Mid-Term Grades

With Colorado midway through the 2014 season, and with a bye week giving the Buff Nation a time to catch its collective breath and reflect, it seems a good time to take a look at the team, unit-by-unit, and see how it is faring so far this fall.

Previously posted (can be found below): Quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends and fullbacks, offensive line, defensive line, linebackers, and defensive backs

Current post: Special Teams

Note … Grading is taking a look at the big picture, based not only upon production, but upon what was expected from each unit as the Buffs broke fall camp in mid-August.



Special Teams

First half grade … “B”

Nelson Spruce and Sefo Liufau aren’t the only Buffs who have been setting records this fall.

Seniors Darragh O’Neill and Will Oliver are four year starters, so some of the records are longevity based. O’Neill has become the Buffs’ all-time leader in punts, with 247 (old record: Matt DiLallo, 216, 2006-09) and punting yards, with 10,572 (old record: John Torp, 9,145, 2002-05). Oliver, meanwhile, has connected on more extra points, 112, than any other CU kicker (old record: 109, Mason Crosby, 2003-06).

Other records, though, are quality based. Oliver currently has a streak of 85 consecutive extra points made, far surpassing the old record of 66, set by Ken Culbertson 25 years ago (1988-89). O’Neill, meanwhile, continues weekly to add to his school records of punts inside the 20 (84) and inside the 10 (31).

This season, O’Neill is third in the Pac-12 conference and 10th in the nation in gross average (2nd and 7th, respectively, in the net number). While averaging career-bests of 46.13 per punt, with a net average of 41.35, O’Neill has placed over half of his punts inside the 20 (16-of-31), with six inside the ten, and three inside the five. Only nine of O’Neill’s 31 punts have been returned.

The glaring failure of the pair, of course, lies in Will Oliver’s field goal kicking. Oliver has hit on only five-of-nine attempts in the first half of the season, including three misses against Cal, any one of which, if made, could have changed the outcome of the double-overtime loss.

In the return game, progress is being made, albeit slowly.

Colorado has nine punt returns (all by Nelson Spruce), going for 56 yards, in the first half of the 2014 season. Not impressed? Well, the Buffs had nine punt returns (all by Nelson Spruce), going for 45 yards … in all of 2013.

The Buffs are actually doing pretty well in kickoff returns, ranked 29th in the nation with a 23.7 yard per return average. Phillip Lindsay has 18 of CU’s 20 kickoff returns, with a long of 51 yards.

The kickoff return defense continues to be a concern. The average allowed return (23.3 yards per) is exactly the same as last season. One reason for hope: In the Buffs’ last game, Colorado faced the nation’s number one kick return team in Oregon State. The Beavers, though, were held to 64 yards in four returns, a 16.0 average.

The Buffs’ special teams, like the rest of the team, has had its moments, both positive and negative. For every great punt by Darragh O’Neill, there has been a missed field goal by Will Oliver. For every long kickoff return by Phillip Lindsay, there has been a long kickoff return surrendered.

That’s what you get when your team is 2-4.

Depth Chart / First Look: 2015

Colorado will lose two four-year starters in Will Oliver and Darragh O’Neill. Replacing this pair will be a top priority next spring. Diego Gonzalez was supposed to be the answer, but he hasn’t been to date. A transfer from Mexico, Gonzalez was a hit in practices last year, but, when given the chance to take over the place-kicking job (or at least the kickoff specialist position), Gonzalez was unable to unseat Will Oliver. The next option is Chris Graham. The red-shirt freshman actually suited up for every game last fall, in case he was needed in an emergency.

If neither Gonzalez nor Graham works out, Buff coaches may turn to incoming freshman Alex Kinney. A member of the Recruiting Class of 2015, Kinney plays for Rocky Mountain high in Ft. Collins, and had a 57-yard field goal in his season opener. Kinney committed to Colorado in July, and, at least to date, has shown no signs of wanting to change his commitment to another team.



Defensive Backs

First half grade … “B –

Colorado is 79th in the nation in pass defense through the first half of the 2014 season … hardly a cause for celebration.

But then again, we are talking about a team which plays in the Pac-12 Conference. In the pass happy Pac-12, Colorado, while 79th nationally in pass defense, is actually fourth in the Pac-12 in that category.

Not bad.

Let’s look at another statistic … Colorado opponents this fall have completed 116-of-211 passes, or a 55.0 percent completion rate. That is down from the 59.1% completion rate in 2013, and far removed from the horrendous 67.8% completion rate in 2012.

Truth be told, the Colorado defense hasn’t had a season allowing less than a 55.0% completion rate since 2001.

And that’s where we are at with the Colorado secondary midway through the 2014 season. The Buffs have gone from horrendous to poor to not bad.

What has helped the secondary this year is that this fall the Buffs are finally sporting a defensive backfield with plenty of game experience.

Here’s one of those stats that make you wince … Prior to 2010, only one true freshman in CU history had been on the field for over 400 snaps on defense (linebacker Jordon Dizon in 2004). Since 2010, five freshman defensive backs – five! – have bested that mark. Terrel Smith (2010), Greg Henderson (2011), Kenneth Crawley and Marques Mosley (2012) and Chidobe Awuzie (2013), were all on the field for over 400 plays as true freshmen.

