Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Game at a glance
Matchup: No. 9 Stanford Cardinal (7-1, 6-0 Pac-12) at Colorado Buffaloes (4-5, 1-4 Pac-12).
Kickoff: 11:01 a.m. MDT Saturday.
Where: Folsom Field in Boulder. Capacity: 50,183; Turf: Grass.
TV: Pac-12 Network.
Radio: KOA (850 AM and 94.1 FM). Pregame starts at 9 a.m.
Odds: Stanford by 16.5.
Coaches: Colorado — Mike MacIntyre (10-23, third season; 30-44 career); Stanford — David Shaw (49-13, fifth season).
Series: Stanford leads 5-3, including 2-0 since CU joined the Pac-12.
Last Saturday, UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen spent most of his afternoon on the sidelines.
Along with the rest of his teammates on the Bruins’ offense, Rosen watched the Colorado offense run play after play after play.
The Buffaloes, in fact, ran 114 plays on offense, setting a single-game school record and coming within one snap of tying the national mark.
CU lost the game, 35-31, but gave itself a chance to beat the then-No. 24 Bruins by controlling the clock throughout the day.
In recent games, the Buffs (4-5, 1-4 Pac-12) have become better at ball control and their ability to do that this week against ninth-ranked Stanford (7-1, 6-0) could play a significant role in the outcome.
“If we did (run 114 plays on offense), I think we’ll be very victorious, because (Stanford) won’t have been used to playing that many,” CU head coach Mike MacIntyre said.
MacIntyre acknowledges, however, that the Buffs are highly unlikely to get anywhere close to 114 plays this week, but believes that winning the possession battle gives his team a better shot to win.
Winning that battle won’t be easy, because no team in the Pac-12 is as good at controlling the clock as Stanford. The Cardinal, on average, hold the ball for 34 minutes, 56 seconds. That average is 2:23 better than anyone else in the conference.
Stanford’s ball-control style has worked for years, and this season, it has led to the opposition running just 68.4 plays per game. CU is sixth nationally at 82.9 plays per game.
If the Buffs can even hit their average, their chances of victory probably increase.
So far this year, only two teams have had more than 73 offensive snaps against Stanford. Northwestern had 79 in a season-opening win against the Cardinal. Last week, Washington State had 86 and came within a last-second missed field goal of winning.
“For years, we’ve always played against up-tempo teams and the games that we’ve played well, they don’t run a lot of plays, and the games we don’t play well, they do run a lot of plays,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “The structure of our offense, if we’re able to keep the ball, control the clock, get first downs and touchdowns, then we can minimize that.”
CU has done its best Stanford impression by dominating time of possession in its last two games and will try to do the same thing against the Cardinal.
As their offense has evolved, the Buffs might be more equipped to do that than they were earlier in the season.
“We’ve been able to do that now,” MacIntyre said. “We can run our running backs, and we’ve got some good ones. Our quarterback can run and throw it too, and we feel like we can dictate the game a little bit.”
Sefo Liufau’s evolution into more of a dual-threat quarterback has played a key role in CU’s ability to sustain drives.
Liufau already has a career-high 98 rushing attempts this season, but those attempts are now different than they were earlier in the year.
Through seven games, Liufau had 66 rushes, but only 18 on designed running plays. The other 48 came on sacks, or plays in which he dropped back to pass but had to scramble away from the pass rush.
During the past two games, however, 22 of his 32 rushing attempts have come on designed runs — read-option, draws or quarterback sneaks — and many have resulted in first downs.
Liufau has become perhaps CU’s best weapon in short-yardage running situations, converting 11 of 12 chances on third/fourth and a yard to go. CU’s going to need that type of success against the Cardinal.
Recently, Liufau said he’s like most quarterbacks in that he’d love to sit in the pocket and get the ball in the hands of his playmakers. But, he said, “I prefer to win, so whatever it takes to win.”
To win this week, the Buffs are going to need Liufau and anybody else who touches the ball to find a way to move the chains and keep the clock moving.
That puts some pressure on the CU offensive line, which has been a patch-work unit. It is also a group that takes pride in being able to sustain long drives.
“Of course we’re working every week to get better and better at that,” lineman Shane Callahan said. “That’s something we’re trying to do is control the game and try to make people match us, not try to play to (their strength).
“Last week we showed we can do it to a good team, so we just have to play our hearts out and control that ball and make sure we take it away from them.”
Of course, the Buffs would also like to make the most of their chances. CU has had nine possessions of 10 plays or more in the past two weeks, but scored a total of 23 points on those possessions (two touchdowns, three field goals).
Fail to convert on chances this week, and Stanford will make the Buffs pay.
“Ball control is important, there is no doubt, but scoring points is an even higher commodity,” MacIntyre said.
Brian Howell: email@example.com, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.