Grasping at Straws

At a time when the University of Colorado football program is looking squarely into the eyes of a seventh consecutive losing season, a depth never before reached in the 123-year history of the program, it’s hard to stay focused on what Buff fans believe (hope?) to be better days ahead. A 42-14 home loss to UCLA leaves the Buffs at 1-4 on the season, with a gauntlet of better teams lying in wait to take their turn at upgrading their school record books.

Is there any reason for hope for this season? Or, in fact, for the foreseeable future?

Two days before the Colorado/UCLA game, the first annual “Parade of Buffs” took place. Numerous Buff heroes from years past were introduced. The band played, the cheer team cheered, and current Buff teams were introduced and applauded. It was a glorified pep rally, designed to help pump up the players and fans for the first Pac-12 conference home game of the season.

Foremer head coach Bill McCartney was on hand, again giving his stump speech about how it took three long years of suffering before he and his coaching staff were able to turn the Buffs around. Coach Mac again reminded us that he only won seven games in his first three seasons, but was nonetheless awarded a contract extension. After a pitiful 1-10 season in 1984, we all remember, the Buffs never again had a losing season under McCartney, with the Buffs twice playing for the national championship just a few short years after McCartney’s slow start.

It happened before, the mantra goes … so it can happen again (with or without a shift to the wishbone?).

Grasping at straws …  

We all know the meaning of the term – trying to find any reason to feel hopeful in a desperate situation – but I have always been interested in the derivation of terms. “Grasping at straws” dates back at least to the 18th century, found in an old English proverb that a “drowning man will grasp at any straw”, with the “straw” translating into any reed by the side of the river by which one might hold onto in order to save themselves from drowning.

Does the CU football program have any reeds left to grasp?

— Well, the Buffs did not get blown out right away by UCLA. The score was 7-0 at the end of the first quarter, much better than the 35-0 deficit faced against Fresno State, and an improvement upon the 21-0 deficit the Buffs faced in the Rose Bowl a year ago against these same Bruins.

But … the Buffs did fall behind 21-7 by halftime, not much of an improvement over the 21-6 score against UCLA at half last fall. And the final score, 42-14, was only marginally better than the 45-6 final of a year ago.

— The defense held the nation’s fourth leading rusher, Johnathan Franklin, more than 30 yards below his season average, and kept Brett Hundley, who had three 300-yard games in his first four outings, from a fourth 300-yard game.

But … Franklin still went off for 111 yards, and added another 48 yards receiving. And Hundley, in only the second road game of his career, was never phased by the Folsom Field crowd, and was held to 281 yards not by the Buffs, but by the score. Had Hundley needed 300 yards, he would have got them.

— New players saw time on offense, giving hope for the future. Freshman tight end Vincent Hobbs saw his first real action, catching two passes for 37 yards. Fellow true freshman Donta Abron saw his first real playing time, carrying the ball four times in the Buffs’ second touchdown drive.

But … Vincent Hobbs had the longest play of the afternoon for Colorado, a 31-yard gain … at the end of which he fumbled. Donta Abron’s carries were all in garbage time. Josh Ford looked great in garbage time against Fresno State two weeks ago, but hasn’t been heard from since.

Really, there isn’t much there for Colorado fans to grasp onto. The “straws” are looking thinner, and even further away, than they were last week, when there was a glimmer of hope after a 21-point fourth quarter in Pullman gave the Buffs an unlikely comeback victory against Washington State.

Back to square one …

Another phrase we are familiar with – starting over; returning to basics in hopes of erasing the recent past with a fresh start.

The derivation, though, is interesting. In the early days of BBC radio, sports commentators adopted an experimental system for soccer broadcasts. The field was divided into eight theoretical squares and listeners were shown these on a diagram in newspapers. The commentator would indicate the position of the ball and the players by the square in which they happened to be in, at any point of time.

So, where is square one for the Colorado Buffaloes?

Freshman cornerback Kenneth Crawley led the team in tackles against UCLA, with eight, all solo. Safety Terrel Smith was second, with seven – again, all solo. Colorado, be it by design or necessity, has adopted a “bend but don’t break” philosophy when it comes to playing defense. Rather than choosing to be burned by long pass plays, the Buffs try to keep everything in front of them, hoping that if the opposition’s drives are drawn out, that the opponent’s offense will make a mistake along the way.

Decent theory, especially when your secondary is made up mostly of true freshmen … but it hasn’t proven itself out in practice. Colorado went into the UCLA game 96th in the nation in red zone defense. So, even after allowing teams to march down the field unimpeded, the Buffs have still been unable to defend a short field.

Against UCLA, the Colorado defense rose up to the challenge only on a few occasions. In the Bruins’ first touchdown drive, the UCLA offense had not one, not two, but three second-and-one opportunities. In the game, UCLA had four drives into the CU red zone. The result? Four-for-four, with four touchdowns.

Failed tackles made short gains into long gains. Missed assignments made it easy for a red-shirt quarterback to complete two-thirds of his pass attempts.


And the defense isn’t even the Buffs’ biggest obstacle to success.

The Colorado offense is the real problem.

Playing at home, against a defense ranked 80th or worse in rushing defense, pass defense, and total defense, the Colorado offense went three-and-out nine times.

