“I’m happy with where we are … we just need to keep working and improving”

The Colorado Buffaloes completed Spring practice, 2011, with a 105-play scrimmage before 15,655 at Folsom Field in the first-ever Spring game with an evening kickoff (6:00 p.m).

Senior quarterback Tyler Hansen completed 8-of-15 passes for 124 yards and a touchdown in his seven drives of the scrimmage. While not as efficient as Hansen’s 18-for-19 performance in the second spring scrimmage a week earlier, the odds are still on Hansen being named the starting quarterback for the season on Tuesday. “I feel really comfortable as a player, and this offense is really good,” said Hansen. “(Accuracy) was my goal, and I’ve been working on my mechanics with coach (Rip) Scherer. I feel I’m getting a lot more accurate.”

“I wouldn’t say from Day One (that he was impressed with Hansen), but I am happy with his productivity,” said head coach Jon Embree. “He’s done a good job with his command of the offense, getting them in and out of the huddle. We need to get better with our tempo … But, overall, I am pleased with how he’s competed.”

The quarterbacks vying for the backup position had mixed results in the Spring game. Both junior Brent Burnette and red-shirt freshman Nick Hirschman were in the lineup for five drives (with another drive shared). Hischman had more opportunities to throw the ball, completing 11-19 for 170 yards and two touchdowns, while Burnette went 4-of-8 for 40 yards, one touchdown, and one interception (which was returned 33 yards for a touchdown by red-shirt freshman safety Jordan Marquez). While both quarterbacks had their moments, it appears clear that Hansen’s position of starter remains secure.

Another sure starter come September is running back Rodney Stewart. The senior, who rushed for 1,318 yards in 2010, had 14 carries for 55 yards during the scrimmage. The star of the running game during the Spring game was red-shirt freshman Josh Ford, who ran for 164 yards on 17 carries, including a 56-yard touchdown. Ford, a Mullen product who signed on with Kansas State before transferring to Colorado, remains a walk-on … for now. “I just tried to do my part”, said Ford. “I’ve been working hard … I’m just trying to impress my coach (Eric Bieniemy), and do my part in the system. It feels great to have success today, but I owe it to my O-line and my fullbacks for blocking for me.”

Ford is competing with two other backs for playing time this fall. Injured senior Brian Lockridge was out for the spring, giving more playing time to Ford and to red-shirt freshman Tony Jones, who had 12 carries for 53 yards and a touchdown on the evening. Overall, the Buffs ran for 291 yards and two touchdowns against the Colorado defense, averaging 5.7 yards per carry.

In the passing game, the good news was that there were a number of players who had receptions. The bad news – as it has been all spring – is that none of the receivers not named Paul Richardson made huge impressions. Richardson, who earlier in the day was given the Hale Irwin Award, handed out to the best sophomore-to-be on the team, had a team-leading four receptions for 61 yards and a touchdown. After Richardson, there were two players who had three catches apiece – red-shirt freshman tight end Kyle Slavin (three for 50 yards and two touchdowns) and senior walk-on wide receiver Kyle Cefalo (three for 28 yards) – who do not figure to be fixtures in the offense this fall. The only other scoring reception of the night was by red-shirt freshman Keenan Canty, who caught a 15-yard touchdown pass from Nick Hirschman for the first touchdown of the scrimmage.

Overall, however, the offense did fare well statistically, running up 625 yards in 93 plays (a 6.72 yard average). Still, the defense did have its moments, particularly early in the scrimmage, when the offense opened with five non-scoring drives. Junior linebacker Jon Major, who had four tackles in limited action, believed the Spring game “was a huge improvement from the past scrimmages. We were able to stop the run pretty well – at least the first team – and made them pass a lot. That’s where most of their success was. We’ll just continue to get more comfortable and playing fast.”

With the number of injured players out – 15 missed the game due to a myriad of ailments – there were no kickoffs and only one punt (Zach Grossnickle’s 32-yard effort). Sophomore kicker Justin Castor was erratic at first, but improved as the game went on. Castor connected on his only conventional PAT, and then went six-for-ten on field goal efforts. After missing four of his first six attempts, Castor connected on his last four (all of the misses were from 41 or 42 yards; the makes ranged from 37 yards to 51 yards). Embree’s advice to Castor? “Just keep working, you’re right there”, said Embree. “Continue to work with the snapper and holder and get the whole operation down. He definitely has the leg and is now getting the ball up quicker, which he struggled with early in camp. It’s a work in progress with him.”

Overall, Embree was pleased with his team’s effort. “We moved the ball well early, but stalled out,” said Embree. “I thought our defense played well early; I was happy with their tackling, but they got a little shoddy at the end … That’s okay. I understand the situation.”

Now it’s off to fall practice in August, when a new batch of freshmen will come in and compete for playing time. “I’m happy with the guys who are going to be here,” said Embree. “We know how to hit, we know how to throw a punch … we just need more guys. We can’t do nothing about that; we have what we have. We’ll have to try and stay as healthy as best we can. But I’m happy with where we are … we just need to keep working and improving.”

Game Stats

– No player on defense hit double digits in tackles, with the team led by red-shirt freshman linebacker Zac Blaha, who had nine tackles, including two quarterback sacks. Junior free safety Ray Polk was second on the team, with eight tackles.

– Brent Burnette’s interception by Jordan Marquez, returned 33 yards for a defensive touchdown, was the only turnover of the night.

– In 17 drives, the offense scored six touchdowns – two rushing and four passing.

