Learning What it Takes

It won’t be long before the missed opportunities from the 59-56 double-overtime loss to Cal will begin to fade from memory. A made field goal here, a made tackle there … they are fresh wounds today, but those frustrations will soon give way to the anticipation for the next game and the game after that.

In 2017, when the Buffs and Bears meet up again after a two year hiatus (Colorado takes on Stanford in 2015 and 2016), there will be a regurgitation of all of the records set in the 2014 contest. Stories will be written and numbers laid out in neat columns as writers look to fill space in their pregame write-ups.

But, more than anything, the 59-56 outcome will be remembered as a California victory … and a Colorado loss.

The Buff Nation has become numb to losses over the past few years, but some losses hurt more than others.

And this one hurt, because it was a game Colorado should have won.

The loss to Cal was a loss to a team which went 1-11 last season, a team which came into the contest carrying with it a 15-game Pac-12 conference losing streak, a team which had only one win over an FBS opponent in 16 games under second-year coach Sonny Dykes.

The win for the Bears moved them out of the basement of the Pac-12, leaving the cellar for the Buffs alone to occupy.

However, before we condemn the Buffs to their first winless conference campaign since 1915, let’s take a second look at what took place in Memorial Stadium on Saturday.

California is not a bad football team

True enough, Cal went 1-11 in 2013, losing games so badly, and by such wide margins, that the Bears made even the horrendous 2012 Colorado team look, well, not so bad.

The reality, however, is that the Bears were rocked by injuries last season, and, like Colorado, was stocked with young talent learning how to play at the collegiate level.

The Bears opened the 2014 season with a 31-24 victory over Northwestern. The win was dismissed as a lucky break over a poor Wildcat team … until that same Northwestern team defeated Penn State in Happy Valley, 29-6, on Saturday.

Cal followed that opening game victory over Northwester with a blowout victory over Sacramento State and a Hail Mary loss to Arizona in a game the Bears had won. Cal should have been 3-0 heading into its game against Colorado.

California is not a great team, and, with five of its final six games of the season coming against ranked teams, will take its lumps as the Pac-12 schedule wears on.

But the Bears are much improved team from a year ago.

The records were not set in vain

Let’s take a look at some of the Colorado team records which were set against California:

– The 629 yards of total offense marked the first time the Buffs topped 600 yards in a game since going for 634 yards against Miami (Ohio) in 2007;

– Colorado has now posted 400 yards or more in total offense in four consecutive games for the first time since opening the 2001 season with four straight (the Buffs had 375 total yards against Colorado State, or it would have been five straight); and

– The 21 first quarter points were the most since scoring 21 points in the first quarter against Texas A&M in 2005.

Notice one common trait the dates of those three games have in common?

Yep. The 2001, 2005, and 2007 seasons were all seasons which ended with Colorado playing in a bowl game.

No, that doesn’t mean that Colorado is going to become bowl eligible in 2014. The harsh reality is that the remaining seven opponents on CU’s schedule have a combined record of 25-4 (with three of those losses coming yesterday to other Pac-12 schools). It’s going to be tough for the Buffs to pick up more than a victory or two out of the rest of the calendar.

But the numbers do suggest that Colorado is turning a corner. Would you have guessed that the 2014 Buffs would have been able to string together four games of 400+ yards of total offense, a feat which eluded Big 12 North champion Buff teams of 2002, 2004, and 2005?

Has it really been nine years since Colorado posted 21 first quarter points? (now, the opposing team scoring 21 points in the first quarter … that’s another matter).

The Colorado offense – yes, with fits and spurts – is hitting its stride under the new coaching staff. And, even with Nelson Spruce setting new records every week, the offense is becoming more diversified. Twelve different Buffs had catches against Cal; seven different players had at least one rushing attempt. Sean Irwin and Bryce Bobo had touchdown receptions against Cal. George Frazier, the part-time fullback, part-time defensive lineman, scored twice!

Is this a perfect offense? Far from it.

Does this offense make mistakes? By the bushel.

But the numbers – and the records – suggest that Colorado is piecing together an offense which can compete in the Pac-12.

