A Will to Win

On a day in which wide receiver Paul Richardson became the first Colorado player to ever post a second 200-yard receiving game in a career …

On a day in which quarterback Connor Wood became only the third Buff to pass for over 400 yards in a season opener (409 by Kordell Stewart in 1992; 402 by Joel Klatt in 2003, both against Colorado State) …

On a day in which senior captain defensive end Chidera Uzo-Diribe and cornerback Greg Henderson teamed up for an electrifying 53-yard fumble return for a touchdown …

My MVP for the 2013 Rocky Mountain Showdown (if I can’t give it to coach Mike MacIntyre and his coaching staff) is …

Kicker Will Oliver.

It was Oliver who went four-for-four on field goal attempts in the Buffs’ 41-27 victory against Colorado State – after an entire season in which he made only six (in eight total attempts). It was Oliver who delivered on the game’s most crucial play, connecting on a 52-yard field goal (matching a career-best) to restore the Buffs to the lead once and for all, at 26-24, with 13:07 left in the game.

But let’s back up a moment, and remember what led up to that game-changing – and perhaps season-changing – play.

If you have been with CU at the Game for the past few months, indeed since last December, you know that I have been a bit reluctant to drink the Kool-Aid of the Mike Mac era. True enough, new CU head coach Mike MacIntyre has, since his hire, said and done everything any Buff fan could have realistically hoped for under the circumstances. MacIntyre brought in a professional staff (one which many of us thought was too San Jose State laden), a staff which knew how to not only run a program, but how to resurrect one. MacIntyre signed up a decent recruiting class, made the team look good in spring drills, had positive reports coming out of summer workouts, and had the team talking about unity, accountability, and commitment.

Still, having bought into the Dan Hawkins regime seven years ago, and the Jon Embree regime five years after that, I was skeptical.

I often quoted, to anyone who would listen, boxer Mike Tyson’s famous quote: “Everyone had a plan … ’till they get punched in the mouth”.

How would the 2013 Colorado Buffaloes, universally chosen to finish last in the Pac-12 South, fare when the games counted?

How would these (seemingly forever) young Buffs handle the inevitable adversity the 2013 season would bring?

Exactly a year earlier, on September 1, 2012, many of these same Buffs were on the field when Colorado, having staked itself to a 14-3 second quarter lead against the Rams, folded after a muffed punt led to a late second quarter touchdown. That one play sent the Buffs into a funk from which they did not recover the remainder of the game … and arguably the entire season.

The opportunity for the Buffs to stare down adversity didn’t come early in the 2013 Rocky Mountain Showdown. In fact, the Buffs opened the game about as well as could have been imagined.

After the CU defense forced a punt four plays into CSU’s opening drive, the Buff offense struck early. On only the second play of the pistol era at Colorado, quarterback Connor Wood found CU star wide receiver Paul Richardson so wide open that, as CUBuffs.com B.G. Brooks so eloquently put it, “P-Rich couldn’t have been any more by himself behind the Rams secondary unless he had been quarantined”.

The early 82-yard touchdown held up, as the Buffs took a 10-0 lead into the second quarter (the first period went so well that my working title for the game’s essay to that point was “A Quarter of the Way There”, figuring that, if Colorado could not sustain the lead for the entire game, the Buffs at least had a blue print for future success).

The second quarter did see some adversity, as the Rams opened the stanza with a field goal. Those points were more than made up for on a beautiful 18-yard touchdown pass from Wood to D.D. Goodson on a third-and-ten play with 3:56 to play in the half. Late in the quarter, Colorado State scored its first touchdown of the game to make the score 17-10, but the CU offense was able to respond, going 51 yards in six plays in only 1:18 of game clock, with Will Oliver connecting from 41 yards out as time expired to give Colorado a 20-10 halftime lead.

The newly minted Buffs had taken a few hits in the first half, but the first body blows of the season came in the third quarter.

Colorado would go on to hold the ball for 11 minutes of the third quarter, out-gain the Rams 103 yards to 23 during the period … and be out-scored 14-3.

The first shot to the chin came after the CU offense went three-and-out to open the second half. A Darragh O’Neill punt was returned 74 yards for a touchdown, and, quite suddenly, it was a game again at 20-17.

A 44-yard field goal by Oliver late in the quarter gave the Buffs a tentative 23-17 advantage, but that was almost immediately erased when the ensuring kickoff was returned 90 yards, leading to a touchdown – and CSU’s first lead of the game, at 24-23 – just three plays later.

