Horseshoes and Hand Grenades

It’s the final week of 2014.

A time to reflect on the past year, as well as a time to look forward to the year to come.

Colorado fans, though, do not have to be a descendant of Nostradamus to know what the 2015 college football preseason magazines will say about their Buffs next summer:

– “A 2-10, 0-9 record in 2014, the first winless conference campaign for Colorado since 1915”;

– “The Buffs took a step back in Year Two under Mike MacIntyre, going from 4-8 in 2013 to 2-10 last season”;

– “With every other team in the Pac-12 South ranked during the 2014 season, it will be impossible for the Buffs to climb out of the basement in 2015”.

All accurate statements, but they don’t tell the true story behind the 2014 season in Boulder, and why CU fans should be optimistic heading into the 2015 campaign. Yes, Colorado went winless in conference play, but the Buffs were in all but two games of the nine game Pac-12 slate. Colorado was thisclose to not only equaling the four wins of 2013, but surpassing that total.

The problem?

The Buffs couldn’t finish (a disease unfortunately passed on to the men’s basketball team, but that’s a story for another day). In five Pac-12 games last fall (not to mention the CSU game), Colorado either had the lead, or was within a score of the lead, in the fourth quarter.

Had the Buffs managed to win two or three of those games, the prognostications for 2015 and beyond would be bright.

Had the Buffs won all of those games, the month of December would have been discussions about CU’s bowl opponent, not about winter conditioning and the star-rating of CU’s Recruiting Class of 2015.

A brief recap of the season of “Close, but no Cigar” (note: it’s not as painful as you think it might be) …

Colorado State … The Buffs had a 17-7 lead early in the third quarter against the Rams in the season opener, and a 17-14 lead heading into the fourth. On the Buffs first possession of the fourth quarter (CU now down 21-17), a 14-yard completion from Sefo Liufau to Shay Fields on third-and-ten was negated by a holding penalty, leading to a CU punt. The Rams scored on their next possession to make it a 28-17 game. Colorado managed only one first down on its next possession, giving the ball back to CSU, with the Rams putting together a time-consuming field goal drive to end any doubts about the outcome … Final Score: Colorado State 31, Colorado 17

California … Colorado raced out to leads of 21-7 and 28-14 in the first half, but this game proved to be a marathon, not a sprint. The Buffs fell behind by a touchdown twice in the second half, but each time responded with a touchdown of their own. The game appeared to be lost when the Bears scored with 2:29 to play to take a 49-42 lead, but the Buffs were not finished. The Colorado offense put together a ten-play, 75-yard drive, finished off with a 30-yard touchdown pass from Sefo Liufau to Bryce Bobo with 21 seconds left in regulation to send the game into overtime. In the first overtime, each team scored a touchdown, with CU getting the ball first in the second overtime. The Buffs had a first-and-goal at the Bear two yard line, but failed to score, with Liufau taken down for a three yard loss on fourth-and-goal at the one. Cal quickly put itself into field goal position, taking the game with a 34-yarder … Final Score: California 59, Colorado 56, 2OT

Oregon State … The Beavers had a 14-0 lead midway through the first quarter, but the Buffs roared back, taking a 21-20 lead into halftime after a Tony Jones one yard touchdown run in the final minute before the break. After a relatively quiet third quarter (only a field goal for Oregon State), the Beavers scored in the first minute of the fourth quarter to take a two-score lead, at 30-21 (with the drive kept alive after an interception by Kenneth Crawley was negated by a dubious pass interference call) A Will Oliver field goal a few minutes later made it 30-24, but an OSU touchdown with five minutes left in the game made it 36-24 (after the two-point conversion attempt failed). Down two scores, the Buffs pieced together a quick 75-yard drive, capped by a 17-yard touchdown pass from Liufau to Tyler McCulloch. The Buffs forced a quick punt from the Beavers, and had the ball, first-and-ten at the Oregon State 44-yard line, down five points, with 2:08 still to play. A Buff victory was there for the taking. Four plays, however, netted only four yards, with a dubious non-call of pass interference ending CU’s chances at a come-from-behind victory … Final Score: Oregon State 36, Colorado 31.

No. 25 UCLA … On the Bruins’ first play from scrimmage, Paul Perkins raced 92 yards for a UCLA touchdown. After 11 minutes of play, it was 17-0, UCLA, and a rout on the scale of USC’s 56-28 blowout of the week before seemed imminent. Yet, the Buffs fought back. It was 24-14 at halftime, with Tony Jones and Michael Adkins picking up scoring runs for the Buffs. Late in the third, UCLA scored to make it 31-14, seemingly ending CU’s upset threat, but the Buffs kept fighting. A 38-yard touchdown pass from Liufau to Bobo on a fourth-and-two play made it 31-21, with a second scoring hookup between Liufau and Bobo making it a 31-28 game midway through the final quarter. The CU defense then stuffed the Bruins for no gain on fourth-and-one at the Buff 22-yard line, giving the ball back to CU with 2:55 to play. Colorado had a chance to win the game in regulation, but settled for a 35-yard Will Oliver field goal to send the game into overtime. The CU defense held UCLA to a field goal in the first overtime, but had to settle for another Will Oliver field goal, this time from 38 yards out, to force a second overtime. The Buffs were stopped at the Bruin 16 on their second possession, with Will Oliver hitting clutch field goal number three, from 34 yards out, to give CU its first lead of the game. Brett Hundley, though, scored on an eight yard run two plays later to finish off the game … Final Score: No. 25 UCLA 40, Colorado 37, 2OT

