Colorado running back Rodney Stewart
Colorado running back Rodney Stewart ( CLIFF GRASSMICK )
TOLEDO, Ohio ---- Tonight`s game against the Toledo Rockets was just the second date on the Colorado football schedule a week ago. Now, it might be the most important contest in coach Dan Hawkins` tenure.

The backlash from losing to Colorado State to start the 2009 season after earlier proclamations of 10 wins has been intense. Woe to Hawkins and his Buffs if they fall once again.

The boos that rained down from the Folsom Field stands Sunday night have continued all week on talk radio, message boards and even a few e-mails to the coach and his boss. Preseason conjecture about Hawkins being on the hot seat has turned into serious conversations of who might be best suited to replace him at season`s end if the Buffs continue to sputter.

But that is getting a bit ahead of this curve. In fact, a few wins might be all Hawkins needs to straighten things out.

"I think everyone feels really good about where we`re at right now," quarterback Cody Hawkins said after several days of practice this week. "Our team is in a really good position. We`re trying to stay confident and keep pushing forward because we know we had a mishap on Sunday, but we know where this team can go and we know we can get a lot better."

Dan Hawkins and his son have taken a business-as-usual approach to a short week of preparation while acknowledging that those inside the program are frustrated and hurting, too. Athletic director Mike Bohn`s steadfast insistence that his head coach is safe hasn`t waned, but even he was forced to admit after the CSU loss that the program cannot continue to endure such disappointments.

A loss tonight at the Glass Bowl against a middle-of-the-pack team from the Mid-American Conference would fall into that category.

"Kids on our team aren`t stupid," quarterback Cody Hawkins said. "They know Toledo is good."

The Rockets are planning a Blue-out in the stands. Colorado fans would be comforted by a blowout on the field. That won`t be an easy task. Dan Hawkins` Buffs have won just two true road games since he was hired and the Colorado program hasn`t traveled well when it has ventured east recently. The Buffs` last win on this side of the Mississippi River came in the 1995 season opener at Wisconsin. Since then, the program is 0-7 in such trips.

Toledo has surprised visitors from BCS conferences before, and the Rockets were competitive in a loss to Purdue last week to start the season. They traveled to Michigan and won a year ago. The Buffs have their hands full to be sure.

But the Rockets are in their second week under first-year head coach Tim Beckman, a former defensive coordinator at Oklahoma State. There is not nearly as much pressure to win as there is in Boulder.

The Buffs need this game more than the Rockets. Some might even say it`s a must-win situation already for Hawkins and his program.

To go home wearing smiles tonight, the Buffs must correct several issues that led to the loss Sunday.

Offensively, they can`t allow a speedy and athletic Toledo defense to stop them from running the ball. If anything has been proven over and over again in the past few years with the Buffs, it`s that they are easily beaten when they become one-dimensional and are forced to pass.

The Rockets gave up more than 300 yards on the ground against Purdue. If the Buffs can`t run on this team with four solid tailbacks, including the untapped potential of Darrell Scott, it will be tough to believe they will run on anyone thisyear. They produced just 29 yards on the ground against CSU.

Defensively, CU has to do better to limit big plays.

Toledo is an explosive offense several CU coaches compared with Missouri this week. Tonight`s game, at least, will be a nice tune-up for all the versions of the spread offense the Buffs will see later this fall in Big 12 play.

Quarterback Aaron Opelt comes into the game leading the nation in passing, albeit after just one game. Wide receiver Stephen Williams caught 15 passes last week for nearly 200 yards and scored two touchdowns.

CU secondary coach Greg Brown said Williams is an NFL prospect. Brown ought to know after spending more than a decade in the league doing his best to stop players such as Williams.

"We`re trying to scratch and claw and see what we can come up with," Brown said. "I mean, they`re going to get their share of yards. They`re productive."