A Close Shave at Gillette Stadium

My working title for the essay of the Colorado game against Massachusetts, walking into the New England Patriots’ Gillette Stadium, had two possible options – “Boston Strong” or “Boston Weak”.

Guess which title was in the lead midway through the third quarter?

Down 31-20 against a team the Buffs were favored to beat by 17 points, there was little to console the Buff Nation. Sure, the Colorado offense had posted 20 first-half points (but against a team with two victories in two seasons as an FBS team), but had already surrendered 31 (to a team which managed all of seven points against Boston College the week before – and a total of 14 points in three games against FBS competition in 2013).

Now, my attitude may have been skewed somewhat by the fact that had only gotten into Boston at 5:30 the morning of the game, and was still without my luggage (a more complete timeline of my odyssey in getting to the game is recounted below). I was tired and dispirited walking into the game to start with, and the play of the Buffs did little to dispel my fears that Colorado was regressing, not progressing.

Colorado opened the game with a scoring drive (yea!), but had to settle for another field goal once the offense reached the opponent’s red zone (boo!). After falling behind 7-3, the Buffs rallied to take a 10-7 lead, but then again blew the chance to take control of the game. After Darragh O’Neill had pinned the Minutemen down at their four yard line with a punt, and the CU defense had forced a three-and-out, the Buffs took over at the UMass 45-yard line. Instead of asserting itself as the dominant team, Colorado settled for a field goal (on a drive which featured only one rushing play), taking a 13-7 lead.

With new found resolve, UMass scored next, taking a 14-13 advantage. The game was a seesaw affair thereafter, with Colorado showing no inclination to remind the Minutemen that they were the more talented team.

If, down the road this season, Colorado has such a scoring battle against say an Arizona or an Oregon State, Buff fans will take it.

Colorado needs to show that it can keep up with the rest of the Pac-12, if only to show the gap between the Buffs and the rest of the league had been narrowed.

But don’t count on it – Colorado will not be scoring 41 points on Pac-12 defenses, but will easily give up 38 points (or more) to its conference rivals.

It turned out to be a good thing that the game was not easy to watch on television.

Why? Because, well, it wasn’t easy to watch.

Colorado was supposed to take a step forward in 2014, with a full season under the coaching staff, plus a full off-season.

Two games into 2014, though, it’s hard to say the Buffs have taken a step forward.

If anything, Colorado has taken a step back.

Nagging concerns:

– Can the Colorado defense stop anybody?

In the last 13 months, UMass has played four other FBS schools. Against those four other schools – Wisconsin, Kansas State, Vanderbilt and Boston College – the Minutemen scored zero, 7, 7, and 7 points. That’s a total of 21 points in four games. UMass had 21 points against Colorado … in the first half. Until proven otherwise, there is no reason to believe that Colorado will be able to stop any Pac-12 offenses from score 40 or more points per game. With the Buff offense unlikely to be able to match the output of their Pac-12 counterparts, a long conference season seems all but assured.

– What is with the Colorado play-calling/mindset late in the second quarter/early third quarter?

Swallows returning to Capistrano have nothing on the Buffs.

With alarming regularity, Colorado fades late in the first half, and comes out flat early in the second half, and the same maddening trend continued against UMass. The Buffs were out-scored, 17-0, in the five minute span covering the last 2:30 of the first half, and the first 2:30 of the second half. Colorado had a 20-14 lead – and the ball – with 1:11 left to play before halftime. Three incompletions – and 23 seconds – later, UMass had the ball back. With only 48 seconds to work with, and 70 yards to cover, the Minutemen were in no position to plan on a score … but the CU secondary unbelievably gave up a 36 yard completion on the first play. A touchdown resulted, giving UMass a 21-20 halftime advantage.

Okay, the Minutemen were close to Boston College in the first half (down 6-0), but were put in their place in the second half, being outscored 24-7. Surely Colorado would put UMass in its place coming out of the break – right? Instead, the Buffs (also out-scored 24-7 in the second half of Week One), inexplicably came out flat. A field goal drive by the UMass offense was met with an interception from the CU offense, resulting in a one-play, two-yard drive for a score. In less than five minutes of game clock, the score had gone from 20-14, Colorado, to 31-20, Massachusetts.

