Colorado offense continues to struggle
If the 106-play scrimmage conducted on April 2nd is any indication of what the 2010 campaign will look like, it is going to be a long season …
The second scrimmage of spring practice focused mostly on situational conditions, but that in and of itself was not enough to explain away the poor performance by the Colorado offense. “We definitely have to pick things up,” junior quarterback Tyler Hansen said. “We had a tough day.”
How tough was it? The offense failed to score a single point until the ball was placed at the five-yard line for goal line drills. When the offense was given the opportunity to drive the length of the field for points, it failed. There were no touchdowns, and the first five field goal attempts of the afternoon were either botched (bad snap), missed, or blocked. Senior Aric Goodman did not participate, so it was left to red-shirt freshman Zach Grossnickle and walk-on Marcus Kirkwood to split the uprights. Grossnickle ended the day one-for-four (a gimme 27-yarder), while Kirkwood went zero-for-two.
The Buffs’ running attack demonstrated what it will look like if either one of its experienced players gets hurt. With Rodney Stewart (hand) and Brian Lockridge (leg) held out for precautionary reasons, the Colorado rushing “attack” netted all of 61 yards on 28 carries, a paltry 2.2 yard average that makes the 2.78 yards/carry average from 2009 (when the Buffs finished 113th in the nation in rushing) look positively dreamy. Red-shirt freshman Quentin Hildreth and senior Corey Nabors posted 25 of the carries, but neither distinguished themselves. Nabors did score three touchdowns, and Hildreth two, but all were in goal line situations, with none of the touchdown runs being over three yards in length. For the record, Hildreth had 34 yards in 11 carries; Nabors had 28 yards in 14 carries.
The passing game was not exactly top notch, either. Junior Tyler Hansen completed 12-of-22 passes for 102 yards, while senior Cody Hawkins hit on 10-of-22 for 111 yards. Hansen had two touchdowns (again, only during goal line situations) to go with an interception. Hawkins did not throw a touchdown pass; nor did he throw an interception.
The race for the starting quarterback job remains in doubt. “I thought Tyler was a little out of sync early”, offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau said after the scrimmage. “He wasn’t into it mentally like I was hoping. Then Cody was sharp or sharper, I should say. He made better reads.” Kiesau sees little reason to make a call on a starting quarterback this spring. Asked if there was any separation between Hansen and Hawkins, Kiesau replied, “No, and I like it that way. I want them to battle, to compete and know they have to produce … The separation is not my decision. Those guys need to separate themselves. It’s whenever they decide to separate themselves. I just kind of have to wait and see.”
Kiesau’s final comment will likely send shivers down the spines of many in the Buff Nation: “I like the way they’re both playing.”
With the quarterbacks failing to post significant numbers, it is not surprising that there is little to report on the wide receivers. Several were held out of the second scrimmage, including Will Jefferson (head), Markques Simas (leg), and the previously injured Scotty McKnight (who is the only receiver not likely to participate in the Spring game April 10th). Junor transfer Toney Clemons made the most of his opportunities, leading the team with six receptions for 102 yards and two touchdowns (with both scores, again, coming only when the ball was placed inside the five yard line). Just behind Clemons was Kendrick Celestine, who had five catches for 83 yards.
“We don’t like using excuses,” head coach Dan Hawkins prefaced, before launching into a series of them. “But it’s hard getting a rhythm when you’re doing a lot of segmented situational stuff. Clearly, we had a few penalties (11, for 72 yards, with seven of the flags coming against the offense), and we’ve got to convert kicks.”
Another excuse: “We had good Tuesday and Thursday practices,” Hawkins said. “Maybe the length and intensity of yesterday took a little out of them today.”
Offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau also blamed injuries: “We don’t have the right personnel out there”, and the way the scrimmage was run: “It was so situational, it was kind of hard to get into a rhythm … It’s hard to gauge because the way the scrimmage was set up.”
Considering it was Hawkins and Kiesau who set up the scrimmage … never mind.
Look for Colorado to petition the Big 12 to allow the Buffs to start all of their offensive drives at the opponents’ five yard line. If the petition fails …
… let’s not go there.
So, at least the defense played well, right?
Defensive coordinator called the effort by the defense “overall good … our front line guys are playing well. The next guys in line – the twos and threes – need to pick up their games a little bit in their alignments and assignments. I think we’re getting there.” Offensive line coach Denver Johnson also had praise for the defensive line. “Our defense, to its credit, is showing us a lot of different looks, a lot of different things that’s going to pay off for us in the long run.”
One defensive player who received much of the attention at the Buffs’ second scrimmage was linebacker Derrick Webb. The red-shirt freshman did have four tackles and a sack on Friday, but he also was a player of note due to his play on the offensive side of the ball. The Buffs do not have a true fullback on their roster, and have been experimenting with different players this spring, including Webb. “I know (fullback) well enough to do what I’m doing now”, said Webb, who played some tailback in high school. “I’m not doing too much in the offense right now – just the goal line situations.” On defense, Webb spent much of the practice at middle linebacker with the first-team defense. “Derrick is getting better every day,” defensive coordinator Ron Collins said. “He’s a high motor player.” Dan Hawkins called Webb “intense … he loves the game, has good tempo … he can bring it. He’s kind of like B-Lock (Brian Lockridge). He only knows one speed.”
True freshman defensive back Josh Moten, a quarterback recruit from the 2009 class who finally was allowed to enroll in January, tied sophomore Jon Major for the team lead in tackles during the scrimmage with seven. There were two interceptions by the defense (one against Hansen, the other against Nick Hirschman), one by redshirt freshman Deji Olatoye, the other by senior defensive end Marquez Herrod.
While the defense would certainly be in a position to gloat after Friday’s scrimmage, defensive coordinator Ron Collins remains unsatisfied. Collins wanted to use this spring to emphasize turnovers – “We’re close, but you always want more. I think we’re getting there”, and tackling. “We missed a few today that I thought were tackles that should have been made. It’s something we have to constantly work at … We definitely have to get better at that.”
So, the defense is still young and inexperienced, but at least seems to have players (and coaches – see Hagan v. Kiesau in the Colorado Daily section) on the same page, with new players supplementing those with playing experience.
With one week left before the Spring Game, the Buffs still have much to work on, especially on offense and special teams. I have been working on the mid-80’s in the Archive Seasons section of CU at the Game, and I detect some similarities to some of those teams and what is going on in Boulder in 2010. Bill McCartney’s first teams were built around a decent defense (Coach Mac was defensive coordinator at Michigan before coming to Boulder), with the offense struggling to compete. The Buffs lost some heart-breaking games when the defense gave a stellar effort, only to have it wasted by an anemic offense. This, unfortunately, might be what Buff fans have to look forward to this fall …
… Is it too late to install the wishbone? …