Saturday, Sept. 24
3:30 p.m. ET, ABC (ESPN2 mirror in outer markets)
Ohio Stadium; Columbus
Head coach: Jon Embree, 1-2, first year
2010 record: 5-7 (2-6 Big 12 North, fifth place)
Series mark: Ohio State leads 3-1
School location: Boulder, Colo.
Colors: Black, Gold and Silver
Stadium: Folsom Field
Fight song: "Fight CU"
For much of its history, Colorado football has been a successful program – one of the best in the nation, in fact.
The Buffaloes captured shares of 13 conference titles from 1909-44, then went the entire decade of the '50s without a losing season. Colorado was then up and down through the next few decades until Bill McCartney arrived in 1982.
After a rough start, McCartney put together a dominant run, going 58-11-4 from 1989-94 and capturing the 1990 national championship. Rick Neuheisel and Gary Barnett followed with largely successful stints, including 10-win seasons in 1995, '96 and 2001.
However, the program has hit a slide in recent years. Barnett was forced out after a 2005 regular season in which the team went 7-5, and he was succeeded by the disastrous reign of Dan Hawkins, who made more headlines with his rants than the play of his team. After Hawkins went 19-39 in four-plus seasons, he was fired nine games into the 2010 season.
In an effort to turn things around, Colorado has turned to former Buffaloes receiver Jon Embree. A one-time OSU recruit, Embree began his coaching career at CU in 1991 before stints with UCLA and the Kansas City Chiefs. Embree was the tight ends coach for the Washington Redskins in 2010 before taking the Colorado job.
"I love the guy," quarterback Tyler Hansen said. "I'll go out there and do whatever I need to do for the guy. I think he does a great job motivating us to go play."
The team is showing some signs of turning things around. The Buffaloes were beaten handily in week one against Hawaii then dropped an overtime contest to Cal in the in the home opener a week later.
Finally, Colorado got the first win of the Embree era on Sept. 17, and it came in a rivalry game. The Buffaloes came back from an early deficit to post a 28-14 victory against Colorado State in the Rocky Mountain Showdown played in the home of the Denver Broncos.
"It feels great," Embree said. "My first win as a player was against these guys so to do it as a coach means a lot. I underestimated a little bit on how much last week's loss hurt us. We didn't quite have the same kind of juice as we had in our first two games. We are a team that has to play on passion and emotion."
Colorado will have to bring that emotion to Ohio Stadium to emerge with a second straight win. The Buffaloes have lost 18 straight road games, a school record, and despite boasting 28 seniors – the most at CU since 1987 – the team has committed 29 penalties in three games.
Offense In A Nutshell
Colorado's offensive has been explosive so far under first-year coordinator Eric Bieniemy, the school's all-time leading rusher. He has installed a pro-style offense, and in the last two games against Cal and Colorado State, Colorado has averaged 31.5 points and 471.0 yards per game.
Much of that damage has been through the air behind quarterback Tyler Hansen, a senior captain. Hansen has started games in each of his four years at Colorado, and he's off to a solid start in 2010, completing 61 of 111 passes (55.0 percent) for 912 yards, seven touchdowns and only one interception. He had a career day vs. Cal, throwing for a school-record 474 yards and three touchdowns. He also can move around, as evidenced by the fact that he had two rushing touchdowns against Colorado State.
Hansen has one top target in Paul Richardson. After snagging 34 passes a year ago, the sophomore has been excellent, pulling in 18 catches for 360 yards and four touchdowns. He had school-record totals of 11 catches for 284 yards vs. Cal, but he also struggled with drops against Colorado State.
The Buffaloes are still looking for a second target to emerge consistently, but Toney Clemons showed be might be that guy, emerging from Embree's doghouse to catch three passes for 65 yards and a 44-yard touchdown pass on a play-action call against Colorado State. Two other wide receivers, senior Kyle Cefalo and freshman Tyler McCullouch, also have four catches on the year.
Colorado also has a solid receiving option at tight end in senior Ryan Deehan, a 6-4, 245-pounder who has pulled in seven catches for 86 yards and a touchdown.
Tailback Rodney Stewart has helped out the passing attack, hauling in 18 passes – including a number of screens – for 277 yards and a score. A Westerville, Ohio, native who went to Columbus Brookhaven, Stewart has also paced the Buffaloes rushing attack. The quick, diminutive back has been the bell cow of the team's offense, rushing 61 times for 223 yards on the year.