Sefo Liufau and Nelson Spruce are legitimate

The Cody Hawkins to Scotty McKnight connection was a pleasant distraction for Buff fans as the Colorado program racked up loss after loss under Dan Hawkins.

Sefo Liufau and Nelson Spruce are taking all of those records to task, but in a more meaningful way.

Liufau and Spruce have connected for ten touchdown passes in five games this fall. The previous CU team record for touchdown hookups between a quarterback and receiver was eight … for an entire season! The career record of 15 touchdown passes between Hawkins and McKnight is already in jeopardy, as Liufau and Spruce already have 13 career touchdown connections.

You would think that teams like Cal would be keyed in on Spruce as the Buffs’ main target. After all, Spruce set an all-time school record with 13 catches last weekend against Hawai’i.

If California was determined to stop Spruce, it didn’t show. Spruce had 19 catches against California, destroying his own one-week old record.

An example of how far the CU offense has progressed … With less than a minute to play in the game against the Bears, Colorado was down, 49-42. Facing a fourth-and-three at the Cal 35 yard line, everyone in Memorial Stadium knew the Buffs and Sefo Liufau were going to turn to Spruce.

The Buffs did, but the Bears couldn’t stop him, with Liufau hitting Spruce for a five yard gain and a first down. On the next play, the Buffs tied the game with a Liufau-to-Bobo 25-yard touchdown.

In five games this fall, Spruce has 56 catches for 694 yards and ten touchdowns. In all of last season, Spruce had 55 catches for 650 yards, scoring three touchdowns.

Future opponents may find a way to slow down Liufau-to-Spruce, but they will have to do so at the expense of leaving other players open.

And it appears that Colorado is developing the weapons to do just that.

No. 12 in the Pac-12 … and happy to be there!

No, that is not a misprint.

Colorado, with its loss to the previous occupant of the conference cellar, is now officially the No. 12 team in the Pac-12. Washington State, another candidate for the league basement, played well last weekend against No. 2 Oregon before beating Utah on the road Saturday night.

Which leaves Colorado alone at the bottom, the only team in the Pac-12 already saddled with two conference losses.

So what is there to be happy about?

Fair question.

Colorado was able to lay claim to being the No. 11 team last season, what with California going winless in conference play, and falling to the Buffs, 41-24, in Boulder.

The truth, though, was that Colorado and California were not the No. 11 and No. 12 teams in the conference …

They were lower than that.

Last season, the Pac-12 sent a record nine teams to bowl games. The No. 10 team in the conference, Utah, finished 5-7. The Utes, though, were better than their record indicated. Utah defeated Stanford when the Cardinal was ranked No. 5 in the nation, and had single digit losses to Oregon State and Arizona State. Had Ute quarterback Travis Wilson not been injured, the Pac-12 would have had ten teams with bowl eligibility in 2013.

California and Colorado, though, were teams in stark contrast to the rest of the league. Had their been 16 teams in the conference, with four other teams in the 3-9 to 5-7 range, then Colorado and Cal would have been the 15th and 16th teams in the conference.

The gap was that great.

Put another way … both teams have had to improve just to be bad.

Yes, Colorado put up four wins last season, but two of those wins were against FCS schools, and the Buffs struggled even in those games (as noted in the opening, its the results we remember, not the details).

Colorado and California, with their game against each other, and their games Arizona State and Arizona, respectively, had served notice on the rest of the Pac-12 that there are no easy outs in the league.

Every game will be contested.

Every team is dangerous.

For Colorado fans, that in and of itself is a step in the right direction.

Counting the 2013 season ending loss to Utah, the Buffs have now been competing for a victory in the fourth quarter of six consecutive games. By my reckoning, you have to go back to the end of the 2009 season to find a similar stretch of games in which the Buffs were consistently competitive.

The Buffs are 2-4 in their last six games. They had their chances at Utah in the 2013 season finale and against Arizona State, and should have defeated Colorado State and California.

No, the Buffs are not winning a majority of their games, but they are putting themselves in position to win week in and week out.

Cal had Arizona beaten last weekend, but couldn’t close the deal. The Bears, though, were able to close the deal against the Buffs.

