The more things change, the more they stay the same …
In year five of the Dan Hawkins’ era, the Colorado Buffaloes have taken all of two games to demonstrate that there is nothing new in Boulder in 2010. Hope for something different was raised over the summer – Tyler Hansen was named quarterback, there was an influx of wide receiver talent, and an upperclass laden depth chart insisted that the old days of games with multiple penalties, multiple mistakes, and blowout losses were a thing of the past.
Well, this year Buff fans at least made it past Labor Day before disappointment set in.
What is truly hard to understand is how the Colorado football program under Dan Hawkins continues to defy Conventional Wisdom. There are certain tenants in college football, certain truisms most fans and observers accept – but Dan Hawkins seems to consistently cut against the grain.
For instance, Conventional Wisdom holds that teams make their greatest strides each season between game one and game two. The well accepted theory is that for each team, every new season represents a new blend of players, and, no matter how much players beat up on one another during spring and fall practices, coaches don’t know what they have to work with until the team faces a real opponent. Then, armed with game film and sixty minutes worth of experience, coaches and players can make adjustments, with marked improvement on the field to be expected.
That tenant has certainly not held true during the Dan Hawkins’ reign …
In 2006, the Buffs followed up an embarrassing loss to Montana State to an equally deflating 14-10 loss to Colorado State the following week. Since the Colorado/Colorado State series was renewed in 1983, there have been eight games played between the two after the first game of the season. Colorado is 7-1 against CSU in games not played on opening day, with the only loss coming in 2006;
In 2007, Colorado followed up a 31-28 win over Colorado State with a 33-14 loss to Arizona State. The Buffs opened the game against the Sun Devils with a 14-0 lead … before giving up 33 unanswered points;
In 2008, the Buffs opened with a convincing 38-17 win over the Rams in Denver, only to follow up the effort in game two with a near upset at the hands of 1-AA Eastern Washington. It took two late interceptions, including an interception for a touchdown to put the Buffs ahead, for Colorado to pull out a 31-24 victory;
In 2009, Colorado lost to Colorado State, 23-17, the first loss to the Rams at Folsom Field since 1986. The only way to make that result worse was to completely fall apart against Toledo. On cue, the Buffs went completely into the tank, falling behind unheralded Toledo, 33-3, on their way to a 54-38 humiliation; and
In 2010, the Buffs took the momentum from a 24-3 win over Colorado State on the road to Berkeley, facing a good, but certainly not great, California team. The Buffs made the Bears look like world-beaters, though, falling apart in all three phases in a 52-7 debacle.
In retrospect, Buff fans might have seen the rout coming. Other teams improve between games one and two. Colorado, under Dan Hawkins, has consistently gotten worse …
Conventional wisdom also holds that a cohesive offensive line plays better than a patchwork of rotating players. The theory holds that in today’s game, where defensive schemes are designed as much to trick offenses as bully them, that five linemen who have been through the wars together, who have faced stunts, blitzes and substitutions together, will be better suited to handle anything thrown at them. If you are playing next to a player who does not share those experiences, the theory goes, you may hesitate if you do not know how your linemate will react to a given situation.
He who hesitates is lost … and gets his quarterback sacked.
For years, Colorado coaches have bemoaned the lack of depth at offensive line. This fall, however, offensive line coach Denver Johnson was not only blessed with five offensive linemen to work with – he had twenty. The Buffs ran four lines during fall practice. Still, Johnson refused to come up with a starting five. In the opener, Johnson used eight players. The result? Two sacks given up to a defensive line made up of players who had been moved from safety and linebacker to provide depth. The offensive line also committed four of the Buffs’ ten penalties. Against California, the Colorado offensive line – with three players on award watch lists in the lineup – gave up six sacks and was whistled for five penalties. Colorado had 115 rushing yards against Colorado State; 75 against Cal.
Note to Denver Johnson: Perhaps it would have been a good idea to have picked five players and stuck with them through all of fall camp …
There was also the Conventional Wisdom this fall that, if any unit on the Colorado football team was worthy of adulation, it was the defensive backfield. The Buffs were ranked 34th in the nation (and 4th in the Big 12) in pass defense in 2009, the best ranking in any category for the 3-9 Buffs. Two cornerbacks were listed amongst the best in the business, seniors Jimmy Smith and Jalil Brown. Colorado was stocked with young and speedy talent in the defensive backfield, and would provide a backstop which would keep the Buffs in any game.
Then came the season …
Against Colorado State, the Buffs’ secondary did not allow a pass completion in excess of 18 yards. The Buffs did, however, allow a true freshman quarterback to complete 72% of his passes. California did not have to play a true freshman, though. The Bears ran out a three year starter in Kevin Riley, and the Buffs were never able to control the playing field. Riley went 15-for-24, for 197 yards and four touchdowns. If the Buffs had been in the game after the first quarter, and had Riley actually been forced to pass at anytime during the game, the numbers would have been even worse. True, the Buffs are thin in the defensive backfield, and the losses for the season of Vince Ewing and Parker Orms will hurt, but the fact remains that the Buffs pass defense is not what it was billed to be.
And Hawaii, the Buffs’ next opponent, just happens to be second in the nation in passing, averaging over 400 yards in two games (459 v. USC; 343 v. Army).
Conventional Wisdom is that Hawaii, while great at home, can’t win on the mainland.
Colorado fans, though, are all too conversant with what Conventional Wisdom is supposed to mean …