Point / Counterpoint
We all know about the long running CBS news magazine, 60 Minutes. For those of us of a certain age, though, there are the memories of a 60 Minutes segment run during the 1970′s called “Point / Counterpoint”.
Long before Andy Rooney took over the last few minutes of each Sunday’s show, liberal commentator Shana Alexander would square off with conservative commentator James J. Kilpatrick. The two would debate the issues of the day, with the barbs sometimes as much personal as topical.
The banter was immortalized by Saturday Night Live, with Jane Curtin playing the role of Alexander, and Dan Aykroyd taking on the role of Kirkpatrick. Their skit has given us this immortal line:
The “Point / Counterpoint” segment, as it relates to Colorado football, represents my current state of ambiguity when it comes to the 2-2 Buffs. There are many positives one can objectively see on the field this fall, but there are almost as many nagging negatives.
So, in salute to Alexander/Kirkpatrick and Curtin/Aykroyd, here are some internal arguments I have been having over the 57-16 loss to No. 2 Oregon …
Point … Colorado stood toe-to-toe with one of the best offenses in modern college football history for over a quarter. At the end of the first quarter, the Buffs had 231 yards of total offense, with plays covering 55, 75, 28 and 24 yards. By halftime, the Buffs had posted 318 yards of total offense – against a defense giving up only 320 yards per game, and had scored 16 points against a defense giving up only 10 points per game.
Counterpoint … Yes, but, in the second half, Colorado had 56 yards of total offense and no points. The Buffs had four first downs in the second half … all in the third quarter. Is this simply an issue of not having enough talent to stick with a superior opponent for an entire game? Or is it that Colorado is being (stating this in hushed tones) … out-coached? Last weekend, Oregon State took a 17-3 halftime lead and turned the game in Corvallis into a rout with a 21-0 third quarter. Oregon out-scored Colorado 14-0 in the third quarter. The Colorado State Rams out-scored the Buffs 14-3 in the third quarter of the opener (the Buffs and Central Arkansas each posted a field goal in their game). That’s 52-6 for the opposition in the third quarter so far this season – 35-0 in the past two games. Is there something more here than just a talent discrepancy?
Point … Colorado came out channeling former New York Jets head coach Herm Edwards - “You play to win the game!”. Starting the game with an onsides kick, though unsuccessful, showed the Buff Nation – and future competitors – that Colorado was going to be a fighting participant in all of its games. Said Coach MacIntyre, “that was the way we went out and said we were going to be aggressive, you know, we had nothing to lose. If we go out and try to play tentative, and try to hold the ball and try to do all that, they’re going to score anyway. We wanted to be aggressive, have some scoring and keep fighting”. A trick play netted the Buffs their only touchdown (recall that in the 20-10 upset of No. 3 in Nebraska, both of CU’s touchdowns were scored on trick plays), and the Buffs kept fighting to win – going for a fourth-and-goal late in the third quarter rather than settle for a field goal, even though the outcome of the game was already decided.
Counterpoint … Two points to be made here. First, if going for it was the name of the game, where did the playbook of trick plays go in the second half? Colorado has played with fire in both of its losses to date … for about a quarter-and-a-half. Then, little or nothing productive from the offense. The creative juices cease to flow after the half. Second, while the game is not about “moral victories”, there would have been something to take from a field goal late in the third quarter against Oregon. The defense had just generated a turnover in the red zone, after the Buffs had given up 28 straight points. No one had scored more than 16 points on the Ducks all season … so a field goal 19 points would have been a nice consolation prize in that situation. Instead, the Buffs came up empty … again.
Point … The Colorado defense, after forcing a three-and-out from the Oregon offense to start the game, could not stop the Ducks the rest of the game. As good as the Buffs were feeling about scoring offensive points in the first half against the Ducks (something CU failed to do in either 2011 or 2012), Oregon still had 29 points by the end of the first quarter. In 2011, Oregon scored 29 in the first quarter against Colorado; in 2012, the Ducks scored 28 points in the first quarter. Hard to see much difference here. At the end of the first quarter, Oregon had 262 yards of total offense; by halftime it was up to 415. The Ducks coasted in the second half, but still managed to post another 340 yards of total offense. Colorado entered the game 10th in the nation in rushing defense. Now the Buffs are 61st. Colorado was a respectable 63rd in total defense after three games. Now, after four games, the Buffs are back in all-too-familiar territory, at 115th.