That won’t be the case in 2014.

Freshman Evan White earned his first career start against Oregon State two weeks ago, but White being on the field for the first play against the Beavers had as much to do with personnel groupings as it did White’s status. For the first half of the 2014 season, White has been on the field for 66 plays, making it highly unlikely he will continue the string of seasons with over 400 plays by a true freshman defensive back (defensive end Christian Shaver leads the true freshmen defensive players in playing time so far this fall, with 125 snaps).

While the Buffs are no longer inexperienced in the defensive backfield, they still remain young as a unit. Cornerback Greg Henderson is the only senior starter, with a junior, Ken Crawley, at the other corner, and three sophomores – Tedric Thompson, Chidobe Awuzie, and John Walker – the usual starters at safety and nickelback.

Experience brings about better production, and the numbers so far this fall bear that out. Still, the Buff defenders have a long way to go if Colorado is to post a winning record anytime soon.

The CU secondary has produced only three interceptions in the first six games (all three by safety Tedric Thompson). Colorado’s pass defense numbers, while good for the Pac-12, still rank in the bottom half of nation in almost every category. CU is currently 86th in pass efficiency defense; 81st in total defense, 71st in third-down conversion defense; 83rd in fourth-down conversion defense; and, in that all important category … 88th in scoring defense.

The defensive backfield for the University of Colorado continues to improve. The Buffs’ secondary is good … but it will need to be great the second half of the season for CU to have a chance at upsetting a ranked opponent or two.

Depth Chart / First Look: 2015

As noted, Colorado has only one senior starter in the defensive backfield, but it’s a good one, four-year starter Greg Henderson. The only other senior on the roster seeing the field this fall is safety Terrel Smith. A projected starter in August, Smith has played in every game, but mostly on special teams (only nine plays on defense).

The Buffs do have another senior defensive back on the roster, and it’s a name worth remembering. Senior Jered Bell, seen as a potential starter in August, was lost for the season during fall camp with a torn ACL. Bell will be petitioning the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility, but he and the Buff coaches won’t hear anything on the petition until January.

So, the Buffs will have only one starter to replace, Henderson, and there will be plenty of options to replace Henderson in the lineup. John Walker, Ahkello Witherspoon, and Yuri Wright will all be back as juniors in 2015, and all could become the next regular starter at corner. Further, in addition to true freshmen Evan White and Donovan Lee, who have already seen playing time this fall, the Buffs will have the likes of red-shirts Ryan Moeller, and Jaisen Sanchez making their first attempts to break into the lineup in 2015.

The Buffs are not yet “loaded” in the defensive backfield. Despite all of their collective experience, none of the current members of the secondary are on any award watch lists.

That may change in 2015 and subsequent years, as the CU defensive backfield continues to improve.




First half grade … “C-“

Addison Gillam went from obscurity to prominence in less than a year.

A former San Jose State recruit, Gillam followed coach Mike MacIntyre to Boulder, joining the Buffs in January, 2013. Little was known about Gillam at the time … other than the fact that he had few suitors out of high school.

Then, last fall, all Gillam did was re-write the CU record books. Gillam led the team in tackles, something no freshman at Colorado had ever done (and only five sophomores have ever done). Gillam was named to many freshman All-American teams (including Phil Steele’s, Athlon’s, collegefootballnews, and the Sporting News), but was only an honorable mention in the All-Pac-12 team.

Gillam’s 2013 stat line: 119 tackles (78 unassisted); three sacks; seven other tackles-for-loss; 15 third-down-stops, an interception and 11 tackles-for-zero.

Much was expected of Gillam this fall. Named a team captain though only a sophomore, Gillam was named to many preseason All-Pac-12 first teams.

Gillam, as expected, leads the team in tackles through the first half of 2014. Gillam, despite missing time due to injuries (his concussion suffered against Oregon State should not prevent him from playing against USC this weekend), leads the team in tackles. So far in 2014, Gillam has 52 tackles (38 unassisted), with 2.5 sacks and four other tackles-for-loss.

Still, one point of emphasis for Gillam this fall, according to coach MacIntyre, was to create more turnovers. To date, though, Gillam has no interceptions and no forced or recovered fumbles. His production has been good, but not as great as might have otherwise been expected.

And it doesn’t help that Gillam is receiving little support from his fellow linebackers.

Last season, Derrick Webb was second on the team in tackles, with 99. This season, the next linebacker on the tackles list is Kenneth Olugbode, fourth on the team with 34 tackles in 400 plays (Gillam’s 52 tackles have come on 328 plays). Brady Daigh and Woodson Greer III, from whom quality minutes were expected this fall, are 13th and 17 on the team, respectively, in tackles. After that, only Ryan Severson, with 15 total defensive plays and two tackles, even makes the list. Senior K.T. Tu’umalo has played in each game so far this season, with one assisted tackle on special teams to his credit. Sophomore Deaysean Rippy, of which much was expected, has dressed for two games, but has yet to take the field in any capacity.

