SAN ANTONIO, TX – The Colorado Buffaloes are looking to cap an incredible season with their first bowl game victory since 2004. Their opponents, the Oklahoma State Cowboys, in the Alamo Bowl, are hoping to pull off their seventh bowl game victory in their 11th consecutive appearance. Both teams are coming off of significant losses to conference opponents, as the Buffaloes were brutally blown out by Washington in the Pac-12 Championship and the Cowboys dropped a close one to rival Oklahoma.
Colorado’s defense has been dominant all season, boasting a shutdown secondary and disruptive defensive line. The Buffs’ offense houses a trio of dangerous wideouts, a reliable run game and a tremendous amount of leadership in quarterback Sefo Liufau. Colorado is capable of controlling both sides of the football, and coming away with a win to finish out their historic season.
Colorado’s secondary has to shut down the aerial attack.
The Buffs’ defensive backs will once again be tasked with containing a talented group of wideouts. Junior James Washington, sophomore Jalen McCleskey and senior Jhajuan Seales each poses a unique threat as an offensive weapon for the Cowboys. Washington has tallied 1,209 yards and nine touchdowns; McKleskey has 762 yards and seven touchdowns and Seales 572 yards and three touchdowns. They are an incredibly capable group of receivers, capable of serious damage with quarterback Mason Rudolph at the helm.
Unfortunately for the Cowboys, they’re throwing at one of the best secondary units in all of college football. Defensive backs Chidobe Awuzie, Tedric Thompson, Akhello Witherspoon and Afolabi Laguda, have played shut down all season. Thompson and Witherspoon sit atop the NCAA with 22 total passes defended a piece, averaging 1.7 per game each in 2016. The Cowboys have an excellent offense, but the Buffaloes have a better defense. The secondary should come away with a few big plays that help propel Colorado.
The Buffs’ defensive line needs to contain the run from the beginning.
Each time the Buffaloes fell this season, they were scorched by the opponents’ run game. The Buffs allowed 265 rushing yards against Washington, 186 against USC and 168 against Michigan in their respective losses. This week, Colorado needs to contain an improved Cowboys’ run game, led by breakout freshman Justice Hill and senior Chris Carson. Hill has already surpassed the 1,000-yard mark this season and found the end zone five times. Carson has established himself as a red zone threat, rushing for eight touchdowns.
Colorado has to find a way to stop the run game. The defensive line, strengthened by Jimmie Gilbert, Josh Tupou, Kenneth Olugbode and Rick Gamboa will be crucial to the Buffs’ success on Thursday night. If they can contain the run and force Rudolph to challenge the stingy Colorado secondary, the Buffs should be in good shape.
Colorado’s offense needs to improve ball protection and get points on the board.
Sefo Liufau and his offense have to protect the football better than they did versus Washington. Oklahoma State’s defense has a knack for forcing turnovers, and Liufau has to be more careful than he was during his three-interception performance in the Pac-12 Championship game. Oklahoma State has a high-powered, high-scoring offense, and the Buffs need to match their momentum. Colorado has proven that they are capable of an explosive offense, but they were mostly stifled against Washington. Receivers Bryce Bobo, Shay Fields and Devin Ross were all held out of the end zone against Washington, an issue that has to be overcome against the Cowboys. Getting the trio of Colorado wideouts involved early and often, and the run game with Phillip Lindsay going will give the Buffs’ the best shot at evening the offensive playing field.
Colorado’s offense will be able to lean on their defense, as they have all season. The Buffs’ secondary should force a few mistakes out of Rudolph and his wideouts, allowing the offense the chance to keep up. Oklahoma State holds an offensive advantage, while the Buffs undoubtedly house the superior defense.
This is it for the Colorado Buffaloes: the big state, the big stage, everything that they have fought for all season. Head coach Mike MacIntyre said of the Pac-12 Championship loss, “I hope they still have a little bit of that in their gut. Because I imagine that Oklahoma State has a little bit of their Oklahoma game in their gut.” Both teams are fighting to end their season the right way. But if the Colorado Buffaloes take care of their keys, their historic rise from the NCAA basement should have a definite conclusion Thursday night.