The CSU contingent was in full voice for the first time since early in the game when the CU offense took the field to start the fourth quarter. Driving to the Colorado State 35-yard line, the Buffs, after a three-yard gain on third-and-six, faced a fourth-and-three at the CSU 35 yard line.

Up in the stands, my thoughts were that CU head coach Mike MacIntyre had no choice but to go for it. The Buffs were in no-man’s land at the 35 – too far out for a field goal attempt; too close to punt. Going for the first down seemed the only viable option.

And yet coach MacIntyre sent Will Oliver into the game.

Oliver, though three-for-three on the afternoon to that point, was at the edge of his effective range. The 52-yarder would tie his career-best.

A make, and Colorado would have the lead back early in the fourth quarter.

A miss, and Colorado State would not only have the ball back with the lead, but have the ball – and all the momentum – in excellent field position.

Oliver came through, however, and the Buffs had the lead back for good at 26-24.

True enough, the forced fumble a few plays later by Chidera Uzo-Diribe, a fumble which was recovered and converted into a 53-yard touchdown by Greg Henderson, was huge.

True enough, the first down pass play which was called with 3:47 remaining, with the Buffs now nursing a precarious 33-27 lead, a call which led to a game-clinching 75-yard touchdown connection between Wood and Richardson, will be talked about by CU fans for years.

But I would argue that all of that might not have been possible had Will Oliver not hit a 52-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter.

A miss could have been a turning point in the game … and perhaps the Buffs’ season.

A miss could have shaken the fragile confidence of the 2013 Buffs, a confidence which had grown in the locker room for the past nine months, but had yet to be tested on the playing field.

Now, with a victory in hand, the Buffs know that they can handle adversity. They know that they can trust the game plan of the new coaching staff, and that their hard work off the playing field can bear fruit on the playing field.

Thanks in large part to the four-for-four field goal afternoon by junior kicker Will Oliver, these Buffs know that, both figuratively and literally

… They have A Will To Win.

17 Replies to “A Will To Win”

  1. Great article, and I agree Will Oliver was the difference maker in the game.

    After seven consecutive losing seasons it was nice to see the team prepared for their opponent and not back down after being “punched”. There will be some let downs this season, but for the first time in a long time I feel the future is bright for the Buffs. I was so excited about the win that I woke up my 4 yr daughter to tell her the Buffs had won the game. (She actually fell asleep watching the game)

    On a sidenote, did anyone else get a little emotional watching Mac talk about his father after the game on the field? I started to get choked up and my wife had tears running down her face. I think the Buffs definitely got the right guy for the job.

    Looking forward to the game this Saturday.

    Go Buffs!

  2. On the CUBuffs.com website, I read B G Brooks’ contribution titled “Buffs Enter MacIntyre Era With 41-27 Victory”. This is thhe part that really got my attention:
    “That’s what I told our guys when we messed up another kickoff coverage. I went down there and said, ‘Wow, this is a great game, guys. They just made a great play and now it’s time for us to go make a great play. Enjoy the moment.’ And they just kept fighting and playing through it. I was really, really impressed with what they did and their resilience. It was the first time I’ve been on the field with them and they definitely could have let their heads down. But they fought tremendously.”

    I always have a tremendous amount of respect for the head coaches of our program, but a guy who says ‘Wow, this is a great game, guys. They just made a great play and NOW IT’S TIME FOR US TO GO MAKE A GREAT PLAY. ENJOY THE MOMENT.’ – well, he’s got the right perspective. It translated into a win last weekend and I am even more confident it will mean more success in the future.

  3. Stuart, during and after the game, I was really impressed with Oliver’s performance but you really gave it an additional dissection and perspective. Really, really well done.

    If you aren’t a syndicated sports writer….. why not? Is it that you have a better day job? If so, how do you make time to do such an excellent job with this web site?

    1. Thanks for the kind words about the article and the website.
      Not sure that I have a better day job (I’d rather follow the Buffs than be an attorney), and no one has asked me to take this any further (probably because of typos like the one you caught – thanks, BTW).
      Thing is, I’m not sure I want to do more. Since it’s just my site, and it’s free to anyone who wants to be a part of CU at the Game, I get to do the site on my own terms.
      For instance, I didn’t have any deadlines Sunday night to worry about, other than my self-imposed one. If I was working for someone else, I might have had to work Sunday night, instead of enjoying the Buffs’ win with friends …

      1. I’ve always thought your views, commitment, and writing were stand out, too, and I’m happy that you have Sunday nights off for all of our sakes… This time, I especially love your contribution. And I couldn’t, from my somewhat jaded perspective, agree more. Thanks!!!

