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Behind Enemy Lines: Rocky Mountain Showdown

After working through a conference foe (New Mexico) and the FCS squad in Northern Colorado, the Colorado State Rams get to sink their teeth into rival, Colorado during this weekend's Rocky Mountain Showdown in Denver. To preview the game, we are joined by Adam Munsterteiger of Buffstampede.com - the Rivals.com affiliate covering the University of Colorado. Munsterteiger will give us a view Behind Enemy Lines to let us know what the Rams will be facing Saturday afternoon.
Goldandgreennews.com: Has there been any discernible change in culture as the program has gone from Dan Hawkins to Jon Embree? What level of importance does the Colorado-Colorado State series take on from the CU perspective now and how has that changed since Embree's arrival?
Munsterteiger:Jon Embree is trying to change the culture of the program after the Buffaloes suffered five straight losing seasons under Hawkins, but Rome wasn't built in a day - or in CU's case, one off-season. Embree wants the Buffaloes to establish a physical identity on both sides of the ball. He wants the offense to feature a smash-mouth running attack. But, through two games, only six FBS teams have been less effective running the ball, as Colorado ranks 114th in the nation in rushing offense.
Embree has said this week that the CU-CSU game "has always meant" a lot to him and he plans to make sure that all the out-of-state players on the team understand its significance. Embree faced the Rams 11 times as a player and assistant coach at CU.
Goldandgreennews.com: The Colorado defense has given up an average of 35 points per game this season, though they have played some strong offensive squads so far this season. How did Cal and Hawaii choose to attack the Buffs and is the coaching staff seeing some improvement on defense? Who are the playmakers on the Buff defense?
Munsterteiger: Colorado's defense was caught off guard by Hawaii's game plan. Warriors starting quarterback Bryant Moniz only accounted for 47 rushing yards in 2010, but was successful in attacking the Buffs on the ground on Sept. 3. He rushed for a career-high 121 yards and three touchdowns. Last week against Cal, in an overtime thriller, Colorado's defense did give not up a lot of yards but had trouble defending the Bears in the red zone. Cal scored five touchdowns in six red zone chances, whereas CU's offense did not score any touchdowns in four red zone opportunities.
The Buffaloes have quite a few really good players on their defense, but no superstars. Middle linebacker Doug Rippy leads the way with 21 tackles through two games, and sophomore defensive end Chidera Uzo-Diribe has recorded two-and-a-half sacks and one forced fumble. Four former Colorado prep stars - linebacker Jon Major, safety Anthony Perkins, defensive tackle Will Pericak and cornerback Parker Orms - are also important members of CU's defense.
Goldandgreennews.com: On offense, Speedy Stewart and Tyler Hansen are largely known quantities for CU. How has the new staff tried to use Stewart and how has he improved over a year ago? How is Hansen dealing with being "the man," and not having to look over his shoulder to see if Cody Hawkins is going to replace him should he throw an interception? Throwing for 474 yards last week speaks volumes to his development. What have been the next steps in his development? Paul Richardson put up mind- boggling numbers last week against Cal, catching 11 passes for 274 yards. What does he bring to the Buff's offense?
Munsterteiger: After rushing for 1,318 yards in 2010, the fifth highest total in CU history, Stewart has gotten off to a slow start on the ground this season. But it has more to do with the Buffaloes' sub-par run blocking than Stewart. He is the same speedy, shifty back that gave opposing defenses fits last season. But, without running lanes, he has not been able to showcase his abilities through two games. Stewart has been effective catching the ball out of the backfield, however. He ranks second on the team with 11 receptions for 184 yards.
It is a little too early to say how Hansen is dealing with being "the man". He struggled against Hawaii and then set a school-record for most passing yards against Cal. Hansen is still battling inconsistency issues. Some weeks, Hansen looks like an all-conference caliber quarterback with great improvisational skills in the pocket. Other weeks, he looks out of sync and has trouble helping the Buffs' offense move the chains.
Richardson started to emerge as a star during the second half of his true freshman campaign last fall. He is a fluid athlete that makes it look easy. Richardson has good speed and excellent hands. He is skinny at 6-foot-1, 175-pounds, but is deceptively strong. Following last Saturday's performance, Richardson said he expects to draw more double teams going forward. It will be interesting to see how he responds to the extra attention defenses will be giving him.
Goldandgreennews.com: Despite some impressive individual performances, CU is still coming into this game with an 0-2 mark. What do the Buffs need to do in order to get over the hump and collect their first win?
Munsterteiger: Colorado needs to be more effective running the ball, and that starts with betting blocking up front. The Buffs are currently averaging just 2.1 yards per rushing attempt. CU also needs to be more efficient in the red zone offensively. And the Buffaloes kick return unit needs to be better. Right now Colorado ranks dead last out of 120 FBS teams with a lousy kick return average of 12.0 yards.
Goldandgreennews.com: Finally, what are your three keys to the game and a prediction on the final score?
Munsterteiger: I picked the Buffs to lose their first two games, and was right, but I expect them to win this Saturday's game with relative ease. Colorado State has suffered a couple costly injuries on defense and the Rams offense hasn't impressed me. They should have scored more than a total of 47 points against New Mexico and Northern Colorado. Colorado State is not battled tested yet, while Colorado is. Plus, Colorado is angry after giving away last Saturday's game to Cal. I will say Buffs 34, Rams 17. That said, this is a rivalry game after all, so nothing would shock me.