The Buffaloes have struggled with injuries on the offensive line, and the team is missing a number of starters for the Ohio State game. The latest to go down is center Daniel Munyer, who suffered a sprained ankle vs. Colorado State and is listed as questionable. He will be replaced by sophomore Gus Handler, who has no career starts.
The tackle spot has also been hit by injury as David Bahktiari and Jack Harris are out. Probable starters include junior Ryan Dannewitz, freshman Alexander Lewis and senior Sione Tau. The guard spots are manned by senior Ethan Adkins (left side) and senior captain Ryan Miller (right guard), a five-time letterman with 38 career starts.
QB 9 Tyler Hansen, 6-1, 215
HB 5 Rodney Stewart, 5-6, 175
FB 49 Evan Harrington, 5-11, 230
WR 17 Toney Clemons, 6-2, 210
WR 6 Paul Richardson, 6-1, 175
TE 34 Ryan Deehan, 6-5, 245
LT 53 Ryan Dannewitz, 6-6, 295
LG 63 Ethan Adkins, 6-4, 290
C 76 Gus Handler, 6-3, 290
RG 73 Ryan Miller, 6-8, 295
RT 79 Sione Tau, 6-5, 335
PK 91 Will Oliver, 5-10, 195
KOR 20 Brian Lockridge, 5-7, 180/26 Tony Jones, 5-7, 175
Defense In A Nutshell
Colorado is still looking to shore up its defense through three games, but there were encouraging signs after the team kept Colorado State to 243 total yards. As a whole, the Buffaloes are fourth in the Pac-10 in total defense (318.7 yards per game) and fifth in rushing defense (110.7 yards), but they are also eighth in both passing efficiency defense (130.53 rating) and scoring defense (28.0 points)
The Buffaloes' depth chart describes the defense as a 3-4 set, and the top defensive lineman is junior Will Pericak. The end has started 27 consecutive games and came into the season as a preseason All-Pac-12 pick. So far, he has five tackles and has blocked a kick.
On the other side, Chidera Uzo-Diribe has moved into the starting lineup, and he has made five tackles with a forced fumble and leads the team with 2½ sacks in his sophomore campaign. Fifth-year senior Conrad Obi mans the nose tackle position. Obi has four tackles thus far on the campaign along with a fumble recovery.
The leading tackler among the linebackers is Douglas Rippy, a Columbus native and Trotwood-Madison product who will be making a homecoming to central Ohio. The junior middle linebacker is making the most of his first season as a starter, compiling 17 tackles, 1½ sacks and another tackle for loss. The other starter on the inside is sophomore Darrick Webb, who has nine tacklers. His backup, senior Patrick Mahnke has a sack on the year.
Major is one of two defensive captains, and he mans the strongside linebacker spot. A preseason All-Pac-12 choice, the junior has made 12 stops with a sack thus far. The other outside linebacker, known as the Jack in Colorado's terminology, is fifth-year senior Josh Hartigan. Hartigan is having an impactful final campaign, making 14 tackles and two sacks.
Colorado has been banged up at cornerback, and that was even before losing senior starter Travis Sandersfeld to a fractured fibula in practice. Sophomore Parker Orms starts at the right cornerback spot and leads the team with 20 tackles thus far. He also has a sack and two pass breakups.
Strong safety Anthony Perkins is the second defensive captain. The fifth-year senior has started in parts of each of the past four years, and this year he's tallied 11 tackles. Junior free safety Ray Polk, a second-year starter, also has 13 tackles but is yet to be involved in a turnover in his career.
LDE 83 Will Pericak, 6-4, 285
NT 93 Conrad Obi, 6-3, 290
RDE 9 Chidera Uzo-Diribe, 6-3, 240
OLB 17 Jack Hartigan, 6-1, 230
MLB 3 Douglas Rippy, 6-3, 230
WLB 5 Derrick Webb, 6-0, 220
SLB 31 Jon Major, 6-2, 230
LCB 13 Parker Orms, 5-11, 190
FS 26 Ray Polk, 6-1, 205
SS 7 Anthony Perkins, 5-10, 200
RCB 20 Greg Henderson, 5-11, 185
P 8 Darragh O'Neill, 6-2, 180
PR 6 Paul Richardson, 6-1, 175
Five Fast Facts
1. Colorado's special teams are both up and down. Punter Darragh O'Neill averages 45.9 yards per punt and kicker Will Oliver is 5 for 5 with a 52-yarder, but the team is last in the nation in kickoff return average, has booted a few kickoffs out of bounds and has suffered a blocked punt.