No way the Buffs play this poorly the rest of the season and come away with “W’s”.

– Half my kingdom for a kickoff to the endzone!

Where have you gone, Diego Gonzalez? The transfer from Mexico – reportedly – was a star last fall during practices, routinely kicking the ball out of the end zone. Eligible this season, Gonzalez has been a non-factor, with Will Oliver keeping his job as the kickoff specialist.

The problem is that Oliver cannot consistently find the end zone, with the result being that the Buffs are consistently putting their (porous) defense on the field at a disadvantage.

Here are the starting positions after kickoffs for UMass: the 17-yard line; the 45; the 30; the 39; the 46; the 30; and the 49. One effective kickoff the entire game. The remainder were a combination of poor (or poorly planned) kicks which continuously gave the opposition great starting position.

– Over 100 yards in penalties

Colorado had 12 penalties for 124 yards, a nearly fatal total against Massachusetts … and a recipe for disaster for a team which is likely to be favored in only one more game (Hawai’i) the remainder of the season.

“Our problem mainly concerns the new rules,” explained coach MacIntyre after the game. “The new rules on defensive backs and roughing the passers. We have some younger guys and they will learn. We aren’t worried about having more penalties because everybody has more penalties right now.”

Fortunately for Colorado, the UMass players are just as young and uneducated as the Colorado players. In what proved to be the game-winning touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, the Buffs needed three defensive penalties including an offside call on third-and-four and a pass interference call on third-and-21, just to maintain possession.

Anyone thinking Colorado will be so fortunate when the calendar turns from September to October?

I have been disconsolate before. Eight years after the fact, I still hear about the 2006 loss to Montana State, Falling to Sacramento State was another embarrassment, and giving up 56 points in the first half against Oregon two years ago was pitiful.

But, even with a school record eight straight losing seasons, I never got to the point where I was ready to throw in the towel on the Buffs.

My diploma was not going to change; CU is my school for life.

Still, having gotten into Boston eight hours late, with my head finally hitting the pillow at 5:30 a.m. (and my luggage in Chicago), it was fair – down 31-20 to a terrible team which had about 4,000 fans on hand for a home game – to question whether it was all worth it. The travel, the expense, the emotional cost of following a team which gives so little in return.

The Buffs rallied from the 11-point deficit, and I rallied along with them (a text from my wife in the fourth quarter: “The luggage is here!”, helped), and Colorado is now 1-1 on the 2014 season.

College football is an emotional game. The Buffs can use the victory over the Minutemen to gain confidence and pride. Colorado could well use the 41-38 victory as a springboard to a decent season.

But I’m not counting on it.

——

P.S. Just for “fun”, here is how Friday before the CU game against UMass unfolded for Lee and I:

– We left Bozeman on time for Chicago, with the flight leaving just after noon. Somewhere over the Dakotas, our day began to fall apart. The pilot told us there were thunderstorms over Chicago, and we were going to be about 15 minutes late getting into O’Hare (so far, so good – we had a layover of about an hour before our flight to Boston). Then the pilot can on, saying we were going to be flying in circles over Chicago, waiting for our turn to land. Next, the message was that we were diverting to Madison to get more fuel – so we could fly in circles some more.

After sitting on the tarmac in Madison, we finally took off and got to Chicago. Our flight to Boston – naturally – was delayed. Instead of leaving at 6:00 p.m., we were leaving at 9:21 p.m., getting into Boston at 12:43 a.m. Saturday. Not great, but with the line at the United customer service center stretching for about a quarter mile, we considered ourselves lucky.

That was until 9:00 p.m., when our 9:21 flight to Boston was cancelled. Now on standby for the 11:30 flight, we were the last couple to get on the plane. An hour sitting on the tarmac at O’Hare was followed by the 2 1/2 hour flight into Boston, getting in at 3:30 a.m., eastern time.

But we’re not finished.

Of course, our luggage didn’t make the trip, which meant another hour at United baggage claim (you can imagine that the one person working there, at 4:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning, was not from the “A-list” of employees). A shuttle ride out to the car rental place ensued, with my name not on the board. In front of us in line at the Hertz counter was a gentleman whose English, I must confess, is slightly better than my Mandarin – but not by much. He wanted to change his already processed charge on his Visa to his Discover card, a task outside the ability of the clerk (another “A-list” employee). We finally got to the hotel, with our heads hitting the pillow, at 5:39 a.m. (okay, fine. It was only 3:39 a.m., Mountain time).

