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Stanford offense presents challenge for young CU Buffs defense

When healthy, KJ Costello is one of top QBs in Pac-12

Colorado linebacker Carson Wells and the Buffs defense will have their hands full of the Stanford offense on Saturday.
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This is not the Stanford of Andrew Luck or Christian McCaffrey days, but when the Colorado Buffaloes host the Cardinal on Saturday, they’ll face a team that really hasn’t changed much in the past decade.

CU (3-6, 1-5 Pac-12) will look to snap its five-game losing streak when Stanford (4-4, 3-3) visits Folsom Field for a 1:10 p.m. kickoff (TV: Pac-12 Networks), and it’s a testament to Cardinal coach David Shaw that this is considered a down year for his program.

“He does a great job with offense and obviously what Stanford has been able to do for a long time offensively and their belief in running the football,” CU defensive coordinator Tyson Summers said. “Their players who they recruit are guys that are very, very intelligent, and they’re able to utilize what they have in the players they’ve got to the best of their abilities. I think this is my fourth job in about six years, so for his ability to be able to be at one place for a long time, that’s unbelievable for his players, his staff, the university and obviously his family, as well.”

Shaw, who played at Stanford, has been coaching with the Cardinal since 2007. He spent four seasons as offensive coordinator under Jim Harbaugh before taking over as head coach after Harbaugh left for the NFL.

During Shaw’s first eight seasons as head coach, he averaged 10.3 wins, claimed four North division titles and three Pac-12 championship game wins and went 5-3 in bowls.

This season has been much more of a struggle. Quarterback KJ Costello has missed four games because of injury, the run game isn’t as dominating as in the past, and the defense has been average.

After a 1-3 start, however, the Cardinal have won three of their last four and they’re coming off a much-needed bye week.

“Stanford’s a physical football team and they hang their hat on that, being able to run the ball, stop the run,” CU head coach Mel Tucker said. “Just how fundamentally sound they are, their overall operation is strictly business. Not a lot of French pastry. It’s a meat and potato outfit with a lot of really good players. They’re extremely well coached. And our preparation is going to be critical.”

While Stanford doesn’t have an All-American type of play-maker leading the offense as in the past, there are still big-time threats for a CU defense that’s been vulnerable against everybody.

Costello, when healthy, is one of the best quarterbacks in the country and he played like it in Stanford’s last game, throwing for 322 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-31 win against Arizona.

“I feel like he wants to throw the ball a little bit more (than Stanford’s backups),” CU senior linebacker Nu’umotu Falo said. “They’re trying to get the ball to their guys in open space and he does a good job of getting his reads through. We’re going to expect to see him back there more and doing what he does.”

Running back Cameron Scarlett doesn’t garner the national attention that his predecessors, McCaffrey and Bryce Love, did, but he is fourth in the Pac-12 in rushing (87.5 yards per game), with five touchdowns.

“(He is) one of the best guys we will have seen all year as far as yards after contact,” Summers said.

Perhaps most dangerous to CU will be tight end Colby Parkinson, a 6-foot-7 junior with 31 catches for 358 yards this season.

“I think Parkinson is one of the more dynamic players we’ve played all year,” Summers said. “Obviously, he’s a guy that’s created matchup issues for defenses throughout the season.”

While Stanford’s offense does feature some weapons that can hurt the Buffs, Summers has been pleased with the overall progress of the young, inexperienced CU defense and hopes that will continue this week.

“I think we’re improving a lot and I think anybody that comes to practice and knows what we’re doing and is here day in and day out, is able to see that,” Summers said. “What we’ve got to be able to do is get over the 10 percent. You go through the game and you turn on 90 percent of the clips and you feel like you’re efficient. But, what we’re doing is we’re still giving up explosive plays, and we’re still giving up plays at really poor timing in our games if we want to play complimentary football with our offense, defense and special teams.”