Three Years, not Three Games
September, 2013, had been a heady month for the University of Colorado football program.
The real world issues concerning the floods in Boulder and surrounding areas notwithstanding, the Buffs had been on a high since September 1st. Two come-from-behind wins gave Colorado, 1-11 in 2012, a 2-0 record which stood for three weeks.
The victories over Colorado State and Central Arkansas were solid statements about the progress made by the program under Mike MacIntyre and his staff since their hire last winter. The Buffs ran out to early leads in both games, only to give them up in the fourth quarter. Instead of folding, however, these Buffs rallied, scoring defensive touchdowns (defensive!), then taking care of business down the stretch to preserve victories.
Last season, against Colorado State and Sacramento State, the Buffs had the opportunity to win both of those games. CU took leads in both games, only to surrender them in the second half. There were no rallies, no taking care of business down the stretch to earn victories.
The Buffs have come a long way.
With three weeks to enjoy the status of an undefeated team, some in the Buff Nation got a little ahead of themselves. Bowl discussion became a topic of discussion … particularly, it was argued, if Fresno State could be replaced with a, shall we say, more “reasonable” opponent.
The 44-17 loss to Oregon State, though, reminded us that there is still a great deal of work to be done before “bowl bid” and “the University of Colorado” can be properly used in the same sentence.
The Buffs lost in all three facets of the game. The offense struggled mightily. After going to Paul Richardson on the first two plays of the game, the Buffs’ star receiver was not heard from again until the fourth quarter, when the game was already well decided. Connor Wood struggled, but you can’t blame the rain. Oregon State’s Sean Mannion played in the same rain, yet threw for a school-record six touchdowns.
The Colorado defense played well at times, and for most of the first half the unit kept the Buffs in the game. A conversion on fourth-and-ten at the at the CU 33-yard line with 58 seconds to go before half, however, set up a touchdown which turned a 10-3 lead into a momentum swinging 17-3 halftime advantage.
In the second half, the CU special teams contributed two turnovers (and Connor Wood a third) turning a competitive game into a rout.
Up next … No. 2 Oregon, which posted over 50 points for the fourth consecutive game in a rout of Cal, a new school record.
Anyone betting that the record won’t be extended to five games?
After that, the Buffs travel to Tempe to face Arizona State. The Sun Devils took on the one defense in the Pac-12 which had played well, that being the defense of USC. The result? 62 points for Arizona State.
The reality for the CU football program?
It’s going to get worse before it gets better.
But the Buff Nation should still take heart, even with Oregon coming to Boulder next weekend, checking its record books for what new standards can be set against the CU defense.
A little perspective. Let’s compare the 2012 Buffs after three games with the 2013 Buffs after three games:
– Passing offense … 2012 (after three games): 104th in the nation; 2013: 25th.
– Total offense … 2012: 113th in the nation; 2013: 61st.
– Scoring offense … 2012: 105th in the nation; 2013: 58th.
– Passing defense … 2012: 104th in the nation; 2013: 115th.
– Total defense … 2012: 106th in the nation; 2013: 62nd.
– Scoring defense … 2012: 112th in the nation; 2013: 91st.
There are plenty of other examples which would highlight the change in the situation at the University of Colorado over the past 12 months, but you get the idea.
Are these numbers where Buff fans would like them to be? No.
Are these numbers where they should be for Colorado to compete for bowl bids and conference titles? Not even close.
But what is required at this time is a time out, a step back.
Looking back a month, is there anyone who would have not taken, under the circumstances, a 2-1 record? A month ago, Oregon State was a ranked team, Colorado a complete unknown. A month ago, there were very few fans, if any, who had marked the Oregon State game down as a victory (or Oregon, or Arizona State, for that matter).
At different times, every phase of Colorado football looked awful against Oregon State.
The offense, with three weeks to prepare, seemed to have a game plan designed to use Paul Richardson as a decoy instead of a major component. His involvement, after the first two plays of the game, seemed to be to go long and try and run under a Connor Wood heave. That being said, the Buffs did have a season high of 154 yards rushing, with freshman Michael Adkins posting 98 yards on 14 carries, a healthy 7.0 yards per carry. Something to build on …
The defense, which covered well at times, had a decent first half. The lack of a pass rush, however, gave Sean Mannion way too much time to find his receivers. “We just weren’t getting there,” said defensive back Kenneth Crawley of the CU pass rush, “We are going to have to do better in our practices and start developing our pass rush”. Not a great effort statistically, but the defense has shown signs that it can compete at the Pac-12 level.
The CU special teams, though, continue to struggle. Kick coverage was improved, but two fumbles on kick returns and a shanked punt contributed to the Buffs’ woes. It’s a sad reality in college football that the last unit to improve – for teams without adequate depth – is special teams.
“You can’t put your finger on one thing that went wrong,” said quarterback Connor Wood. “I think all facets of the game had some; special teams made mistakes, defense made mistakes, and our offense had their fair share as well, so there are a lot of things we can improve on this week.”
The Buffs will be routed next week, there is little doubt of that. Then there is a road trip to Arizona State. The last time CU played there, it was a 48-14 embarrassment, with Nick Hirschman making an inauspicious debut (replaced by Tyler Hansen after CU was down 21-0 in the first quarter).
So, do we give up on these Buffs? Close up shop, assuming that that Buffs will as well?
I don’t think so.
The rebuilding of San Jose State by Mike MacIntyre took three years, not three games.
And while there are signs that the Buffs will return to bowl discussions on a pace faster than did San Jose State, it must be remembered that the Pac-12 is loaded with talent. There are a few great teams, and many good ones.
Colorado was still be ranked as the No. 11 or No. 12 team in the conference … even with a 2-0 start.
Breaking through a winning record seems inevitable for this coaching staff.
It’s just not going to be this year.
I hate “moral victories”. The object of the game is to find a way to win, not look good – or even “better”.
But that is what CU and its fans have to look forward to the next few weeks.
Can the Buffs show improvement in all three phases of the game? Even if the improvement is not necessarily reflected on the scoreboard?
Let’s hope so …
Tolerate the growing pains, Buff fans.
It will make the future victories all the sweeter.