Half as Good

Perhaps the Colorado students have it right.

Walking into Folsom Field in time to watch Ralphie V do her thing before kickoff against Arizona State, Buff fans were met with a disquieting sight.

No one was there.

Twenty minutes before kickoff, Folsom Field was less than half filled. True, the stadium was pock-marked with black-clad fans, but there were just as many empty seats as filled ones. It was a silent – very silent – reflection of the state of the Colorado football program.

What was even more disconcerting was the complete lack of bodies in the student section. Now, there have been those (including myself) who have chastised the students for showing up late for games, but there were always the hard cores who wanted the good seats behind the CU bench, or along the railings so that they would have a shot at getting themselves on television. Still, despite a Thursday night game and the promise of national television coverage on ESPN, even those areas of the student section were sparsely populated.

Now, by the end of the first quarter, the student sections were filling up, and by halftime, the Black Sea was looking pretty good.

So, as it turns out, the students may have it right.

Colorado has been out-scored 65-21 in the first quarter this season, so apparently there is no real reason to get to the game early.

By contrast, the Buffs have been most productive in the second quarter, with 52 points on the season (no other quarter has generated more than 38 points), with 17 of those second quarter points coming against the Sun Devils.

A 20-17 halftime score had the Buffs and their fans thinking upset. As was the case with Arizona State (CU was a 23-point underdog) not much had been expected of the Buffs last November against the other Arizona school, and the Buffs had rallied for a huge – and unexpected – victory against the Wildcats. Perhaps Colorado would shake itself out of its September slumber, and would be a real competitor in the months of October and November.

And now, the Buffs were only down three … before being flogged 31-0 in the second half.

When asked about improvements which needed to be made for his team to be competitive in a game, CU head coach Jon Embree stated, “Playing a complete game; playing all four quarters; playing the second half like we played the first half.”

That first half/second half sentiment was echoed by several Buff players. “First half, we were able to get to the ball,” said junior linebacker Derrick Webb. “We were able to get to the ball and stop their zone run plays and surround their ball carrier so they had to get real creative with the running game and finding unconventional ways to run the ball and a lot of that was with the quarterback. In the second half, defense played hard but they were able to capitalize on the pressures we had”. Said senior linebacker Nick Kasa, “We just need to improve on what we did in the first two quarters.” And this from defensive back Terrel Smith: “Just look at the first half. In the second half we blew it.”

But the halftime score only told half the story.

Yes, the Buffs had scored ten points in the final 24 seconds of the first half to pull to within a field goal at 20-17, but the stats sheet told of a different game altogether. Arizona State had already amassed 303 yards of total offense in the first two periods, to 166 for Colorado. The Buffs had held the ball for 17:25 of the first half, but were only two-of-eight on third down attempts, had all of 39 yards rushing on 15 attempts, and, until the final minute of play, had generated only seven points.

The Arizona State offense, meanwhile, was very proficient when it had the ball in the first half. Taylor Kelly was ten-of-13 passing, going for 183 yards and three touchdowns. Sun Devil rushers were averaging over six yards per carry. Arizona State had punted only once, and was five-for-seven on third down conversion attempts.

Which stats sheet would you rather have?

Still, the second half had to be played, and Colorado was still in the game.

All the momentum, though, went out the 88-year old Folsom Field doors in the first 11 seconds of the third quarter. Rashad Ross returned the opening kickoff back 100 yards for a touchdown, a 27-17 Arizona State lead, and a whole new ballgame.

The Colorado offense did generate two first downs in its first drive of the second half, but that was it for the game while it was still competitive. By the time the CU offense generated another first down, there was less than ten minutes to be played, and no chance for a Buff comeback.

The Colorado drive sheet for the first five drives of the second half:

Six plays, 25 yards, punt;

Three plays, seven yards, punt;

Three plays, minus-three yards, punt;

Three plays, minus-five yards; punt; and

Three plays, one yard; punt.

This offensive drought allowed Arizona State to take control of the game. After holding the ball for only 32 plays in the first half, Arizona State ran 24 plays in the third quarter alone.

A fluke? Hardly.

Colorado has only scored 14 third quarter points in six games. Two third quarter touchdowns – one against Sacramento State and one against Washington State – are all the Buffs have to show for their third quarter adjustments in the first half of 2012.

So, where does the blame lie?

Yes, yes, Colorado is playing a bunch of young players. Colorado has played 13 true freshmen this season. LSU, Ohio State, Texas, and TCU, though, have each played 15 true freshmen so far in 2012, and, at last check, those teams are still making bowl plans, while Colorado fans are looking forward to the start of basketball season. (Okay, Ohio State is on probation, and won’t go to a bowl game, but you get the idea).

True, true, Colorado does not have much in the way of senior leadership, with only eight seniors in the lineup. The consensus No. 1 team in the land, Alabama, however, is playing with a roster which includes only nine seniors. So I’m guessing that excuse really doesn’t wash with the Buff Nation, either.

Well, the CU coaching staff is only in its second campaign, and needs time to install its systems and recruit its players.

But … five of the six teams Colorado faced in the first half of the season had first-year coaching staffs, and for the most part, they seem to be doing quite well in implementing new schemes and adopting to the rosters they inherited. None of the teams Colorado faced in the first half of 2012 had winning records in 2011, but four of the six are well on their way to winning seasons in 2012.

So, things can be turned around in a year – not two or three.

It’s been ugly … it’s about to get worse.

In the second half of the season, Colorado faces six teams, five of which had winning seasons in 2011. The present combined record of the next three opponents – USC, Oregon, and Stanford – is 14-2.

It is not a stretch to say that, if Chip Kelly wanted to, Oregon could score a 100 against Colorado.

Is it really that bad in Boulder?

