"Brownie," Colorado's first-year defensive coordinator after an earlier pair of stints here as secondary coach, isn't often surprised. His eyes don't roll that frequently, his jaw never drops too far.
Not the case Saturday night in Aloha Stadium.
It's early in the second quarter. Hawai'i is cradling a 3-0 lead and Brown's defense is holding up fairly well, although Warriors quarterback Bryant Moniz had a couple of long scrambles (23, 34 yards) that helped position UH for its first-quarter field goal.
Still, Brown and his defensive staff believe if containment is kept and assignments followed, Moniz can be neutralized. After all, in CU's eventually lopsided (31-13) win a year ago in Boulder, Moniz ran six times for minus-5 yards. He was a run-and-shoot QB first, a passer by choice.
But on UH's first possession of Saturday night's second quarter, which has the Warriors at their own 43-yard line, Moniz takes the center snap, sticks the ball in the belly of tailback Joey Isofea, reads the Buffs linebackers, then deftly pulls the ball back and runs virtually untouched for a 57-yard touchdown.
Brown blinks . . . and blinks again.
Zone read option?
In watching hours of tape and charting nearly 1,000 Hawai'i offensive snaps from last season, UH had run the zone read three times - with Moniz' backup running it twice. It simply wasn't in the Warriors' 2010 playbook, not to the extent that Brown & Co. figured they would see it on 2011 opening night in the islands.
Run correctly and by the right QB, the zone read tilts the playing field. It might be the biggest difference between offensive play in the college game and the NFL. It can put a quarterback at risk, but defenses have to account for him. Moniz wasn't at risk that much because the Buffs couldn't catch him. And as for in-game adjustments to neutralize the zone read, they're easier to recognize than to adjust to on the fly.
"We knew he could run, but in general run-and-shoot teams don't like to run their quarterbacks like that and expose him to the chance of injury," Brown told me as he labored on Labor Day, preparing a defensive game plan for Saturday's home opener against California (1:30 p.m.)
"The one play that you know is coming with the run-and-shoot is the speed option; that was no surprise," Brown continued. "But the thing that was a nice wrinkle - and to their credit - was the zone read play. When you run that, it's a whole different animal . . .
"The bottom line was, for the whole night, we had a very difficult time tackling the quarterback. He was their top player, their top producer on offense. We knew it going into the game and put a premium on stopping him, but to his credit he did it with his legs rather than his arm.
"He's got outstanding ability. We didn't know he had that sort of balance and toughness, the ability to break tackles and change direction. He's a good player. It's unusual you get a run-and-shoot guy who does all that. Usually, they're the big-armed guy who drops back, not the guy who takes off and can run like a jackrabbit. But he did."
Moniz did the bulk of his ground damage in the first half, running nine times for a career-best 120 yards and scoring two touchdowns. He added another running TD in the third quarter and flipped a critical shovel pass to Isofea, who ran 22 yards for a score. Thus, Moniz had a hand in all four UH touchdowns, underscoring his role as clearly the best player on the field in Hawai'i's 34-17 win.
Defending the zone read, said CU nosetackle Conrad Obi, "just comes down to everyone doing their job, playing their gaps. We've just got to correct some things. There's a lot we have to work on, but I think (overall) we were OK on defense. But that's not how we want to be this year - just OK."
Brown agreed with Obi's assessment. Other than being befuddled by the zone read, he believed his unit offered a decent first-night performance: "We competed hard, didn't blow assignments . . . that's encouraging. And we sacked the quarterback. The thing that was discouraging was coming away with the loss, and our inability to tackle the quarterback in the open field."
Brown said his secondary, breaking in a trio of new corners - former safeties Travis Sandersfeld and Parker Orms, and freshman Greg Henderson - "played well . . . were we perfect? No, not by any means. We've got a long ways to go, but they didn't have a lot of technique errors and they played hard. (Henderson) played well and graded out well; his technique was good. He's got a lot of poise for a young kid and is a nice addition to our defense."
Orms, whose availability was sketchy early in preseason camp because of a calf strain and swollen knee, and Sandersfeld were among three Buffs to make six solo tackles, with linebacker Josh Hartigan the third. Hartigan also had one of CU's five quarterback sacks and one of the defense's six tackles for loss.
Orms, said Brown, performed as expected: "He's going to find the ball, make plays and be productive . . . I'm excited to have him back."
Orms and Sandersfeld each broke up a pass, but Sandersfeld's break up could have gone into another defensive category. He got a clean jump on a Moniz pass, got his hands on the ball but couldn't control it. At the time - midway through the fourth quarter - the Buffs had pulled to within a touchdown (24-17), and Brown noted that potential interception "could have changed the game.