It is understood, with today’s spread offenses, that the linebackers are not on the field as often. Instead of three linebackers and four defensive backs, the Buffs line up most often with two linebackers and five defensive backs (nickel), and sometimes with six defensive backs (dime). At the end of the day, however, linebackers are still counted upon to stuff the opposition’s rushing attack, sack the quarterback, disrupt passing lanes, and force fumbles.

Colorado, midway through the 2014 season, is lacking in linebacker production. Opposing offenses have been able to run the ball and convert on third- and fourth-and-one at crucial times. The CU linebacker corps has no interceptions this season, and has neither forced nor recovered a fumble.

Those numbers will have to improve in the second half of the season if Colorado is to have any hope of picking up a win or two over its upcoming ranked opponents.

Depth Chart / First Look: 2015

The Buffs have three senior linebackers on the roster: Brady Daigh; Woodson Greer III; and K.T. Tu’umalo. As noted, Daigh and Greer are third and fourth in tackles amongst CU’s linebackers, but their numbers do not suggest that they are irreplaceable. Daigh filled in ably when Gillam was injured against Oregon State, but still has been on the field for less than 100 of CU’s 415 defensive snaps. Greer has only played in three games, and has registered only six tackles.

So, who’s got next?

You would hate to have to depend upon a true freshman contributing next fall the way Gillam did in 2013, so Buff fans have to hope that there will be better play from the existing roster.

Right now, however, it’s slim pickings.

Hopefully, sophomore Ryan Severson, known mostly to date as a kickoff returner, will see more playing time. Or perhaps Deaysean Rippy or Travis Talianko, the two transfers, will prove to be consistent contributors in the near future.

Otherwise, it will be up to Rick Gamboa and Lance Cottrell, the two true linebackers from the Recruiting Class of 2014, to step up.



Defensive Line

First half grade … “B”

If there was one unit which Buff fans worried about the most this off-season, it had to be the defensive line.

Remember spring practices?

Colorado already knew it would be without departed senior defensive end Chidera Uzo-Diribe, who led the team in sacks and tackles-for-loss in 2013. Then came the news that two other potential starters, Justin Solis and Samson Kafovalu (who had 36 games and 14 starts of experience between them), would not participate in spring drills due to academic issues.

And then there were the injuries. Jimmie Gilbert and Timothy Coleman sat out the spring recovering from injuries, and then John Paul Tuso was lost for the season with a torn ACL in March.

When it was announced that Clay Norgard – all 240 pounds of him – would be moving inside to defensive tackle, and defensive tackle Tyler Henington was moving out to defensive end, there was legitimate cause for concern that the Buffs would not be able to stop any offensive team in the fall.

Fall camp brought about renewed concern. First, it was announced that Kafovalu would be sitting out the year to get his academic house in order – not a surprise by that point, but a blow to the depth chart nonetheless. Then, the unit which could least afford injuries … suffered more injuries.

Tyler Henington, a projected starter, was lost for the season with a torn ACL on August 22nd. Also injured were Garrett Gregory (knee) and Markeis Reed (groin), with neither player able to see any action in the first half of 2014.

The fears about the defensive line were seemingly confirmed in the season opener against Colorado State. Playing against an offensive line with only one returning starter, the Buffs were unable to control the line of scrimmage, allowing the Rams to gash them for 266 rushing yards.

It was a bleak start to the 2014 season, and the thin and inexperienced defensive line was a major culprit.

But then …

The defensive line started playing better. In the next five games, the opposition was held to 150 yards rushing per game, with only Arizona State (223) going for over 200 yards. The Colorado defense, which posted only 18 sacks in all of 2013 (with ten of those by Uzo-Diribe, Kafovalu, and linebacker Addison Gillam), has 13 in the first half of 2014. Red-shirt freshman Derek McCartney is leading the way, with four sacks, with another red-shirt freshman, Timothy Coleman, contributing a pair.

“Our coaches are really good at getting us positions to make plays, so if we’re there then we’ve got a lot of chances to make plays,” McCartney told the Daily Camera. “That’s kind of what I see is happening. We’re all getting better. It’s a process and we’re climbing and it’s going to be fun when we get there. It’s fun now.”

CU head coach Mike MacIntyre likes what he sees out of McCartney, Coleman, and true sophomore Jimmie Gilbert, who leads the team with eight quarterback pressures. “They have the tools to (get to the quarterback),” MacIntyre said. “I’d like to see them get there more often, but they are improving each week and getting better. They’re maturing like I hoped they would. They’re getting better. They’re getting more comfortable. Another year from now, they’ll all be about 10 pounds bigger and a lot of experience and that’ll be a big help.”

Colorado is ranked 72nd in the nation in rushing defense 57th in sacks, and 92nd in tackles for loss through the first half of the 2014 season.

Not bad numbers from the defensive line, considering Colorado was 100th or worse in almost every defensive statistical category last season, including all the major categories: rushing defense (101st); passing defense (102nd); total defense (106th); and scoring defense (112th).

And pretty darn good when you look at how the defensive line, with losses to graduation, academics, and injuries, has pulled together so far this fall.

