After resolving their own quarterback controversy this week, the Rams face a Buffs team with questions surrounding their quarterback position.
CU-Boulder head coach Dan Hawkins said earlier this week he put offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau in charge of deciding the starting quarterback — a decision that will not be known until the kickoff between the two teams on Sunday at Folsom Field.
Two-year starter Cody Hawkins and sophomore Tyler Hansen are the candidates for the job after entering fall camp in a virtual tie.
Hawkins struggled last year as a sophomore, completing only 57 percent of his passes with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 17 to 10.
Hansen appeared in five games last season, throwing one touchdown and four interceptions, while rushing for 261 yards.
Both are expected to see playing time at some point this season, possibly as early as Sunday against the Rams.
“They both played last year and I’m sure they’ll both play this year. I think their mode of operation was to let both those guys in the game,” head coach Steve Fairchild said.
CSU defensive coordinator Larry Kerr said it doesn’t matter who CU-Boulder starts at quarterback. The defense will be prepared after dedicating all of fall’s camp to the Buffs’ offensive scheme.
“Their plan won’t change very much. They say Hansen is more mobile, so you might see him running out of the pocket a little bit. Hawkins runs out of the pocket a lot too due to his height,” Kerr said.
Hawkins had one of his best games last year against CSU, completing 20 of 29 passes for 214 yards and one touchdown while adding two rushing touchdowns in the Rams’ 38-17 loss.
He was the difference in the game last year,” Kerr said. “He made great decisions and made some great plays for them.”
Hawkins is a cerebral quarterback who won’t make mental mistakes. He also grew up in a football family, since the Buffs’ head coach is his father.
“The thing about Cody Hawkins is you know he’s not going to do anything dumb,” senior cornerback Nick Oppenneer said. “You know he’s a real smart kid. You can tell he’s a coach’s kid.”
Although Hawkins is the incumbent starter, with 23 starts under his belt in the past two years, Hansen may be poised to take his spot. Standing at 6-foot-2 inches, 205 pounds, Hansen is taller and more athletic than Hawkins, who sits at 5-foot-11 inches, 190 pounds.
“Hawkins is a really good quarterback. To play the other guy (Hansen), if he’s better than Hawkins, we have got our work cut out for us,” CSU’s cornerbacks coach Tim Duffie said.
Though they don’t have any tape on Hansen, the Rams know about his athleticism and his tendency to tuck it and run outside the pocket. Last year, against Kansas State, Hansen ran for 86 yards on 19 attempts and finished the season as CU’s third leading rusher.
“You have to plan for somebody who’s going to run, somebody who’s going to get outside the pocket and try and throw the ball,” Oppenneer said.
Oppenneer teams up with fellow senior Klint Kubiak and sophomores Elijah-Blu Smith and Gerard Thomas to form a secondary strong on experience. All four started last season for the Rams and could be the key in stopping the Buffs aerial attack Sunday.
“I think we’re going to be a strong point of the defense,” Kubiak said.
Kubiak and Oppenneer were named defensive team captains by their teammates this week.
Now playing in his second Rocky Mountain Showdown, Oppenneer said he is even more excited than he was last year.
“Last year I was so nervous. I had never played in a big game like that before. This year, to get the opportunity again, it’s going to be so much fun, especially at Folsom,” he said. “It’s such a great place to play and to go in there and hopefully get the victory in their house. I mean how much better could it get than that?”
Football beat writer Stephen Meyers can be reached at email@example.com.