Let’s try that one again … Colorado had 15 total possessions, and in nine of those possessions gave the ball back after running only three plays – against a team which is in the bottom third of the Pac-12 conference in most defensive categories.

“I don’t (have an answer to why the Colorado offense doesn’t work), I wish I did,” said Jon Embree after the game. “That will be something that over this bye week period we will have to address and see what we can do, and get done within our system, and get better starts. For whatever reason, we have not played well. We have 8-10 plays that we know we’e going to start with and we practice it against the looks we are going to get, but for whatever reason we’e just not able to do anything.”

Quarterback Jordan Webb was equally at a loss to explain why the offense isn’t working. “I don’t know. We have been working really hard at it, and we will continue to work hard at it and I expect us to get better. I feel like our offensive line handled themselves really well tonight when I was in the pocket, but we have got to get better in all facets of the game.”

Sounds like a team heading back to square one …

A fiasco …

We might have to hold off on the use of “a fiasco” for upcoming weeks.

Colorado, after a beat down by a mediocre UCLA team, will have a weekend off to contemplate an October which includes trips to the Coliseum to face USC, and to Autzen Stadium to play Oregon.

A fiasco, a complete and ignominious failure, actually has its origins in Italian bottle-making. Glass blowers, always seeking perfection in their creations, would occasionally produce a bottle with a flaw. Such bottles were not discarded, but were made into flasks for workers. A fiasco, literally, is a “failure to make a bottle”.

Unless the Buffs can “get back to square one” in a hurry, and produce a game plan which can succeed against defenses of the Pac-12, it would be “grasping at straws” to see another victory in the 2012 season.

Which will have Buff fans reaching for their flasks earlier and earlier with each passing week …


7 Replies to “Grasping at Straws”

  1. Colorado is officially the worst major conference football program in the nation. No reasonable person can really think Coach Embree will return this program to elite status. Both Arizona State and Arizona seem to have bright futures with first year coaches. That’s because they hired people that actually had head coaching experience. We have the money. Go get Petrino, maybe Charlie Strong, even Erickson. Somebody. I’m tired of being embarrassed.

  2. The only thing I don’t agree with here is “after a beat down by a mediocre UCLA team”… I think UCLA has always had the talent, but the coaching was not working. Now they have a new coach and he is making noise with Newiesals players.

    IMO, CU played well on D and our offense is what lost the game. I know the scoreboard shows just the reverse, but you cannot win games if you don’t score. The game was 21-7 until about the last 3 minutes of the 3rd quarter. We needed to score and never even showed life with the exception of one drive from Webb and one from Hirschman. The beat down didn’t come until the 4th quarter, some of it handed to the Bruins via turnovers (thanks again for nothing, offense).

    I hope we can heal up well and bring our best against ASU. Seems like the kind of team that might look past us.

  3. Keep in mind that some of the success that UCLA had came as a result of errors by our young, inexperienced team. The fumbled pass by Hobbs, the pass interception in which Webb made his only terrible decision, throwing into the vicinity of 3 UCLA defenders and a foolish running into the kicker penalty which gave the Bruins another chance to score. Take these 3 plays away and the final score could have looked more respectable.

    1. With all due respect, Herb, I am tired of “we were just a few plays away.” We have been listening to that for 6+ seasons now.

      1. Buff190, you’re right we have been listening to that but for 5 of those years it was reality, and when one looks at the make up of this team it is still the overriding factor that is still haunting this team. I just do not expect too much with just a handful of upperclassmen that are capable of playing and 1 1/2 years of new recruits. At least that is how I see it, and while it seems like forever sense we have had anything to cheer about with Dear Ole CU that is the reality and will probably be the case next year, only maybe not quite as bad as the last and current year.

  4. Stuart, while UCLA may be a mediocre team, I feel that they are far superior in talent to CU in many areas, particularly some of the skill areas on offense. Watching the game they appeared to be faster, stronger and more better positioned on many plays. Overall UCLA just executed better than CU the whole game, where as CU at times seem to get it then reverted back to what we have observed this year and most of last year.

    Why doesn’t the defense tackle better? Why does it seem at times as if our guys are totally out of position on defense and all it takes is a chip block by the offense to extend a play for more yardage than what should have been? Why, if the offense works hard during the week does nothing seem to work in the game? Why are we not able to run the ball with any consistency? Why is the offense on obvious passing downs unable to compensate for an aggressive pass rush or blitz by either blocking or executing a play that punishes a gambling defense? Why are our kickoffs so weak and then the coverage is so poor?

    These are questions that are glaring when watching this CU team, and occur over and over. Although I have left other problems out, it seems to me that if what I have listed were mostly eliminated it would give us at least a fighting chance in most games. I am not one that thinks the play calling or some of those items that many complain about are as big a deal as what I have listed above that are consistently inherent in every game we have played this year.

  5. Trying to look at the bright side. I was at the game, and I saw effort and emotion from the Buffs – two things I did not see much of during the first 3 weeks. Despite the result on the scoreboard yesterday, I believe if we had played the same way in the first 3 weeks of the season, we would have 2 more wins (CSU and Sac State). Need to keep building, keep working, and keep recruiting…

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