Depth Chart / First Look: 2015

Help is on the way!

The Colorado defensive line is weathering the storm of insufficient depth, and the talent pool should only get deeper in the coming years. Red-shirt freshmen Markeis Reed, out for the first six games, is back practicing, and should see some playing time before the end of the season. Eddy Lopez, a true freshman, has seen action in 49 plays so far this season, and is likely to see even more playing time in the second half. Tyler Henington, a projected starter lost for the season in August, will be back in the mix next fall.

The Buffs will lose Juda Parker to graduation, but there are a number of players waiting in the wings to shore up the defensive line. Jase Franke, Michael Mathewes, Christian Shaver and Terren Hasselbach are all recruits from the Recruiting Class of 2014, and all are learning the system and hitting the weight room this fall, in hopes of earning playing time in 2015.

And don’t discount the experience CU’s young players are picking up this fall. Jimmie Gilbert is a true sophomore, Derek McCartney and Timothy Coleman are red-shirt freshmen, and red-shirt sophomore Clay Norgard, learning his third position in three years, will only get better and better.

The CU defensive line is not one of the strongest units on the team … but has a good chance of becoming a strength in the very near future.



Offensive Line

First half grade … “B-“

CU’s Sports Information Director Dave Plati can always be counted upon to come up with some obscure new record set by a Buff player. In the over four dozen records set by the Buffs to date, there are some very significant Colorado new standards (e.g., Most receptions, Game: 19, for 179 yards, Nelson Spruce vs. California, Sept. 27, 2014). There are also, though, some which are a bit more obscure (Most Yards Gained, First Game of Career, Freshman, True: 46, Shay Fields vs. Colorado State, August 26, 2014).

How long do you think it will be, then, before Dave comes up with a new team record notation, something like: Most Consecutive Games Staring the same five offensive linemen: 12, 2013; record tied in 2014.

Last fall, Colorado had the same starting five offensive linemen for every game of the season. For each game, from the opener against CSU to the finale against Utah, the Buffs had the same starting five: Jack Harris, left tackle; Kaiwi Crabb, left guard; Gus Handler, center; Daniel Munyer, right guard; Stephane Nembot, right tackle.

This fall, Colorado has had the same starting five offensive linemen for the first six games: Jeromy Irwin, left tackle; Kaiwi Crabb; left guard; Alex Kelley, center; Daniel Munyer, right guard; Stephane Nembot, right tackle.

While the Buffs have been blessed in the Mike MacIntyre era with very few injuries along the offensive line (knock on wood), there hasn’t been the increase in production one might hope would come from such familiarity.

That is not to say progress has not been made.

In 2012, Colorado had 1,323 rushing yards for the season, and a paltry 3.11 yards per carry.

Last year, the numbers improved to 1,450 and 3.44.

Through the first half of the 2014 campaign, the Buffs are averaging 4.14 yards per carry, and are on pace to rush for 1,876 yards for the season.

The offensive line has also done a relatively great job in protecting Sefo Liufau. Up in Eugene, at the home of the preseason Heisman trophy favorite, the elusive Marcus Mariota, the Duck offensive line has allowed 15 sacks in five games. Down in Westwood, at the home of equally elusive Brett Hundley, the Bruin offensive line has allowed 23 sacks in five games.

In Boulder, the Buff offensive line has allowed eight sacks in six games.

The line has played well enough that an assumed savior, Shane Callahan, has yet to play. Callahan, the former four-star recruit who spent the last two seasons at Auburn, has not only failed to crack the starting lineup – Callahan has yet to play a down, even on special teams (and it’s not as if he has a red-shirt season available. Callahan is a red-shirt sophomore, with three years to play, including this one).

To his credit, Callahan is working on his game. “I’ve just got to keep learning from Daniel (Munyer), and take what he teaches me and apply it next year and execute as best I can”, Callahan told the Daily Camera this week.

(Another transfer Buff fans thought might crack the starting lineup is Sully Wiefels. A junior, Wiefels does have a redshirt year coming, but has, like Callahan, yet to see any playing time).

On the downside, there is the ugly issue of the Buffs being unable to punch the ball into the end zone, or convert a third- or fourth-and-one in crucial moments. Colorado, arguably, lost the momentum in the CSU game when the Buffs were able to push the ball into the end zone, failing to gain seven yards in six running plays. Colorado, undeniably, lost the Cal game when the Buffs were unable to gain two yards rushing in the second overtime.

Colorado is 10-of-15 on third-and-one this season; two-of-six on fourth-and-one. That translates to 12-of-21 (a 57% conversion rate), while CU’s opponents are seven-of-nine on third- or fourth-and-one (a 78% conversion rate). Not good …

The Buffs are getting better on offense – 31.7 points per game this year (up from 25.4 in 2013; 17.8 in 2012), and the offensive line has had a great deal to do with that increase in production …

But CU’s record is still 2-4 … and that’s the bottom line for any program.

Depth Chart / First Look: 2015

Colorado has only two senior offensive linemen, but they are good ones. Right guard Daniel Munyer has 33 career starts, including 30 consecutive – the longest streak on the team. Left guard Kaiwi Crabb, meanwhile, has 31 career starts, 18 consecutive.