Washington … The weekend after falling behind UCLA 17-0 early, it was the Buffs’ turn to start fast. Colorado took an early 10-0 lead over Washington, had a 17-7 lead early in the second quarter, and looked to take a 20-10 lead into halftime before giving up an 78-yard drive in 1:24 of game clock, with the Huskies making it a 24-17 game at the break. A drive resulting in a field goal to open the second half gave CU a 23-17 lead, but the Huskies scored a touchdown to make it a 24-23 game midway through the third quarter. The Colorado defense did not surrender a point the remainder of the game … but it was not enough. A Sefo Liufau interception returned for a touchdown took the air out of the Buffs’ sails, with an 87-yard punt return for a touchdown by the Huskies being the only points scored by either team in the fourth quarter … Final Score: Washington 38, Colorado 23

– No. 19 Arizona … Colorado had a miserable history in road games played in the state of Arizona as a member of the Pac-12, and facing the Wildcats on the road looked to be another disaster in the making. But … the Buffs opened the game with a 75-yard touchdown pass from Liufau to Shay Fields to silence the home crowd. Arizona responded, taking a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter, but a touchdown pass from Nelson Spruce to Liufau (instead of the other way around), and a field goal by Will Oliver, gave CU the lead back, at 17-14, late in the second quarter. Another late first half scoring drive, though, again hurt the Buffs, with Arizona taking a 21-17 lead into halftime after scoring with 11 seconds before the break. Both teams hit field goals in the third quarter, with CU very much in the game, at 24-20, heading into the fourth quarter. A pair of Anu Solomon touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, however, were more than the Buffs could withstand … Final Score: No. 19 Arizona 38, Colorado 20

No. 25 Utah … With little to play for other than pride, Colorado put up yet another good fight against another ranked team in the 2014 season finale. The Buffs took a 7-0 lead early, scoring on the first drive of the game on a two-yard run by Christian Powell. After the Utes took a 10-7 lead, Powell scored again early in the second quarter, making it a 14-10 game. Utah took a 16-14 lead (the PAT failed) before CU closed out the second quarter with Powell’s third touchdown, this time from 33 yards out, and a Will Oliver field goal, taking a 24-16 advantage into halftime. Utah took the lead midway through the third quarter, with a pair of touchdowns (both two-point conversion attempt failing), offset only by a Will Oliver field goal. Now down, 28-27, Sefo Liufau hit Nelson Spruce on a crossing pattern which turned into a 66-yard touchdown. After a Utah field goal, Colorado carried a 34-31 lead into the fourth quarter. The Buffs had the ball, and the lead, with ten minutes to play, before disaster struck again. Sefo Liufau threw another fourth quarter pick-six, giving Utah a 38-34 advantage. Colorado had the ball twice more in the fourth quarter, with each drive ending with punts near midfield. Final Score: NO. 25 Utah 38, Colorado 34.

To be honest, when I started this essay, I was not excited about reliving a frustrating season. After pouring back through the game records, though, I feel somewhat rehabilitated. The Buffs were not only in most of their games, they had a chance to win them … and that held true against ranked opponents as well as unranked foes.

Yes, it is true, as the saying goes, that close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

But the reality for the Colorado football program is that the Buffs are close. With the new blood and new enthusiasm a new defensive coordinator will bring to the program, it is not difficult to see a brighter future for the CU football program.

The 2015 schedule will be tough. Many, if not all of CU’s Pac-12 South brethren will be ranked heading into the fall. The Buffs will be the unanimous pick to finish last in the South.

But that doesn’t mean the Buffs won’t win a conference game. There will be Pac-12 wins posted by the University of Colorado football program in 2015.

After all, CU was thisclose to winning many of those games in 2014 …






One Reply to “Horseshoes & Hand Grenades”

  1. Very comprehensive evaluation. It helped to read this as I was getting ready to renew my season tickets, because I believe next year will be the year the breakthrough comes to fruition.

    Utah appears to be coming apart at the seams; USC also has issues that talent alone may not overcome. Washington has problems (couldn’t be happier that they may be getting their own version of Hawkins. Maybe it is our time.

    BTW, I was truly disheartened to see Pedophile State win a bowl game. Why they never received the Death Penalty is beyond me. Why CU took such a hit and PSU didn’t is head shaking.

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