And for all of this, the Buffs gave me a 31-20 third quarter deficit …

… tell me again why I’m doing this???

————–

14 Replies to “A Close Shave at Gillette”

  1. RE: Gonzalez: the last time we saw him (CSU) he kicked it short and gave up a long return to spark the Rams. Neither kicker is a long term solution.

    RE:a few players: Im done hoping Crawley or Nembot ever get their act together. You can argue that Crawley’s penalties and lack of coverage on 3rd down cost CU the game vs. the Rams and Nembot always gets a holding penalty at a crucial point in the game. Umass game was no different for either player.

    And someone slap some sense into Lindgren. the play calling is beyond predictable and the bubble screen needs to go. A Pac-12 corner will jump that for 6 pts at least twice this season. If you’re going to throw the ball 12 yards, do it down field, not laterally.

  2. my sympathies Stuart
    even when the planes are on time traveling is a hassell
    long security lines
    tiny seats
    350 lb blabbermouth guy with halitosis sitting next to you

  3. Jeez…just what I get for letting another fan staying with me use my laptop. A spoiled fan who gets to fly from DEN to LGA and back direct. Fun time at the game, good to see all the support out here on the EC.

  4. Sorry Stu, but you got what you deserved flying into O’Hare. Avoid that sh**hole airport like ebola, unless you’re flying a weekday business trip and can afford a delay/delays.

    Good thing is the Buffs didn’t quit when they could have, won and did some good things with the running game. Spruce contnues to show his quality, as do Shields and Bobo. I believe Gonzales is still affected by injury and there were just bad tackling or missed assignments on KO’s. The PAC 12 for all the hype isn’t exactly running teams out of their stadiums or showing stifling stalwart defenses, in the manner of Va Tech. Its still a long season to go! Got to keep improving, that’s all.

    Oh, did I mention: AVOID f-ing O’Hare? Better even to drive to Denver or even SLC and fly out of there!

  5. I read your articles often but don’t comment very much. So now I’m saying thank you for your dedication to the team and great writing. I have 2 young kids who are active in sports and take up most of my Saturdays; they have become my top priority. But I do manage to watch every game and don my CU gear on game days. My family and friends chuckle, or ask why I put myself through such torment. I don’t have a clever answer for them. I do think when the Buffs finally turn the corner, it will be all the more sweet for fans like you, and me.

    1. Oh Hail Yes CJ…. put on your Black and Gold… I have one of those $100 Buff helmets (for my mantle) and a Buff throw which I like using in my “cooler than Fargo” cave. My friends want me to do a Christmas card with a pic’ of me with the helmet and throw on (without clothes) with the caption “Merry Christmas from a Buff in the Buff.”

      um …….. Won’t happen. Forget I mentioned it.

  6. Stuart,

    I know how you feel. I’ve been holding off on writing my take of the game on my own blog until I can find something (anything would do) positive to take away from this game.

    Maybe I should just wear my Arizona State gear to the game next weekend, because I fear that it will be the only chance I have this season to to cheer for the winning team at Folsom Field. Of course, I have an out on this. I grew up just down the street from Sun Devil Stadium and have been a life-long ASU fan. The only time I’m not rooting for them is when they play my Buffs.

    Oh, well, back to the archives to find something good to take from the game in Foxborough.

    Mark
    Boulderdevil

  7. WOW YOU REALLY HIT IT ON THE PLAY OF THE TEAM . THIS IS ONE OF THOSE GAMES THAT BOTH TEAMS CAN FEEL GOOD ABOUT HOW THEY PLAYED. I STILL CAN`T FIGURE OUT THAT ONE KICK OFF THAT ONLY WENT TO THE 49, WAS THAT A TRY AT A ON SIDE KICK ? I REALLY WANT TO FEEL GOOD ABOUT THE WIN BUT WE STILL HAVE ASAESON OF PAC12 TO PLAY ,I CAN ONLY HOPE THE TEAM GETS BETTER WITH EACH GAME.