"(Sandersfeld) is a smart guy. He looked at the formation, knew the beginning steps of the route and knew what the play was. He took off and thought he was going to get it. He came underneath and didn't have quite the angle . . . for whatever reason, he didn't hold on to it."
UH scored a touchdown two plays later, added a field goal just under 2 minutes later and put CU away.
With Cal visiting Folsom Field this weekend, Brown's defense will confront an offense that punched up 52 points on CU last season in Berkley. The Bears have a new quarterback (Kevin Riley graduated) but return most of their receiving corps, now coached by former Buffs assistant Eric Kiesau.
Also, a Brown disciple and ex-CU staffer, Ashley Ambrose, is Cal's secondary coach. Kiesau and Ambrose can offer decent personnel critiques on returning Buffs players, but CU offensive line coach Steve Marshall can do the same on the Bears. He spent the last two seasons at Cal.
"It's a tradeoff," Brown said.
Cal opened with a 36-21 victory against Fresno State, with junior Zach Maynard - a talented 2010 transfer from Buffalo - debuting as the Bears starting quarterback. He completed 16 of 35 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns (one interception), with receivers Keenan Allen (8 catches, 112 yards) and Marvin Jones (5-118, 2 TDs) his top targets. Allen and Jones combined for 143 receiving yards and a pair of TDs last year against the Buffs.
Said Brown: "The receiving corps steps up significantly this week. These (Cal) kids are better receivers; they're big, physical guys. And it does nothing but escalate every week (in the Pac-12)."
Plus, Cal and a handful of other Pac-12 teams - Oregon runs it ruthlessly - have the zone read option in their playbooks. It's on tape and Brown & Co. have seen it, but that doesn't make defending it any easier. It won't be quite the surprise, though, that it was in Hawai'i.
FOOTBALL FIX AND FEAST: Former CU coach Bill McCartney and Mark McIntosh, who did radio/TV work involving the Buffs during the McCartney Era, will host a weekly program beginning Thursday at Pasta Jay's in Boulder.
The program, called "Coach Mac's Football Fix and Feast," features the ex-Buffs coach, McIntosh and his current Mile High Sports radio partner Jimmy "Doog" Doogan talking CU football. The event goes from 6-8 p.m., beginning Sept. 8 and running through Nov. 10. Dinner will be served, with the total cost for the 10 Thursdays set at $250. Only 50 season tickets will be sold in Year 1 of the event and are available on-line at www.macanddoog.com.
McIntosh said the weekly tickets are transferrable from person to person, meaning any number of Buffs fans can collaborate to purchase the package, then attend whatever Thursday night fits their schedules.
McIntosh bills the event as "sharing inside stories, interviewing special guests and supporting one another to embrace the truth: everything rises and falls with leadership - in football and life!"
He said McCartney will offer his coaching insight on the new Buffs staff, players, CU's move into the Pac-12 Conference and more.
"'Mac' knows the Buffs tradition and what Jon Embree and his staff are doing to restore it," McIntosh said. "I can't think of anyone better to have dinner with and talk CU football."
Pasta Jay's is located at 1001 Pearl St.
BUFF BITS: CU Coach Jon Embree said left tackle David Bakhtiari, sidelined early against UH, is day-to-day with a sprained left MCL. Embree said he wouldn't count Bakhtiari out this week until he was forced to . . . . Texas transfer Connor Wood, a highly rated high school QB, was completing enrollment paperwork on Monday and could begin practice as early as Tuesday, Embree said. Wood must sit out the 2010 season under NCAA transfer rules . . . . Bakhtiari's absence for about 31/2 quarters in Game 1 compounded the difficulties faced by CU's offensive line. Embree said the problems were "more technique stuff," adding that sacks allowed - QB Tyler Hansen suffered a career-high seven - can't always be placed solely on the O-line . . . . Both of CU's new centers - Daniel Munyer and Gus Handler - showed well in their debuts, according to Embree . . . . CU will honor its 2001 Big 12 Championship team at Saturday's game against Cal. It also will be a "brick game," said Embree, noting it's one of eight opportunities this season for the Buffs to win what Embree has designated as a game worthy of reestablishing the wall of "big-game bricks" outside the locker room in the Dal Ward Athletic Center. However, Embree expressed disappointment that the wall will remain blank when the 2001 team is honored this weekend . . . . The biggest disappointment in Embree's CU debut? Not winning, of course, topped the list, but this was a close second: The offense's shaky start. CU went scoreless in the first half and had totaled a mere 61 yards (seven rushing) by intermission.