So, the Buffs will have to replace both starting guards. The other three current starters, if they hold their jobs, will give Colorado two juniors – center Alex Kelley and left tackle Jeromy Irwin, along with one senior starter, left tackle Stephane Nembot. The remainder of the offensive line will be a nice mix of upper classmen, with players like Shane Callahan, Sully Wiefels, and Marc Mustoe, along with a long list of sophomores and red-shirt freshmen who have had time in the system, but have not had to burn their redshirts by being thrown into the fray before they were ready.

Colorado is – finally – looking to be in good shape along the offensive line for the foreseeable future …



Tight Ends and Fullbacks

First half grade … “B”

When not much is expected, it’s not hard to meet those expectations …

In his final season at San Jose State, Mike MacIntyre had a tight end by the name of Ryan Otten. That year, Otten was second on the team with 47 catches for 742 yards and four touchdowns.

Colorado fans were excited about the possibility of the reintroduction of the tight end position to the Buff offense, with Otten-like numbers helping to kick start a stagnant offensive attack.

The problem was … there were no Ryan Otten’s on the Colorado roster. Last season, CU’s three tight ends – Scott Fernandez, Kyle Slavin, and Sean Irwin – combined for 19 catches, going for 172 yards and two touchdowns.

The fullback position was even less of a factor. In 2013, there was nary a carry by a true fullback all season.

Fast forward to mid-season 2014, and the numbers, and production, from the tight ends and fullbacks are showing signs of improvement.

Two tight ends – Slavin and Irwin – together with fullback George Frazier, have combined for 12 catches in the first six games of the season, going for 123 yards and three touchdowns. Frazier has also been allowed to carry the ball five times from the fullback position, adding another score from that position.

If you really want to improve the numbers for the tight ends and fullbacks, throw in the production of Tyler McCulloch.

In an interesting article posted at cubuffs.com by B.G. Brooks, McCulloch discusses wanting to be a tight end his entire career at Colorado, going on to explain how, as each new season approached, circumstances kept him from becoming a true tight end.

From the article:

Tight ends coach Klayton Adams said the offensive staff “went back and forth” with the possible position switch (of McCulloch to tight end) but came down on the side of what was best for McCulloch and the Buffs.

“A lot of times in that in-line blocking you can aggravate the injury, then maybe he’s not able to play at all,” Adams said. “We wanted to do everything we could to make sure he was at full strength for this season and it’s worked out really well.”

Plus, even if McCulloch isn’t officially listed as a tight end, “That’s basically the position he’s playing when we’re in ‘10’ personnel (one back, no tight ends, four wide receivers),” Adams said. “He’s running a lot of those interior routes. He’s got a big body and he’s kind of playing that role for us on passing downs and doing a heck of a job.”

The big difference, added McCulloch, is he’s upright: “I’m basically playing tight end without putting my hand on the ground.”

McCulloch has 18 catches so far this season, going for 238 yards and two touchdowns, with ten catches for 145 yards and both scores in just the past two games.

For Colorado to be successful in the second half of 2014, the Buffs will have to utilize more plays in the middle of the field. Much of the CU passing game is on the perimeter, with few plays taking advantage of some potential open areas in the center of the defense.

Which means the Buffs will have to make better use of their tight ends, and, to an extent, the fullback position.

The Colorado tight ends and fullbacks under Mike MacIntyre are not up to the numbers posted by those positions when Mac was at San Jose State …

… but they are getting closer.

Depth Chart / First Look: 2015

The only player at either tight end or fullback which will be lost at the conclusion of the 2014 season will be senior tight end Kyle Slavin.

Meanwhile, help is on the way at that position.

Dylan Keeney, Hayden Jones and Connor Center are all tight end recruits from the Recruiting Class of 2014. None of the three has seen any action to date, so their red-shirts remain in tact. One or more from this trio may ultimately see action at another position, but, at least on paper, the Buffs will have more options available at the tight end position next fall.

The only players designated as fullbacks on the Buff roster are junior Jordan Murphy and freshman George Frazier. By now, you know Frazier’s story … On the plane ride home from the UMass game, with most of the players asleep, coach MacIntyre went back to talk with Frazier, asking the defensive end if he would like to see some playing time at fullback. Frazier readily agreed, and has seen action on both sides of the ball, with 60 plays on defense and the aforementioned four catches and five carries (going for three touchdowns!) on offense.

How the fullback position evolves at Colorado in 2015 remains to be seen. Like McCulloch, the Buffs’ wide receiver/tight end, Christian Powell may become more of a running back/fullback. Or perhaps Frazier will become a fulltime fullback. Or the Buffs will bring in a recruit from the Class of 2015 to groom for the position.

All of those options sound good … for an offense which is just beginning to hit its stride in the Mike MacIntyre era.



Wide Receivers

First half grade … “A”

Have you ever met Ed Reinhardt Jr., and his dad? The pair has been a fixture at CU functions for the past 30 years, and Ed always has a smile and a great attitude. (If you are unfamiliar with Ed and his story, here is the writeup about his injury at the Oregon game in 1984, and a writeup of his return for the Oregon game in Boulder in 1985).