– Defensive tackle Conrad Obi, voted the team’s most improved player, had four tackles, while linebacker Doug Rippy, who was voted the top Junior-to-be on the team (see Spring awards list, below), had two tackles. Rippy participated with a heavy heart, as his best friend since early childhood, Damiko Russell, was found shot to death in a Columbus, Ohio, alley on March 28th.

– Overall, there were only six penalties in 105 plays.

– The offense went 8-19 on third down attempts (42%), two-of-three on fourth down attempts, and went 4-5 in red zone penetrations (four touchdowns, one missed field goal).

– The Buffs’ two new fullbacks, Tyler Ahles and Evan Harrington, each had one catch on the night (for two and four yards, respectively). Neither had a rushing attempt.

– In the alumni football game, the team led by former CU head coach Gary Barnett topped the team led by former CU head coach Bill McCartney, 20-6. Barnett’s team was captained by Joel Klatt; McCartney’s team by Charles Johnson.

Spring Game attendance not quite a record

The announced attendance for the Spring game was 15,655. The crowd was not a record, as the 2008 game, after Coach Mac called out the Buff Nation to “Fill Folsom” brought in 17,800.

The 15,655 was the second-highest crowd, however, topping the 13,642 on hand for the 1989 Spring game (when quarterback Sal Aunese was honored by his teammates). The 2011 crowd marked only the sixth time in Colorado history that more than 10,000 were in attendance for the Spring game. (The other three: 11,700 in 2009; 11,336 in 1990; and 10,382 in 1991).

Spring Awards Announced

The Spring Awards were announced just prior to the Spring game. This year’s recipients include:

Iron Buffalo Award – (Strength and Conditioning) – Senior right guard Ryan Miller

John Wooten Award – Most improved Player – Senior defensive tackle Conrad Obi

Dan Stavely Award – Top Freshman-to-be – Center Daniel Munyer

Hale Irwin Award – Top Sophomore-to-be – Wide receiver Paul Richardson

Fred Casotti Award – Top Junior-to-be – Linebacker Doug Rippy

Joe Romig Award – Top Senior -to-be – Quarterback Tyler Hansen

Congratulations to all. Paul Richardson and Doug Rippy were likely candidates, as perhaps was Tyler Hansen (Jon Embree stated after the Spring game that he will announce the starting quaterback on Tuesday. Any guesses?). Daniel Munyer was given an opportunity to play at center with Mike Iltis out, and it appears that he has made the most of his opportunity.

Coach Bill McCartney does his thing

If you have never had the opportunity to listen to former Colorado head coach Bill McCartney speak, do not pass up any future opportunity.

Coach Mac is one very inspirational speaker, and he was at his best this Saturday, giving a speech to the team, as well as those former players assembled to play in the flag-football alumni game.

Introduced by head coach Jon Embree as the man “who sold me on the vision” of what Colorado football could be, Embree said that Coach Mac has “always been about team”, and that McCartney “only knows one thing – the truth”.

Coach Mac opened his remarks by quoting former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who said, “We succeed in life, as in the military, as we identify a single over-riding objective. All else needs to bend to that objective”.

McCartney used that quote to challenge the offensive and defensive lines of the 2011 Colorado football team. Mac brought the lines to the front of the room. To the defensive line, he directed a story about the 1980 Michigan football team, where McCartney was the defensive coordinator. The 1980 Wolverines were ranked in the top ten to start the season, but fell to 1-2 after a tough loss to South Carolina and their star running back, George Rogers. McCartney said that he asked his head coach, Bo Schembechler, to break from tradition, and pit the offense against the defense in a 9-on-7 in that Wednesday’s practice. McCartney said that the offense completely dominated the defense during the drill.

But the point was made.

For the next 26 quarters, the defense for Michigan did not give up a touchdown.

McCartney pointed out that there was no change in personnel from the team which had begun the season 1-2, there was no time for extra weight training. It was all about desire, and it started with the defensive line. “We’re asking you to lead the charge,” said McCartney. “You have to win the line of scrimmage.” McCartney then challenged the assembled starters – Cunningham; Obi; Pericak; and Hartigan, “Will you take the responsibility to control the line of scrimmage?” … There could be only one answer.

McCartney then turned his attention to the offensive line. Here, he told a story about the 1986 Colorado team. McCartney noted that, in his first three seasons in Boulder (1982-84), the team won seven games. The team then won seven games in 1985 alone, and all was well with the team.

Then the 1986 team started the season 0-4. Tough losses; close losses. But losses.

The Buffs then had a bye week before starting Big Eight conference play. McCartney that week challenged his offensive line, “Will you lead us out of this thing?”. He asked the offensive line to SURGE – S-taking the right Stance and firing out from the line; U- “U” are responsible for controlling your man; R-Be Relentless; G-for “Go” (McCartney noted that there are more definitions for “go” in the dictionary than for any other word); and E-Do it all to the very End.

McCartney noted that the 1986 team went on to win its next six games, and, over the next eight years, won 79% of its games. All behind, as McCartney noted, a dominant offensive line (one which led a certain 5’6″ scatback – Eric Bieniemy to the NFL).

“You win or lose up front,” McCartney concluded. “It’s all up to you”.

Another great speech by Coach Mac!

One Reply to “Spring Game – 2011”

  1. The last football game I watched at Folsom as a CU student was the 1989 Spring game. Sal Aunese’s stomach cancer was only publicly disclosed at or about the time of spring break so it was still very new and very raw by the day of the game. There was not a dry eye in the place when his teammates (including our new Offensive Coordinator) game him his gift (a chair just like the one the coaches sat in to watch game film) and then lifted him in his chair up on their shoulders. One of the most poignant sights I have ever seen….

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