Spring Game – 2012

Last April, there was a great deal of hype surrounding the Spring Game. Jon Embree was making his debut as the Buffs’ head coach. The offense had well defined starters at key positions, with Tyler Hansen the undisputed starter at quarterback, and Rodney Stewart, a three year starter, returning at running back. Optimisim filled the air in the first official outing of the post-Hawkins era, and 15,655 fans made their presence known in the Folsom Field stands.

In 2012, there was little hype surrounding the Spring Game, with closed practices keeping the spring low-key. Jon Embree was left to piece together a spring scrimmage with a decimated lineup. The Buffs were without 28 seniors, and had lost its one star player, wide receiver Paul Richardson, to a season-ending knee injury earlier in the week. A sense of resignation about the fate of the 2012 team filled the air, and less than half as many fans – 7,150 – found their way to Folsom Field.

The spring scrimmage was only 42 plays, down from the 105 plays from last season. Still, head coach Jon Embree was pleased with the results, especially for those players who had the chance to play when so many Buffs were out with injuries. “They got to play on Folsom Field, run out behind Ralphie,” said Embree. “Hopefully mom, dad and grandma and some of them were here to see that. It’s a nice reward for some of those guys given the amount of work they’ve put in; a lot of time they toil in anonymity . . . they’ve practiced, gone through Coaches’ Week. We wanted them to get an opportunity to play in front of family and friends.

“To me, this was like the fourth preseason game in the league – just get out and let the guys play, let some kids have an opportunity to show family and friends what they can do.”

On a broader scale, Embree hopes the spring finale helps the Buffs’ confidence and focus. He said Saturday, in reality, “is the beginning of our summer program. They’ll have about a week off, we’ll talk about some things from a school standpoint. I want them to finish in the right way, then let’s get going on the football.”

As for the game, there was one constant between the 2011 and 2012 spring games.

Running back Josh Ford.

The junior from Mullen may become known as “Mr. April” in Boulder. Last spring, Ford ran for 164 yards on 17 carries in the Spring game, including a 56-yard touchdown.

In the 2012 Spring game, Ford led the Buffs with 141 yards on only eight carries (a 17.6 yard average), scoring twice, including a 43-yard touchdown.

In between the two Spring games – in the intervening 2011 season – Ford had all of 22 carries for 128 yards and one touchdown.

In addition to Ford’s two touchdowns, the Buff offense generated three other scores. Dustin Ebner collected a 14-yard touchdown pass from Connor Wood to culminate an 11-play, 75-yard drive to open the action. Next, Justin Gorman scored on a 12-yard run to finish off a 10-play, 75-yard drive led by John Schrock. In the second half of the Spring game, which consisted of only 42 plays (compared to 105-plays last Spring), wide receiver Jarrod Darden collected a 42-yard touchdown pass from Connor Wood.

For those watching Connor Wood for the first time, the sophomore transfer from Texas fared well, at least statisically. Wood completed 70% of his passes (7-for-10), for 137 yards and two touchdowns. “I thought No. 5 was sharp,” said Embree. “He missed a couple of deep balls . . . but I thought he played well.”

Embree said Wood, also a sophomore, was good with his decision-making: “That’s always the No. 1 thing with quarterbacks . . . and I thought he was better with his accuracy in the shorter passes.”

With Nick Hirschman (injured) and Shane Dillon (enrolling this summer) on the Folsom Field sidelines, the competition for the starting job was left to Wood, John Schrock and Stevie J. Dorman. Schrock completed only 3-of-8 passes, going for only 26 yards. Schrock also endured the only sack surrendered by the Colorado offensive line. Dorman, for his part, completed both of his pass attempts, including a 30-yarder to tight end Kyle Slavin.

“All this (spring) did is give Connor an opportunity to get some ‘reps’ that he wasn’t able to get, not being in training camp and being on the scout team,” Embree said. “Now they should be in there even; it should be a nice competition.”

For his part, Wood was pleased with the effort. Wood acknowledged his misfires on a couple of deep throws, saying those “were my fault. There were some plays you want back and you have to keep working on, but as a whole I was happy about the way I played. After 15 practices I think I’ve done well. But there’s still room to improve every day. You’ve got to happy with yourself, you can’t be hanging your head because of a few bad plays. You’ve got to stay positive and work toward the next day and keep on improving.”

The Colorado rushing attack, led by Ford’s 141 yards, posted 198 yards on 22 carries, a gaudy nine yards per carry average. Other than Ford, however, no other Buff had more than five carries, with the presumptive starter, sophomore Tony Jones, carrying the ball only four times, gaining 23 yards.

Still, Tony Jones remains atop the depth chart. Tony Jones was “very good” this spring according to Embree, and “separated himself from the other guys. The young guys will have to come in and catch him.” As for Ford, who was the star again this spring? Embree’s praise was more luke-warm. Embree said Ford “has done well. He has to find a way to continue to improve, help us on special teams. We’ll see what he does when the other kids get here in fall camp. You can’t start slow; that’s the good thing about having competition and depth at some of these positions. You can’t start slow and ease your way into it. You have to come in training camp ready to go.”