My reason for mentioning Ed is that, if you get a chance to talk with him, be sure to ask him about the Michigan State game in 1984 – the game the weekend before he was injured). Against the Spartans, Ed became just the second player in Colorado history to catch ten passes in a single game, tying Monte Huber’s ten catches in a game against Cal in 1968. Ed loves to tell that story!

The relevance of Ed’s record-setting performance to our mid-term grades discussion is to help put into perspective the hurt Nelson Spruce is putting onto the Colorado record books this fall. It took another eight years after Ed Reinhardt’s ten catches for the bar to be raised, in 1992, to 11 (by both Charles E. Johnson and Michael Westbrook). Over the years, and through some great Buff receivers, the mark remained at 11 (Paul Richardson did it four times).

Then, against Hawai’i three weeks ago, Nelson Spruce re-wrote the record, hauling in 13 catches for 172 yards and a touchdown. That new mark – the best effort by a Buff receiver in 125 years of Colorado football – lasted a week. Against Cal, Spruce had a mind-blowing 19 catches, going for 179 yards and three touchdowns.

Spruce already has his name next to almost three dozen school records, but the single season marks which he has yet to set may be the ones which may be around the longest.

Let’s take a look at how Spruce’s mid-season numbers stack up against CU’s single season school records:

– Receptions – 62 (current record: 83, by Paul Richardson just last season)

– Yards – 732 (current record: 1,343, also by Paul Richardson in 2013)

– Touchdowns – 10 (current record: 11, by Derek McCoy in 2013)

No one expects Spruce to fully duplicate his first half performances in the second half of the season, but the above records are certainly in jeopardy. A bonus for the Buff Nation, though, is the fact that, as teams focus more and more attention on stopping Spruce, other Buffs will have the opportunity to demonstrate their talents.

Tyler McCulloch, who had eight catches in the first four games this fall, has posted ten catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns in the last two games. D.D. Goodson, Bryce Bobo, and Shay Fields have all had their moments, and will be counted upon to be even more productive in the next six games.

Colorado may have some deficiencies with its offense, but it’s hard to have much criticism for the receiving corps. One of the major question marks about Colorado this past off-season (“Will CU be able to find a replacement for the departed Paul Richardson?”), has been answered … in spades.

Depth Chart / First Look: 2015

Come December, Colorado will be losing Tyler McCulloch, D.D. Goodson, and Wesley Christensen (a former walk-on granted a scholarship this fall). McCulloch and Goodson have been productive for the Buffs (and, as noted, will be counted upon even more in the second half of the season).

The issue, as we look towards the 2015 season, will be Nelson Spruce. Two months ago, the idea of Spruce foregoing his senior season and declaring himself eligible for the 2015 NFL draft was unimaginable. Now, with Spruce leading the nation in receiving touchdowns, and in the top five nationally in receptions and receiving yardage, it is not difficult to imagine a scenario involving Spruce leaving early.

If Spruce returns, the wide receiver corps will be an undeniable strength in 2015. Without Spruce, there will still be talent – Shay Fields and Bryce Bobo joined by the likes of Elijah Dunston, Lee Walker and Donovan Lee – but the talent will be largely unproven.

There will be the same question as was asked about the Colorado receivers as was asked this past off-season, with only the name changed. The new question will be: “Will CU be able to find a replacement for Nelson Spruce?”.

Here’s betting that coach MacIntyre and coach Walters will again have an answer.



Running backs

… First half grade: “C-“

This August, CU head coach Mike MacIntyre was optimistic about having four running backs at his disposal. Senior Tony Jones, junior Christian Powell, sophomore Michael Adkins, and red-shirt freshman Phillip Lindsay all brought something different to the table, be it size (Powell), quickness (Jones), or a slasher (Lindsay). “All four run hard . . . there’s not one you’re afraid to run inside,” MacIntyre said. “I think we’ve got four guys who can run the ball in the Pac-12.”

Then there’s the freshness factor . . . Offered MacIntyre: “If you can put another fresh running back in and he has really fresh legs, he’s going to make a linebacker who’s been out there on a seven- or eight-play drive look slow. That’s what I hope happens.”

When I ran a poll here at CU at the Game at the opening of Fall Camp, asking which back would lead the team in rushing in 2014, the voting wasn’t close. Michael Adkins received 78% of the vote, with Christian Powell a distant second at 16%.

And that made sense at the time. Even though Christian Powell had led the team in rushing the past two seasons, his edge over Adkins in 2013 was slight (562 yards to 535), and Adkins had come on late in the season, picking up double digit carries in the final two games, with Powell reduced to single digits.

Through the first half of 2014, things haven’t worked out exactly as planned. Christian Powell is the Buffs’ leading rusher, with 274 yards, but he was kept out of the Oregon State game after suffering a concussion against Cal. Michael Adkins, meanwhile, has also been slowed by injuries (ankle), picking up more yards (79) against Oregon State than he had recorded in the first five games of the season combined.

