“To Be Honest, It Almost Feels a Bit Like a Bye Week”
Every week, Adam Munsterteiger of BuffaloStampede.com does an interview with a counterpart from that weekend’s opponent. This past week, Adam did an interview with Edward Lewis, publisher of BruinSportsReport.com.
Adam asked Lewis the following question: “What do you feel the Bruins’ mindset is coming back home to take on the Buffaloes?”
To which he received the following response: “To be honest, it almost feels a bit like a bye week. The Bruins have really taken this week to reflect on the things they’ve done wrong the last two weeks, rather than full-on preparing for the Buffs.
“There’s a definite feel in the air that because it’s Colorado, maybe the worst team in the Pac-12, that this is the week the Bruins can regroup, work out some kinks they’ve created for themselves the last two weeks, and cruise to a much-needed win Saturday at the Rose Bowl.”
Unfortunately, it was not hard to see how anyone might come to that prediction.
Objectively looking at the Colorado/UCLA game, one would see:
On one side of the field, a road team which had not beaten a ranked team on the road in 11 years (ironically enough, the last ranked team CU beat on the road was UCLA, in 2002), a team which had not beaten any Pac-12 opponent in 13 months, and a team which was losing its Pac-12 games by an average of 50-17. On the other side of the field, one would see a team which had not lost at home in 2013, a team which had been ranked in the top ten in the nation three weeks earlier, and a team which still harbored Pac-12 championship title dreams.
Final score: No. 17 UCLA 45, Colorado 23.
Was Lewis, and his “bye week” response, vindicated?
“We were coming off two difficult road losses against really good teams,” said UCLA head coach Jim Mora. “I hate to admit this, but I thought there was a little hangover. We didn’t have the enthusiasm earlier that we typically have. There was a little hangover.”
So, apparently the UCLA coach agrees with Lewis … the Bruins were just not up for playing the lowly Buffs – at least not early on. UCLA was just going through the motions to start the game, falling behind Colorado 3-0 and 10-3, waking up when called upon to dominate the Buffs.
That’s what the 22-point final margin would seem to indicate.
The thing is … that’s not the game I saw.
I witnessed a game in which the underdog fought throughout. I witnessed a game in which the final outcome remained in doubt until UCLA recovered a CU onside kick with six minutes left in the game. I witnessed a game in which Colorado grew as a team.
“I saw great fight and great effort”, said CU head coach Mike MacIntyre. “I thought our coaching staff had the players very well prepared. We played a really good football team tonight and I hope that one day people are saying that about us. I did see a lot of improvement out there, especially in our quarterback. The way he competes and the way he keeps fighting are giving our whole team a lot of hope. Our performance tonight against a top-20 team shows that we’re making progress and I think that gives everybody a little more confidence”.
Are coach MacIntyre and I looking at the world of Colorado football through Rose (bowl) colored glasses?
After all, the Buffs lost by three touchdowns. Is that such a great improvement over losing by four touchdowns?
Let’s start with the first quarter.
The Colorado offense held the ball for 11:29 of the first quarter, putting together two long drives. The Colorado defense, meanwhile, opened the game by forcing UCLA into two three-and-outs.
Yes, the Buffs did only manage one field goal out of those two long drives.
And yes, the Buffs still trailed at the end of the first quarter, 7-3, after giving up a 76-yard touchdown pass from Brett Hundley to Devin Fuller.
The thing is, though, that these Buffs didn’t quit after falling behind.
It is not unusual for underdogs to play well early against heavy favorites. In fact, it’s quite common. It’s also quite common for the favorite to wake up and dominate the remainder of the game.
Examples? These games were played just this weekend:
– Virginia tied No. 8 Clemson at 7-7 with a touchdown midway through the first quarter. Final score: Clemson 59, Virginia 10.
– UTEP scored a touchdown late in the first quarter to take a 7-2 lead over No. 12 Texas A&M. Final score: Texas A&M 57, UTEP 7.
– UMass (a CU opponent the new few seasons) kicked a pair of field goals to stay with No. 17 Northern Illinois in the first quarter, at 7-6. Final score: Northern Illinois 63, UMass 19.
Yes, Colorado lost by three touchdowns. But it was the way the Buffs lost which is encouraging.
The Buffs didn’t fall behind by a ridiculous number early against UCLA. In many recent years, many of the Buffs’ games have been decided in the first quarter, with Buff fans left only to wonder if the Buffs would score at all, or, in some cases, when the opposition would let its foot off the gas in order to keep the score from being too great an embarrassment.
Instead, against UCLA – a top ten team three weeks ago – Colorado held its own.
Total yards after the first quarter: CU 113; UCLA 92.
Total yards at the half: CU 221; UCLA 215.
Total yards after three quarters: CU 310; UCLA 332.
Total yards for the game: CU 381; UCLA 412.
See a blowout there? A complete domination?
Neither do I.
Coaches often talk about how two or three plays decide a game. When your team is consistently losing by four touchdowns, it’s often hard to take such talk seriously. However, against UCLA, that thinking really holds true.
The Buffs would certainly like to have just a few plays back:
– Sefo Liufau missing an open D.D. Goodson at the goal line on the Buffs’ second drive, with CU settling for a field goal instead of an early touchdown;
– The 76-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter. Before that pass, UCLA had posted zero first downs, and the Rose Bowl crowd of 80,377 were sitting on their hands.
– Ryan Severson’s fumble, which allowed UCLA to score two touchdowns in 90 seconds of game time.
– Either or both of Will Oliver’s missed field goals.
Would different results on those plays have resulted in a different outcome? We’ll never know. It’s at least nice to know, though, that Colorado is getting to the point where these types of questions can even be posed.
I know what you’re thinking … Woulda, coulda, shoulda … the lament for losing teams.
But the Buffs are getting close enough now that being competitive in Pac-12 games is no longer a distant goal, but a near term expectation.
And being competitive is the first step back towards winning games on a regular basis in league play.
Still looking for hope for the future?
Try this: Last night, against a ranked UCLA team on the road, true freshman quarterback Sefo Liufau went 25-for-36 for 247 yards, with one touchdown. He added 14 yards rushing, was sacked only once, and had no turnovers.
Great numbers? Not really, but consider … One year ago today, Liufau led Bellarmine Prep (Tacoma) to a 45-6 romp over Edmonds-Woodway. Liufau went 11-for-16 for 111 yards and a touchdown.
And he wasn’t playing in front of 80,000 opposing fans in the Rose Bowl.
Liufau, and the Buffs, have a long way to go to get back to respectability. For CU not to be considered as a “bye week” by opposing teams and their fans, the Buffs will have to break through with actual – not moral – victories in league play.
The UCLA game, though a three-touchdown loss, was another small step forward in that process.