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September 26, 2013

First Look: Colorado

Ten days ago, the farthest thing from Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre's mind was playing a football game.

Instead, he was preoccupied, just like everybody else in the Boulder, Colo. area, with assisting his family and players in salvaging their personal belongings from the devastating floods that roared through the region caused by record rainfall (over 21 inches in a single week!).

The Buffaloes were ready to host Fresno State on September 14 when the players were told about 24 hours before kickoff on Friday the 13th (hey, you can't make this stuff up) as they walked off the practice field that the game was postponed due to the severe and widespread flooding.

Colorado hasn't played a football game since that point, although they scrimmaged a couple of times during the bye week to keep sharp and stay acclimated to the speed of the game.

Almost three weeks have elapsed since we last saw the Buffaloes in action, a 38-24 victory over Central Arkansas in Boulder. The nonconference win came seven days after Colorado knocked off intrastate rival Colorado State, 41-27, in Denver.

For that reason, MacIntyre's top task in his Pac-12 coaching debut Saturday when Colorado (2-0 for the first time since 2008) squares off with Oregon State at Reser Stadium (12:07 p.m. PT, Pac-12 networks) is knocking the collective rust off his team.

"Everybody is excited about finally playing a football game again and trying to get back some normalcy," said MacIntyre, one of four new coaches in 2013 yet to lose, earlier this week. "We're playing a very good football team. Mike Riley is an exceptional coach and very well respected in our business, not only as a coach, but as a person. His teams play with unbelievable energy and resiliency."

The last time Colorado had successive Saturdays off during football season? 1963 when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

"It seems like three years ago since we last played," MacIntyre said. "We've been doing everything we can to keep the speed of the game. This is almost like another opening game for us. Hopefully, we'll respond well and play at the speed we want to."

Nobody will be happier than MacIntyre when Saturday's game finally kicks off.

"We had quite a few kids that were displaced and they're in different apartments now," MacIntyre said. "They had to apply for money to get back the things they lost. That was tough on them, but now I think they're back to normal.

"They've had four games and we've had two. So, they might have a little bit of an advantage there. Hopefully, we're a little fresher than they are."

MacIntyre hopes the experience of the past two weeks dealing with the flooding and its aftermath will sharpen his players' focus, and bring the Buffaloes closer together as a team.

"I think it definitely taught a life lesson," MacIntyre said. "Realize how precious things are in life and don't take anything for granted. I have seen that with the team and that it has brought them closer together and keeps them stronger."

The contest, which marks Colorado's first-ever appearance in Corvallis (the schools met twice in Portland in 1931 and 1963) and the first clash between the schools on the gridiron in a quarter century, is highlighted by an anticipated duel between two of the top passing quarterbacks in the country.

Colorado's Connor Woods is fourth nationally in passing yards per game (370.5), two spots below the Beavers' Sean Mannion (401 ypg). Woods threw for 341 yards in the win over Central Arkansas, becoming the first CU quarterback since Joel Klatt in 2003 to pass for over 300 yards in back-to-back games.

His favorite target early in the season has been wide recover Paul Richardson, who was honored as Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week after catching 10 passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns (82 and 75 yards) in the hard-fought victory over Colorado State. In two games, Richardson has 21 receptions for 417 yards and four touchdowns and, along with OSU's Brandin Cooks, is a legitimate Biletnikoff Award candidate.

Richardson, who had 208 receiving yards against Colorado State, is the first receiver in Pac-12 history with consecutive 200-yard receiving games.

"Paul has great speed and he can run by people," MacIntyre said. "He can do double moves and has the ability to make all the catches."

Just like the Beavers, throwing the football has been Colorado's safest offensive option since the Buffaloes are averaging less than three yards per rush - CU has 193 yards on the ground in 71 attempts - and Woods is completing passes at the impressive rate of 68.3 percent (56-of-82).

"I guarantee you that they're hoping to run the ball some more and we're definitely hoping to run the ball some more," MacIntyre said. "Both quarterbacks are good and both teams have some good receivers. Sometimes when it's not clicking, you go to your strength. They'll probably still keep trying to throw it, but I know they'll try to establish the run in some aspects."

MacIntyre said his extensive film review demonstrates the Beavers often utilize screen passes as the hearty substitute for a mediocre running game.

"They throw nine to 10 screens a game, which is a little different," MacIntyre said. "I really believe that's their running game. It's an easy throw to a receiver or running back, catch the ball and run. They've made some big first and second down plays off screens.

"I'm sure if you asked Mike Riley, he would eventually tell you that's part of our running game. Nine or 10 screens is a lot in a football game. It also slows down your pass rush. It's exactly like a handoff, in my opinion."

Oregon State and Colorado are averaging 8.7 and 9.0 yards per pass attempt with passing efficiency ratings above 163.0, while averaging a combined 80.5 points per game.

Defending Oregon State's prolific passing attack, though, is foremost in MacIntyre's mind with kickoff looming on the Oregon State campus. Only Texas A&M (322 combined points in four games) and Indiana (309) have been involved in higher scoring games than the Beavers (305) so far this season.

"They're exceptional on offense with their passing game," said MacIntyre, hired as Colorado coach following three seasons at San Jose State. "Mannion can make every throw and he has only thrown one pick, so there is not a lot of turnovers going on. He's a gunslinger and reads coverages very well.

"Cooks is an excellent receiver, but when you watch the tape, the amazing thing about him is the run after the catch. He is so fast. He's like a running back when he catches the ball. He can make people miss right and left. Mannion and Cooks are the best passing duo in the country. They have a very good passing repertoire."

Another capable Beavers receiver has caught MacIntyre's eye during his film study - Richard Mullaney (22 receptions for 344 yards).

"He didn't play much in the Eastern Washington game and then all of a sudden he appears in the next games and made big play after big play," MacIntyre said. "He does a great job."

Colorado must be fruitful with their man-to-man coverages, MacIntyre said, or Mannion will pick apart the Buffaloes secondary.

"We're going to have to be able to play some man because we're going to have to get up close to them in certain situations," MacIntyre said. "We have to disrupt their routes. Hopefully, we can mix it up enough that it will confuse them a little bit and help us make plays and create some turnovers in the passing game."

The dramatic comeback win at San Diego State, which was preceded by the overtime thriller at Utah, proves Oregon State's resiliency and their ability to battle through adversity, MacIntyre contended.

"They're very resilient. They have playmakers on both sides of the ball," he said. "That's why they've been able to score the points they've been scoring. Their playmakers make plays. They make up ground and are never out of it on any down or distance."

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