The receiving corps, which will be a corps by committee in the absence of Paul Richardson, acted as a corps by committee. There were 12 total completions on the evening, going for 197 total yards, with no one receiver posting more than two catches. Wideouts Jarrod Darden, Nelson Spruce, and Dustin Ebner all had two catches, with Darden and Ebner each posting a touchdown.

Of Darden, who has not caught a ball in live action since 2008, Embree was happy to see some production. Embree said he hopes Darden’s day gives him a little enthusiasm going into camp . . . It was good to see him start make plays.”

In fact, it was “the first time I’ve seen him make plays. I reached for my Junior Mints at that point . . . like I was at the movies. I was glad to see some entertainment from him.”

On the defensive side of the ball, there were few statistics of note. Three players led the team with four tackles apiece, with two of those players – red-shirt freshman defensive back Brandon Brisco and sophomore defensive back Harrison Hunter – being walk-ons who are unlikely to see much action this fall (the third player with four tackles was defensive end Juda Parker).

Embree did take time to single out the play of sophomore linebacker Woodson Greer, who made two unassisted tackles (one for a 5-yard loss).

“You could hear him playing, which is always a good sign for a defensive player,” Embree said of the 6-3, 225-pound Greer. “He was physical and hitting.”

Asked if being heard was a good thing, Greer said, “When I make good plays, I tend to talk a lot just to get everybody fired up, get the defense on a roll . . . I hope he heard my hits, too. I like to hit hard. So yeah, I think that’s a good thing.”

He also said he believes he has come “really far” this spring, particularly in the areas of “knowing the concepts, to attacking blocks, my technique . . . I think I came really far from last year – just levels above. I think I showed the coaches I’m able to compete at this level.

Elsewhere on defense this spring, Embree also mentioned sophomores Brady Daigh (linebacker), Juda Parker (end) and Josh Moten (corner).

In the kicking game, former starter Zach Grossnickle out-punted incumbent Darragh O’Neill, but not by much. Both punters were given two opportunities, with Grossnickle totaling 92 yards in his two efforts, while O’Neill totaled 87. Returning starter at kicker, Will Oliver, is out with a shoulder injury, so Justin Castor handled the kicking duties. No extra points were attempted, but Castor did go 4-for-6 in field goal attempts, hitting on four efforts ranging from 34 to 50 yards, while missing attempts from 48 and 52 yards out.

What does all of the above mean for the Colorado Buffaloes 2012 chances?

CU hasn’t been involved in the postseason since the 2007 Independence Bowl. Returning to a bowl game in 2012 has been an off-season catalyst for the coaches and players.

“I still think it’s achievable, but how far we go towards that goal and how we accomplish it, we’re going to lean on some guys coming in,” Embree said. “So how quickly – and I told this to the seniors and the rest of the team – how quickly you’re able to help them assimilate, help them know how to practice, know how to work, will help us get to that goal.

“If you want to look at it as they’re the bad guy because they coming here to compete for a job, then we’ll all have the same fate – we’ll all be home for Christmas.”

Game Notes

– The list of players who missed the Spring game due to injury is lengthy: Defensive end Cordary Allen (shoulder), cornerback Jered Bell (knee), defensive end Ben Bertsch (groin), defensive end Nate Bonsu (shoulder), offensive lineman Kaiwi Crabb (back), tailback Malcolm Creer (knee), offensive lineman Ryan Dannewitz (back), defensive back Will Harlos (hamstring), Hirschman (foot), place kicker Will Oliver (shoulder), defensive back Parker Orms (hamstring), defensive back Ray Polk (wrist), wide receiver Paul Richardson (knee), linebacker Doug Rippy (knee) and defensive back Richard Yates (knee). The good news? All but Richardson are, at this time, expected to ready to participate in fall practices come August.

– In addition to the above, the following players also missed some, if not all, of the game action during the Spring Game. Defensive tackle Will Pericak, defensive end Chidera Uzo-Diribe, linebacker Derrick Webb, linebacker Jon Major and linebacker Kyle Washington did not participate in any live plays on Saturday in order to avoid the risk of injury. Cornerback  Greg Henderson was absent as he was attending a funeral back home in California.

– In conducting only 44 plays, the CU offense was on the field against the defense for only seven drives, scoring touchdowns on five of those drives. However, as noted above, many of the front-line defensive players for the Buffs did not participate in the game.

– The Colorado Spring game was actually the fourth Spring “scrimmage” in the past seven seasons, with no Spring Games being conducted in 2006, 2007, and 2011.

– The 7,150 in attendance was the lowest for the Spring game since 2007, when 5,800 were on hand to watch a scrimmage the season after the Buffs went 2-10 in Dan Hawkins’ first season.

One Reply to “Spring Game – 2012”

  1. Don’t get too high on Ford everyone. He has always done well against the scrubs but not much elsewhere. He has had fumble problems, is not a good route runner and is definitely not a good blocker. That is why he is listed third on the depth chart, behind DD Goodson, and without having Malcom Creer, or any of the freshmen, even listed yet.

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