Tony Jones, second on the team in rushing with 193 yards in the first half of the season, and Phillip Lindsay (with 131) have had their moments, but the rushing game as a whole has not lived up to the expectations.

Colorado is averaging 156.3 yards rushing per game, 75th in the nation. This is an improvement over the 120.8 yards per game the Buffs posted in 2013 (101st), but the running game hasn’t produced at times when it was most needed. How different would the outcome have been against Colorado State if the Buffs had managed to gain seven yards in six rushing attempts inside the CSU ten yard line at the opening of the second quarter? How different would the outcome have been against Cal if the Buffs had managed to punch it in for a touchdown in the second overtime? How many times have the Buffs faced a third-and-one or a fourth-and-one, and had the Buff Nation hiding their eyes as the Buffs came up to the line?

Yes, much of the rushing production has to do with the offensive line (which we will get to later in the week), but the Buffs have left a great deal of potential yards, first downs, and touchdowns on the field when its backs have not been able to be productive when teams stack up against the run.

It’s telling, I believe, that Colorado only has four rushing touchdowns to date. It is further telling that one of those scores was by wide receiver Shay Fields on a fly sweep (more of those, please!).

There is an axiom in football that when a coach says he has two quarterbacks, what he is really telling you is that he has none.

Well, Colorado has four running backs …

… Until demonstrated otherwise, the running back corps has work to do to deserve a grade higher than “C-“.

Depth Chart / First Look: 2015

The Buffs will lose Tony Jones from the lineup in 2015, but Powell will be back for his senior year, Adkins will be a junior, and Lindsay will be a sophomore. Add to the mix 2015 recruit Donald Gordon, a 6’0″, 200-pound running back from Long Beach (who just happened to have already had a six-touchdown game this fall (and 14 touchdowns in his first five games), and you have the makings of a quality depth chart.

Will one of the above players step forward, and make his case for being the featured back at the University of Colorado?

The Buffs chances at a bowl game in 2015 may hinge upon the answer to that question.



… First half grade: “B-“

Okay, a quick show of hands.

Who predicted CU sophomore quarterback Sefo Liufau would be fifth in the nation in passing yards at the midway point of the 2014 season?

Yeah, me neither.

Liufau, who had 1,779 yards passing in eight games (seven starts) as a true freshman, has 1,887 passing yards in the first six games this fall. Last year, Liufau had 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions; this year the ratio is 19-to-7. Liufau has thrown a touchdown pass in each of his 14 career games (a school record), and has thrown two or more touchdowns in eight consecutive games (also a school record). His seven touchdown passes against Cal was two more than any other quarterback in the 125-year history of the school had ever thrown in a single game.

Yes, we can go on and on about Liufau’s record-setting performances (he has etched his name into the record book over 20 times already this season). In just over one full season of work, Liufau is already 10th on the all-time CU list for passing yards (3,666); 11th in total offense (3,829) and 8th in career touchdown passes (31). If Liufau continues as the starter for the next two-and-a-half seasons, all of the career Colorado passing records will belong to him.

But … in his first 13 career starts, Liufau is 4-9. With Liufau under center, the Buffs have defeated Charleston Southern, California, Massachusetts, and Hawai’i. Cal last year finished 1-11, while UMass and Hawai’i thus far this season have a combined record of 1-10. Not exactly a murderer’s row of quality teams.

It is quite true that quarterbacks get too much of the glory when teams win, and too much of the blame when they lose.

But it is also true that, until Liufau can lead the Buffs to a win over a team which has equal or superior talent, his resume of record-setting performances will continue to ring hollow. Colorado is close to being a 4-2 team this fall. If the Buffs were actually 4-2 instead of 2-4, Liufau would deserve an “A”.

As it stands, his grade for 2014 to date has to be a “B-“.

Depth Chart / First Look: 2015

Colorado is finally building the quarterback position into a position about which Buff fans can be excited. After years of having the incoming freshman being the “next great hope”, the Buffs will have actual depth and talent behind center.

While it will take some doing to uproot from Liufau from the starting position in 2015, Jordan Gehrke, Cade Apsay, transfer Jaleel Awini and 2015 recruit Steven Montez will give the Buffs some viable options. Gehrke had a good spring and has enough experience to give Buff fans confidence that he can take over if Liufau is injured. Cade Apsay, red-shirting this fall, was a three-star recruit out of Canyon Country, California, a prospect who was ranked by Rivals as the No. 24 pro-style quarterback in the nation. Montez, meanwhile, had a nine touchdown performance in a game for his high school team in El Paso, Texas (before being pulled in the third quarter in a 75-16 victory).




15 Replies to “Mid-Term Grades”

  1. Yo Stuart,
    Although Colorado is 79th in the country in pass defense (a sizable improvement over the last several years), you gotta remember who it is the Buffs played to get to that number. See below:
    –California is the #4 passing team in the country.
    –Arizona State is the #9 passing team.
    –Colorado State is #16.
    –Massachusetts is #17.
    –Oregon State is only 47th, but were the #3 team in the country last year.

    The Buff passing D is much improved. Remember the old line, “there are three kinds of lies: Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics!”