The Buffs, meanwhile, are hopefully also learning their lesson.

They are learning what it takes to win.

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6 Replies to “Learning What It Takes”

  1. I agree. What’s surprising is that this team could just as easily be 5-0 or 4-1 right now as they could be 2-3 or 0-5. I would not have expected to be able to say that we could just as easily be 4-1/5-0 after five games. The Buffs, so far (knock on wood) are at least worth watching as opposed to the last several years when we couldn’t move the ball at all and you knew the game was over if the other team was up by 14 at any point (usually in the first quarter or by halftime), and there was really no reason to watch the second half of a game.

  2. I WANT IT ALL (That is how I feel during the game).After a cooling down period (usually 60 to 90 minutes) I think back to 2012 and remind myself that we are not as bad as that now. I still want to win ’em all. But for now at least being in the game is better than being blown out. Giving up 45 points in the second half just about made me jump over the edge. All I can say now is —

    — POUND THE BEAVERS BEAT OSU —

  3. It was a fun erratic game to watch and would have been a win if our Kicker would have shown up.

    2 Complaints ( KICKING ) and once again in OT we run 3 times into the middle of the line and then dry QB sneak around the end. WTH

    Spread it out 4 wide create some room wot work in .

  4. Relying on memory….Oh No !!!). On one of the first possessions, we had 2nd and long for a 1st down and called a run up the middle which put us in a 3rd and 8 situation…. and I was thinking, “Oh No….. here we go again.”

    After that I thought the play calling was creative, using MULTIPLE receivers, employing the TE’s and rotating the RB’s…. even using TE/WR slants and fades…. and I said, “Where did the SLANTS come from ???? ” WOW, we’re cookin’.

    And, let’s face it, Sefo and Nelson have great chemistry. Nelson knows how to alter his routes and Sefo knows where to find him. When people are starting to say, ” THE SPRUCE GOOSE IS LOOSE,” THEY MEAN JUST THAT. He’s putting up All-American #’s…… but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

    To quote the DC, Kyle says, “There were times in the offseason CU fans worried former Buff Paul Richardson could not be replaced. Through five games last season, Richardson had 35 catches for 660 yards and five touchdowns. Through five games this season, Spruce has 56 catches for 694 yards and 10 touchdowns.”

    And, to quote a response, “I’m not berating PR’s ability in the least as I am a big PR fan, BUT I think Nelson is a “Route Running Machine” and is even as good, if not better than PR in that department. On the “Go” pattern, however, no one on our roster is a “Burner” like Paul was. I think Nelson is a “Unique” receiver…. in the mold of Wes Welker and Raymond Berry (for those of you who can remember)…. both not being the fastest, yet having the ability to turn a DB inside-out and make them look like a wet noodle. As many are saying, ” THE-SPRUCE-GOOSE-IS-LOOSE.”

    The comment continues, “One thing about Paul and Nelson that separates them from the good receivers and makes them “Exceptional” is their ability to hang onto the ball in tough situations. Once Nelson gets at least one palm on the ball, he manages to pull the ball in and secure it. He also knows where the 1st down marker is ALL-OF-THE-TIME.”

    I thought those comments were apropos.

    THINGS ARE LOOKIN’ UP FOLKS !!!!!!!!!!!! GO BUFFS.

  5. Th play calling in BOTH halves was creative! I don’t hear you whiningg about scoring four times in the second half!

    And in the first half in was poor execution—in the form of RBs dropping passes while wide-open, with nothing front of them but open space(Atkins and Powell, with Atkins having a chance to score, Powell with a real shot at a 1st down) that led to two aborted FG attempts.

    Also, heard no whining about the “run, run, run” play-calling that got the Buffs down to the 2 yd. line in 2nd OT; only about the last four plays that were mis-executed.

  6. Real simple take on the game. Both teams played a crazy game, the Buffs never gave up, and this team is making strides forward. While I had hoped for a 5-1 record at this point, CSU is better than expected and CU could have won either of the two PAC12 games played this year. Feeling like things may be getting to where we can play more competitively than previous years.

    Even the play calling I the first half was pretty darn creative.

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