23-17 score respectable with a touchdown in the final two minutes.

A week later, on a national stage, Colorado went to Toledo and fell behind 30-3 and 54-24 in the second half before losing 54-38.

The plan this time around: Don't do that.

The best way to avoid it: Get Rodney Stewart and the running game rolling.

"We did not run the ball well against Colorado State last year, to be sure," said coach Dan Hawkins.

The Buffaloes' running backs finished with just 68 yards on 16 carries. That will have to change, whether the offensive line can do it or quarterback Tyler Hansen can use his new receivers to relax the defense and open up lanes for his runners.

At least now they'll avoid the short week by facing Colorado State on Sunday and Toledo on Friday. This year, the game at Invesco Field against the Rams is on Saturday before the team travels to Berkley, Calif., to face future conference mate California.

Hawkins points to defensive changes as the reason for the early struggles last season.

"I think it took us a while to settle in that way," he said. "I think we’re just a little more acquainted with what we’re trying to do and have guys that have done that. I think experience is a big factor there."

Colorado State's top two running backs rushed for 151 yards on 34 carries. The problems against Toledo spread to the passing game.

"We had some huge gasher plays. I think momentum was not in our favor for sure the first couple games, and I think that dented us a little bit," Hawkins said.

Toledo's top two running backs helped the offense rack up 624 yards of total offense, rushing for 269 yards on just 28 carries. Rockets quarterback Aaron Opelt needed just 15 completions to reach 319 yards, and threw four touchdowns with no interceptions.

This year, one of Colorado's strengths should be the secondary, with a pair of corners who possess NFL potenttial in Jimmy Smith and Jalil Brown, as well as experienced junior safety Anthony Perkins, who led the team with 77 tackles last season.

Though the biggest hope for the Buffaloes is quarterback Tyler Hansen, who didn't play until the conference season last year.

"You have a couple breaks go your way and just had some momentum issues. In the Colorado State game, we started coming back a little bit and then we had kind of a bang-bang play and instead of a big play for us, it ended up being a turnover for them," Hawkins said.

This year, the Buffaloes hope those plays go their way with Hansen under center. They'll need them too. After Colorado State and Cal, the schedule doesn't get any easier with Hawaii and top 25 SEC foe Georgia ready to invade Folsom Field in Boulder.