Reeling Buffs entertain rolling Jayhawks

Updated: October 10, 2003, 1:36 PM ET

BOULDER, Colo. -- Three straight ugly losses have tarnished the sheen of an impressive start, leaving Colorado with a must-win game on Saturday against Kansas.

"This game is about as important as you can get this early in the Big 12 season," quarterback Joel Klatt said. "We have to win this game."

Colorado, which climbed to No. 17 after early wins over Colorado State and UCLA, was crushed the following week by Washington State 47-27. Then came a 47-7 loss to Florida State and, almost inexplicably, a 42-30 loss to Baylor.

Into Folsom Field comes an improved Kansas team, on a roll after winning four straight games including, most recently, a 35-14 shocker over then-No. 23 Missouri.

"Kansas is on a high," Colorado coach Gary Barnett said. "They've got great momentum. They're playing with a lot of confidence right now.

"Their offense has been spectacular. They're putting points on everybody, and they've improved their defense tremendously from a year ago."

In other words, all the things Colorado is not.

The Jayhawks (4-1) are led by quarterback Bill Whittemore, who ran for two touchdowns in the win over Missouri and who has thrown for at least two TDs in seven of his last nine games dating to last season.

"He's a throwback guy," Barnett said. "Any team in the country would like to have him. He never goes out of the game. He gets tackled 35 to 40 times a game and stands up to it. He runs the option, he throws the ball, he runs the quarterback counter. Everybody feeds off of him.

"We're going to have our hands full. They're coming in here after a big win against Missouri, and they've had two weeks to prepare."

His own team, on the other hand, is "reeling," Barnett said. "Our defense is tremendously banged up. We're not very good at fundamentals. We're not blocking extremely well and we're not tackling very well."

Barnett pointed to five turnovers and 26 missed tackles as the main reasons for the loss at Baylor, which posted only its fifth conference victory in the league's eight-year history.

The Buffaloes, at least, should have Klatt back in the starting lineup this week. Klatt, who separated his throwing shoulder against Washington State on Sept. 13, played sparingly against Baylor.

Kansas coach Mark Mangino is wary of this week's opponent.

"It's highly unusual to go into Boulder and take on a Colorado team that's been struggling," he said. "They've had some injuries on offense and they have some new kids on defense.

"They have some talented players and good schemes. Things just aren't clicking right now. But I can tell you they may be down a little bit right now, but I don't think they're going to be down long. We know Colorado will be ready."

Colorado has won the last two meetings, including 53-29 last year when Chris Brown rushed for 309 yards and two TDs and Robert Hodge threw for three scores.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index