It is true that, around 8:30 on Thursday night, the new $7 million Folsom Field scoreboards read: Arizona State 20, Colorado 17.

There was plenty of television competition for the Buffs and Sun Devils Thursday night. A viewer, while flipping between the Vice Presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan, the baseball playoffs, the NFL game between Pittsburgh and Tennessee, and the Big Bang Theory, could have surmised that the game between the Sun Devils and the Buffs was a close one.

Such a conclusion, though, would be only half right …

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6 Replies to “Half as Good”

  1. Thoughts:
    WEBB- can’t get it done. He just can’t; misses open players, throws behind the receiver on screens, runs outside the protection of the pocket and into rushers. I really believe that he, more than any other factor, caused us to lose the game against ASU. Rare exception was against Wazzu – but even a blind squirrel can find a nut.

    O-LINE: They were terrible at the start of the season. They have improved throughout the season. They were actually pretty good against ASU and gave a fair amount of time to Webb. They are by no means a solid unit, but each week they show more promise.

    RUNNING GAME: Run it! If you are going to be a running team, then run the damn ball. So you don’t make 8 yards on a carry, or you get stuffed at the goal line. Run it again. Get stuffed? Run it again. You end up going 3 and out? Keep running it! 1)it gives the running backs repetitions; 2)it lets the o-line figure out the blocking schemes against competition and get in a rhythm; 3)it brutalizes the defense; 4)repetitive action sets up the defense for an unexpected surprise (but you need a quarterback that can throw for this to work – see above). When you’re down 10 points – keep running the ball. Keeps your D off the field and keeps building experience for the run game. It will eventually click, and then the O can move on to the “bigger” plays. I would love to see a game where the D thinks that 75% of the time you’re going to run the ball come hell or high water and lines up that way – I truly believe that it would make the defense more predictable than the offense.

    PASSING GAME: Spruce is a stud. McCulloch – almost a stud. I can’t remember how many times I’ve seen these guys wide open and the ball just doesn’t get there (see Webb above). I really believe Embree when he says “just a play here and there and it’s a different game” or something to that effect. We DO have the receivers to make us competitive. Just need a QB.

    DEFENSE: Go to a 4 man front to get more pressure, and keep calling blitzes. Let the safety’s earn their keep. Accept that you’re going to be burned deep but let the corners play tight, get burned and let them learn. But we might get blown out? Hell, we’re getting blown out anyway.

    COACHES: Give Embree 2 more years; give EB and the DC 1 more year. As JE and EB were hired as un-official ‘co-coaches’ I am beginning to wonder if there is a real conflict brewing between them and it is showing up in the results on the field.

    IMMEDIATE CHANGES: Bench Webb. Give Wood 2 games to make a difference. If no go, give Herschmann 2 games to make a diff. If no go? I don’t know. Also give Ford the start over Jones. He finds the holes and pushes the piles – Jones goes down in a stiff wind and dances around too much. Sure, Jones has the speed to burn it if he’s wide open, but how many times has that happened?

    Just my thoughts…

  2. I agree with your sentiments, Stuart. i’d like to try a slightly different slant.

    the student section. i don’t believe that the adept is doing as much as it could to fill those seats earlier in the game. i was a tad late to the ucla affair and found the entry gates to be extremely slow for regular fans. the line for the student gates was at least 50 yards long and 4-people wide. surely, something could be done to admit students more quickly. also, it took 8-mintues of game clock to get in through the regular gates.

    the team comparisons you make reveal some impressive research but i think a different view is possible. the only team in the pac12 over the past few years with less talent than cu was wazzu, possibly utah. so, it will take time and embree has had only 1.5 classes for his players. further, and i think is true for every coach and every sport at cu but especially football, is the shameful facilities and lukewarm fan support. in short, cu is a tough place to win unless one stumbles upon a truly remarkable coach, i.e., Eddie, Mac, maybe Tad. further, the lack of support from the cu administration is once again evident. it is not just dollars, but also academics and other accomodations that are common practice at cal, ucla, usc, stanford, etc.

    i see an improvement in talent. i worry that it won’t continue if cu doesn’t show progress on the field.

    the test of a coach is to get the most out of the talent available. i suspect this staff has not maximized the results of which these players are capable, but perhaps we have been deluding ourselves about how far the program has fallen, that is, the lack of talent left by hawkins.

    a fair question is also the choice of offensive schemes. with defenses recruited and trained to stop the spread the power run/play action should be a good matchup. i suspect that offensive output would have been better if we had legit wr speed. it will take another class or two to fix that (i’m not sure PRich is durable enough to be available for a full season).

    i am concerned about the staff but i’m not sure it has had a fair shot yet.

    still, i will be at the games and doing what i can do.

    on another issue, has anyone been contacted by the ath dept or the u concerning donations to a facilities upgrade fund? it seems that season ticket holders would be a natural starting point. also, i interpreted larry scott’s thursday night interview response regarding facilties as a not-so-subtle nudge to cu to get off the dime. what do you think?

    thanks, n

  3. Great article Stuart. I do agree that the excuses of young players and new coaches to the program don’t work when compared to other schools.

    Makes me wonder about Embree’s ability to get the job done….

  4. It is time to replace Webb. He throws inconsistently runs slow just hasn’t improved. Put in Wood or Hirschmann or rotate them it just doesn’t matter. Here’s hoping Dillon is the real deal.

    1. Webb also cannot throw on the run. A deadly deficiency with this offensive line. Time to try something else, as this recipe isn’t working.

  5. I left the game deathly ill before kickoff. After waking up this morning and looking at the score I realised that I am such a diehard Buff Fan that my body must be psychic. I feel sorry for everybody who drank the Kool Aid at half time. For me it was Banana flavored Muscle Milk about 2 hours before kickoff. Go Bllluuuuuuuuuaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…..Buffs!!

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