  4. Very well written article Stuart – nice work!

    I’m just happy. I’m happy for DD after all the position changes including the desparation move to DB during the 2011 season. I’m happy for Nelson after the critcism over his alleged lack of speed last year. Happy for Conner having had to learn so many different offensive schemes. Happy for Paul after months and months of rehab and for Tony and Greg and on and on.

    It hasn’t been easy on us as fans but that pales in comparison to what these kids have been through. That was an impressive performance and I’m happy being proud of them for everything that went into this win behind the sceens. Well done fellow Buffs!

  5. I was amazed at how well organized the team was. There was only three times they started a play with less than 10 seconds left on the game clock. No delay of game penalties. And the tackling was impressive (except on punts and kickoffs). A great start.

  6. Sorry to be a wet blanket but I noticed that nobody is talking about how terrible Colorado’s running game looked. I am very pleased with the product Mac put on the field overall but if less than a 3 yard average is what to expect on the ground then CU is in big trouble when the PAC 12 schedule opens.

    1. Not sure I agree, Rob. Powell ran like a beast. He just ran into a stacked box and then…carried a pile of dudes for 3-8 yards at a time. He averaged 2.9yds/carry. Definitely not great, but…not that bad, either. TJ I saw slipped on a run, where he’d have had some room to go. I also saw him try to juke and get stuffed, when he should’ve just kept his angle to the edge (also blocked by CSU guys) lowered his shoulder, and let his momentum earn another 2-3 yards, rather than trying to change directions, and get cut down right there. Connor running occasionally is also a nice, new wrinkle that it looks like he is well suited to execute, and handle, physically.

      The weakest component of the RB’s, to me, was some less than stellar pass protection when Powell was out.

      I think with game film from this game, and coaching from this staff, the running game will continue to improve.

      We may see Michael Adkins sooner than I’d hoped though. But, if he can help and do more than the guys ahead of him? He’ll get in there.

      Go Buffs!

      1. 2.9 ypc is bad. Every single RB was shut down. It is true that they were stacking em but with 400 yds in the air, I kept expecting the ground game to wear em out. The ground game and the numbers they put up were no different than last year. This was the Rams, not a PAC 12 team. We were one of the worse rushing teams in FBS last year and from the looks of it last night, not allot changed in game one.

        1. No Powell in second half, so the downhill, pounding running game stopped. Don’t get me wrong, not saying there’s not room for improvement. I just didn’t see it as a glaring weakness last night.

          Go Buffs!

        2. Found this, from MacIntyre’s post game comments, as it relates to the O-line and running game: “When you get a 200 yard night (rushing), you’ve got to bust one for 50 or 60 (yards) and we didn’t bust one, but hopefully we will do that eventually.”

          I’ve no doubt they’re reviewing game film, will make adjustments, relay that to the O-line and RBs and coach them in ways to make improvement next week.

          Go Buffs!

  7. I couldn’t agree more. Oliver was huge. I also want to point out the coaching and execution of the “changed” kicking strategy. After being burned by the punt return and kick return the Buffs made the decision to not permit the Rams to exploit our return coverage teams. Oneal pooch punted beautifully thus eliminating the return. Same for squib kicking on the kickoffs. Good strategy and good execution. Coach Mac and the coaches decided that the Buffs defense could hold the Rams even with improved field position. Great choice. I am convinced that this is not a decision that would have been made by the two previous coaching regimes. They would have forced the Buff coverage team to fix the problem in game. Obviously we all know how those decisions turned out.

    The objective of in game coaching is to make adjustments to put your team in a position to win. Mission accomplished. Not to get carried away, but my real sense is we actually have a head coach that understands game management. Bring on the Kool-Aid! Go Buffs!

  8. At no time Sunday did the kids on the field give off the vibe that they were anxious or ill-prepared. Even when they made the two brutal special teams plays in the return game they never flinched. Connor Wood – from first play to last play yesterday – looked like a competent, confident Division I QB. At no time last year did any of the guys playing the position – including Wood – look that way.

    Incredibly impressive start. Well done Coach Mac and staff. Kids were ready to play.

    The combination of Richardson, Goodson and Spruce is going to cause opponents fits. If the line gives Wood time to throw, he has the weapons with which to hurt you.

  9. Awesome write up Stu! This mirrored my thoughts. I want to chirp in that I have not seen a Buff team tackle like that since Barnett was Coach. Go Buffs!

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