2. Colorado has won only 22 games over the last five-plus seasons, but in nine of those games, the Buffs rallied from 10 or more points down, including three in 2009.
3. The Buffaloes are 70-31-1 in their last 102 games against schools that include the word "State," dating back to 1986.
4. Colorado played fellow league member Cal on Sept. 10, but the game was not a conference game. The two schools had a contract to play one another signed before CU's move into the conference and chose to keep the game on the schedule, playing it as a nonleague contest.
5. While this year's Colorado roster has some Ohio flavor, the Buffaloes have also boasted all-conference performers Mike Montler (offensive lineman, Columbus, 1967-68), Don Hasselbeck (tight end, Cincinnati, 1975-76) and Ben Kelly (cornerback/returner, Cleveland, 1999) from the Buckeye State.
Last Time Out
Ohio State captured by its last contest with Colorado by the skin of its teeth – or the margin between an Ohio Stadium crossbar and pigskin.
Freshman kicker Pat O'Morrow pushed a 19-yard field goal just over the bar with 25 seconds left to give the Buckeyes a 13-10 victory over the Buffaloes on Sept. 20, 1986.
"I didn't think I kicked the ball as well as I should have," O'Morrow said afterward. "I hit the ball low and it was over-rotating. I was trying to get height on it. I knew it would have the distance. I did look up at the ball afterwards. I know kickers are not supposed to do that, but after I hit it, I knew it was through the posts."
O'Morrow had previously missed a 31-yard try in the fourth quarter but also made a 29-yarder on the Buckeyes' first drive. However, the winner was one he likely still remembers 25 years later.
"It was a great feeling," he said. "I was still shaking when I was in the locker room. I couldn't believe I did this."
O'Morrow's game-winning field goal was the conclusion of a 13-play, 78-yard drive. Big plays on the possession included a 16-yard pass from Jim Karsatos to Cris Carter that got the ball into Colorado territory and a pass interference call on third-and-11 at the 23 that got the Buckeyes down to Buffs' 8-yard line.
The win was OSU's first of the year after the Buckeyes started out with a close loss to Alabama at the Kickoff Classic in East Rutherford, N.J., and a blowout loss at Washington.
"Every ‘W' is daggone important," OSU head coach Earle Bruce bellowed. "Every win is important. I mean, you've got to get over the hump. We've got to come back. When you lose, the next time it's not easy to win. It's tough to win. You just have to pay the price. I'm just happy that we were able to put through that last drive and put the ball between the uprights for a three-point victory."
Neither team had much in the way of offense as the Buffaloes, who ran the wishbone, outgained OSU by a taut 235-233 margin. Included were just 115 rushing yards on 43 tries for the Buckeyes, who were led in that arena by Vince Workman's 72 yards on 28 rushes.
Karsatos finished 11 for 24 for 118 yards, an interception and a touchdown pass. Carter finished with team-high totals of five catches and 57 yards, while Chris Spielman led an OSU defense that had four takeaways with 19 tackles.
OSU took a 3-0 lead on its opening drive, then a defensive slugfest broke out. Ohio State had the better of that, though, stopping Colorado on a fourth-and-goal at the 1 after Karsatos' pick and then firming up on the next possession to force a 37-yard field goal that went wide.
Then, William White picked off one of only six passes by CU quarterback Mark Hatcher in the dying moments of the first half. White got to the Colorado 14, and one play later Karsatos hit Carter for a touchdown that made it 10-0 with only 25 seconds left on the second-quarter clock.
"When I first got it, I saw nothing but the sidelines," White said. "I could have scored but I wanted to let Cris have it."
However, Colorado got back in the game in the second half. Dave DeLine hit a 37-yard field goal with 42 seconds left in the third quarter, then the Buffaloes took the ball 80 yards after O'Morrow's missed field goal to tie the game with 5:21 left on a 19-yard scoring pass from Hatcher to Lance Carl.
All that happened to do was set up O'Morrow's redemption in the final seconds.
"We'll take that win," Bruce said after the 599th victory in school history. "It was a tough one."