    1. Buffstdad, that was a planned pop-up to prevent a run back for a touch. I think that was the one that was returned to the 49. (?) But that wasn’t the only one that was popped up ( think there was another one). (?)

      Our ST’s really stunk up the place. Sorry, I really hate being negative but it is what it is.

      We are going to get better, however. Hang in there. Remember: Shoulder to Shoulder doesn’t mean “Just when the sun is shining.”

      HAVE FAITH.

  8. Teen aged ninja turtle offense. Glad the OC remembered that Powell was still on the roster in the second half. I was taught 50 years ago that if you’re not good in many things, do only what you’re good at over and over and over. The OC doesn’t seem intent on winning as much as displaying his ability to draw free form lines a la Jackson Pollack. He learned play calling from reading Helter Skelter. Is the defensive line playing two hand touch? Are they required to count three Mississippi before rushing? Do otherwise capable athletes become uncoachable once reaching Boulder, CO? Get the buyout package ready. Is Gary Barnett in town?

    1. Soldero, I’m really in the responding mood today………. Remember it was “Twinkle Toes” and the media who tore a proud program down nationwide…. along with Coach Barnett who was in the process of righting the ship from the Neuweazel debacle, when the ship sprung leaks and was sinking.

      Our fans forget that it was the drunken little woozy-coed who was handing out condoms at the party where she was allegedly besmirched…. which brought the entire media (both national and local)….. and the town of Boulder and university hierarchy to their knees. How Coach Barnett continues to be a loyal Buff supporter is beyond me, but he is, and he tries to do what he can to support MM in his efforts. Thanks Coach Barnett.

  9. An interesting take on the emotional drain of the game. Like you, I wonder why we are still being subjected to terrible play calling, which stems from terrible coaching. I know this staff has only been in place 1+ years, but will the end of this year indicate that nothing has changed from the previous staff’s results? Cal looks to be much better than last year, why don’t we?

    I also feel that the team looks worse this year than last. And I don’t get any indication that coaches really care if they do a terrible job. Same crappy results from crappy play calling. Does this staff really consider alternatives when their initial personnel/ play calling fails? No, and until one of them is fired, preferably mid-season, then the rest are comfortable with mediocre if not terrible outcomes. Losers like losing, winners hate losing. When will this staff start making hard decisions?

    1. Yeah, let’s fire some coaches two games in. That will solve our problems and give us a great chance to compete against a top 20 team in ASU this week. Cal’s win at NW is not all that impressive after NW lost to NIU at home yesterday. Give Mac2 and this staff some time. I love Embree and EB but they end up setting us back even further then that idiot Hawkins did if that is possible. They were out schemed and out coached every game. If WSU does not completely melt down in 2012 we go 0-12.

      1. BuffN…. some good points, and I’m going to add to your take with a comment I posted elsewhere.

        Players fault? Coaches fault? We’re just pointing fingers trying to find fault. Come on.

        What the dilemma is, is that the coaches are working with older players from the recruiting of the last 2 coaching regimes and the true Fr. and undergrads who have not had time to mature into physically molded men. The top tier programs are Jr. and Sr. laden with only exceptional undergrads as #1’s.

        As our program matures (in 2 to 3 yrs.), we’ll have similar personnel as the top tier teams. This is not a light-switch-on–a-wall-solution where we can magically flip it and “Wham-O” we have a team capable of competing for a PAC-12 championship or (at this point) to compete with the middle tier in our conference. Shame….. but it is what it is. Oh ! I do think we have the potential to surprise someone favored this season. We’ll see.

        HOWEVER, we do have some talented young’uns…… QB, RB, LB, DB, WR, TE. Where we need some physically mature bodies is in the trenches. When I say mature bodies, just because a kid is 6’5″ – 310, doesn’t mean he is a physically mature body…. yes, he may be big, but he is competing against someone of similar size that has had a chance to develop physically (and mentally) while being bolstered with experience …. quite a difference.

        So, it boils down to recruiting so we can have similar personnel as the top tier teams in another year or two. I think we have the SEEDS for SUCCESS…… but seeds take a while to grow and mature.

        HAVE FAITH OLD BUFFALO FAITHFUL………… OUR TIME WILL COME AND WHEN IT DOES BABY, WATCH OUT !!!!!!!!!!!!

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