  2. One other point regarding the D-line and the defense, last year the opposing team’s starters were out early in the game, sometimes after only a half compared to this year where the opposing teams starters are staying in the whole game.

    If I remember correctly, Oregon stated pulling starters after the 1st quarter, when Chip Kelly was still there.

  3. I think the lack of success on 3rd and 4th and 1 is much more a problem with play calling than the offensive line. Know your personnel and play to their strengths (and away from their weaknesses). We are not a team that lines up and simply pushes any defensive line back two yards, especially when they are expecting it. So running the ball straight up the middle on 4th and 1 or at the goal line is not a good call in my opinion. There are much more effective running calls (fly sweep), or a quick pass, that can be much more effective, particularly with our personnel.

  4. Methinks that you are being a little hard on Liufau and very generous with the receiver corps. Although Spruce deserves an A++, some of the others have had a number of easy drops that could have altered the outcomes of some games this year. They seem to be improving the last several weeks.

    The heart of the offense is the line, and they seem to be improving weekly. They still have some major gaffes that make hits on the QB way too common, but they are improving. Despite that, Liufau is still hitting 65% of his passes. With fewer drops, the percentage would be over 70. For a young man with one season as a starter under his belt, he has done very well.


  5. If Adkins’ ankle hadn’t factored in, I know he would be the leading RB’s. The game with OSU is an example of how he can do when he’s able to plant his foot and alter his direction or make a cut with confidence.

    When I played a long time ago (no leather helmets though) I had a severely sprained and weak ankle from a baseball injury and had a difficult time running, let alone making an instantaneous cuts running the ball when FB season started.

    Our new coach that year was incredible, however, and knew how to apply a basket-weave tape-job with vertical reinforcements on the sides. I had plenty of flexion and extension and was able to play well after the first week of practice and developing confidence that I wasn’t going to hurt my ankle again.

    I think Michael is going to do fine from now on …. barring further injury of course. I have to give the RB’s an overall grade of “B” because their effort has been exceptional. You can’t run through doors unless they’re open Folks.

  6. I would give him a B+. Yes he has thrown some bad interceptions but he is constantly being pressured and hit. Teams know we are going to pass because our running game has been inconsistent and we’ve been playing from behind (although a lot less than last year). Although Spruce has helped us forgot about Richardson for the most part, Sefo should receive equal credit. He is getting everyone involved, just ask McCulloch. And don’t forget all of the dropped passes by our receivers and running backs (DD, Tony Jones, and Adkins being the main offenders). We have been competitive in every game with a chance to win, compare this to the past several seasons and the quarterback play we’ve had. His numbers are up across the board, let’s hope that he stays healthy and continues to improve. Next year is our year!

  7. I think you are spot on with a B-. His accuracy has been inconsistent as he has had numerous throws at the receivers feet or airmailed over their head. He has also missed more than a few reads with receivers running wide open down the field that would have resulted in easy touchdowns. Also, when you run a read option the QB has to run once in a while to make it work and I can only think of one game where he has done this effectively. Lastly, his picks have hurt. Add all of those up and I think B- is fair. Frankly I think if Gehrke had been given the same chance, his numbers would be equally as good and add in his escapability and running threat, the offense would be that much more dynamic.

  8. Jeffbuff is correct. A B- is way off. With his stats the only reason he gets an A- rather than a solid A is a few picks. Give the D a D instead when you look at “his” (or the TEAM’S) win/loss record

  9. QB: I, for one, would have liked to see Jordan get in more snaps than what he has so he would have some reps “under fire” should we need him.

    As is, he had his red shirt burned and hasn’t had the opportunity to play since. I hope that doesn’t come to haunt us at a later date.

    I wouldn’t object to see Jordan in there once in awhile to give the opposing defense something else to think about…. like is it a run ? a pass? an option with the RB ? I think it would create some confusion and loss of tempo in the opponent calling defensive formations…. then having to shift gears to prepare for Sefo again.

    Just a thought Stuart.

  10. Now Stuart, you know there are a few mor qb options than that.


    and perhaps the best one……….


    I would not be forgetting about Awini.

    I would say B- is about right. I would also say the lack of wins belongs also on the Staff, for obvious reasons.

    Also, certainly you will grade the HC, the OC and the DC as well?

    My Buffs are a bit lost, but not far off the main trail and with more guidance from the “leaders, on and off the field” look out I-5

  11. Not a fair analysis. The lack of wins is more on the porous defense than Sefo and Co. Hope the rest of your grades are more thoughtful.

    1. Now Jeff, you need to watch the games. And you need to understand that this is the Pac 12 where everybody has a quarterback and everybody scores a lot of points. Doesn’t matter who it is, everyone can score and you know what…….. does. The Buffs have a lack of offense and a lack of offense from a play calling perspective. They could have won 3 of those games. No score from the 3. Several times. And of course the interceptions. And the play calling.

      Sefo and the offense have improved but not enough. They need to be scoring 40 a game on average. Yes sir the defense needs work but wait the whole Buff team needs work.

      Your analysis as to ” The lack of wins is more on the porous defense” certainly is misguided. Hope the rest of your comments provide a little more insight and thought.

      Go Buffs

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