Counterpoint … First, no one has stopped Oregon’s offense (or Oregon State’s, for that matter). The Ducks came into the game averaging just shy of 600 yards and 60 points per game, so the Buffs are on par with most of Oregon’s victims. Second, while the defense did get burned for some quick touchdowns, the Buffs also made the Ducks work for their scores. In the second quarter, Oregon had to grind out 12- and 11-play drives, something the Ducks are not accustomed to having to accomplish. Third, and most importantly, the defense didn’t quit. While it was a small victory, the defense did force turnovers on three straight second half possessions by the Ducks. Granted, much of the Buffs’ success was against backups, but you have to give it to the defense for continuing to play with passion and energy … an objective improvement from the recent past.
Point … The Colorado offense went 0-for-15 on third down conversion attempts against Oregon, and again struggled in the red zone. The Buffs were inside the Oregon 20 yard line on four occasions, and came away with three field goals. On the season, Colorado is 8-for-9 in scoring in the red zone, which sounds impressive. That is, until you note that seven of the eight scores are field goals, with only one touchdown in the red zone all season (an 18-yard catch by D.D. Goodson in the opener).
Counterpoint … I’ve really got nothing here. There is zero chance that Colorado is going to win any Pac-12 games if there are not conversions on third down, and success in the red zone. If these trends continue, there is very little chance the Buffs’ offense will be able to post enough points to win a conference game this season.
Point … Colorado is 0-2 in Pac-12 play, has given up almost 1,300 yards of total offense to the Oregon schools, together with a total of 101 points. Many of the offenses the Buffs are still to face are fast-paced, point-a-minute offenses. What chance is there for victory when the Colorado offense can’t convert third downs or redzone opportunities, and the defense gives up yardage and points by the bushel?
Counterpoint … Pure and simple … Because the Buffs believe they can. Said coach MacIntyre: “It’s natural human instinct (to get down). But, I was pleased with the way they were acting in the locker room, I was pleased how they kept battling out there and didn’t just lay down”. Then there was this from Greg Henderson, who had two interceptions on the day: “I don’t think we’re down, I think we’re disappointed … We came out hard, we fought hard, we just have to learn from everything we did wrong and everything we did right. We still have a long season ahead”.
And this from Paul Richardson, who had five catches for 134 yards, and a 75-yard touchdown pass to D.D. Goodson: “We have a lot of heart and we showed a lot of resilience; I’m just so proud of my team. It says a lot about how much pride we have, unfortunately we weren’t able to close out the second quarter and second half the way we wanted to, but we have a lot to learn from. This is an up-and-coming program and I know we showed a lot of people what we can do.”
Bottom line … Yes, the Buffs did indeed show a lot of people what they can do. The Colorado offense scored as many points in its first two drives as the Oregon defense was averaging per game. The Buffs showed fight, energy, and a belief that they are entitled to be on the field with any team in the nation … a true step forward for the program.
But, and this is a big “but”, there still has to be demonstrated results on the field for the Buff Nation, and the rest of the college football world, for Colorado to be seen as a program on the right track. Confidence is a tenuous commodity. These Buffs already have twice the victory total of last year’s team, and, after a likely loss to Arizona State on the road, will be heavily favored to pick up win No. 3 against Charleston-Southern. The season will then likely turn on the home game against Arizona. A victory, and a four-win Buff team will be talking about bowl bids. A loss, and Colorado is likely looking at an 0-6 Pac-12 record (after road games against UCLA and Washington) heading into the last three weeks of the season.
I’ll leave it to Paul Richardson to sum up the Buffs current state of affairs. “Knowing that we can play a good first quarter or play a good first half isn’t enough,” said Richardson. “We need to put four quarters together and we have to be able to finish games.”
That’s a good point …