No Such Thing as a Bad “W”

It wasn’t pretty.

In fact, at times it was quite ugly.

Colorado, for the second time in three weeks, allowed a team which won only one game last season to hang around and have a chance to win.

Two weeks ago, the Buffs not only allowed the Minutemen of Massachusetts (1-11 in 2013) to stay in the game, they fell behind 31-20 before rallying for a 41-38 win.

Against Hawai’i (1-11 in 2013), the Buffs methodically rebounded from an early 3-0 deficit to build a 21-6 halftime lead, but needed to rely on its defense for stop after stop to preserve a 21-12 victory.

In building its 21-6 lead at the break against Hawai’i, Colorado had 267 first half yards to 139 yards for the Rainbow Warriors. The Buffs did not collapse after an early mistake (another first drive interception by Sefo Liufau), instead choosing to take control of the game. The sunbaked crowd of 39,478 was warm, but not too hot under the collar, as the Buffs build its 21-6 lead. Another half with similar results would give the Buffs something in the neighborhood of a 42-17 win, a satisfying sendoff to Berkeley and next weekend’s game against Cal.

Instead, the Buffs did that thing that they have done against inferior opponents over the past few seasons (few though they have been) … they played down to the level of its competition.

With a dominant win in the offing, the Buffs posted eight first downs and 138 yards of total offense in the second half.

CU ran a total of 39 plays in the second half, going for 138 yards – a mere 3.5 yards per play. Take away Darragh O’Neill’s 19 yard run on a fake punt – CU’s longest run of the game – and the average per play dips to 3.1 per effort.

Anyone want to take on Oregon with those offensive numbers?

But here’s the thing.

Colorado played to the level of its competition – that has to be conceded.

But last weekend, against the No. 16 team in the nation, Colorado also played to the level of its competition.

And that is what is encouraging, at least right now, about the 2014 Colorado Buffaloes.

The level of competition for the Buffs is about to rise, and there is reason to believe that the Buffs might – just might – raise their level of play as well.

Let’s look at some of the numbers and players from the Hawai’i game which give the Buff Nation hope going forward:

– What more can be said about Nelson Spruce? All Spruce did was set a new school record with 13 catches. No Buff, in 125 years of Colorado football, had posted more than 11 catches in one game (it had happened nine times previously, including three times by all-everything Paul Richardson). Spruce also set another record of equal significance. Spruce has now caught at least one touchdown pass in six straight games (Rae Carruth had a string of five straight games with a touchdown reception, back in 1996, when CU had a much more prolific offense).

– The Colorado defense did not allow a touchdown for the first time in 51 games. Not since the 2010 opener, a 24-3 win over Colorado State, has the Buff offense held an opponent without a touchdown. Hawai’i had a second-and-goal at the Colorado one yard line in the second quarter – and had to settle for a field goal. Hawai’i had a first-and-goal at the Colorado seven yard line after an interception in the third quarter – and had to settle for a field goal. That’s a huge step forward for the Colorado defense.

– The 286 yards of total offense posted by Hawai’i is the lowest total posted by an opponent since Utah was held to 274 yards in the 2011 finale.

– Darragh O’Neill quietly outdid his more colorful counterpart for Hawai’i. Scott Harding is not only the Rainbow Warriors’ punter, he is their punt returner, and their third leading receiver. Every time Hawai’i went back into punt formation, Harding was a threat to take off on a fake punt. Instead, it was Darragh O’Neill who took off on a fake punt, going for 18 yards and a first down. In a game in which punting played a crucial role, Scott Harding had nine punts for a 46.1 yard average. Darragh O’Neill had nine punts for a 46.2 yard average. O’Neill’s last two punts, with the game on the line, were downed at the five yard line and one yard line, respectively. Clutch.

– While Nelson Spruce is out setting records, true freshman Shay Fields is already giving notice that he will be a force to be reckoned with in days, months and years to come. Fields has posted at least six receptions in each of the first four games of his career (a new record), and scored his first rushing touchdown on a 13-yard jet sweep in the second quarter (let’s hope we see that play repeated many times in coming weeks). A star in the making.

– Colorado’s offense did not score any points in the fourth quarter, but, with the game on the line, did hold onto the ball for 10:07 of game clock. Not pretty, but good enough.

– Linebacker Brady Daigh, with starter Addison Gillam held out with a concussion (day-to-day for Cal game), was forced into duty … and he responded. On a third-and-one at the CU 21-yard line on Hawai’i’s first drive of the second half, Daigh stopped Diocemy Saint Juste for a two yard loss, forcing a field goal attempt. Later, after an interception set Hawai’i up inside the CU ten yard line, the Rainbow Warriors faced a third-and-goal at the CU five yard line. The third down pass was incomplete, with Daigh credited with a quarterback hurry. Two third quarter drives; two field goals instead of touchdowns – courtesy of a backup linebacker. Quality depth … something CU has lacked for years.

– Fullback/Defensive end George Frazier had one carry for one yard, but he also had two catches for 27 yards. His 18-yard catch was a key play in the Buffs’ second touchdown drive, with his nine yarder for a touchdown the last points the Buffs would score in the game. Oh, and by the way, Frazier also assisted on two tackles on defense.

While the Buffs have been quite frustrating to watch at times so far this season (second half vs. CSU; third quarter vs. UMass; first quarter vs. Arizona State; second half vs. Hawai’i), they have also given the Buff Nation encouraging spurts of quality play (first quarter vs. CSU; fourth quarter vs. UMass; last three quarters vs. Arizona State; second quarter vs. Hawai’i).

Inconsistency is the mark of a young team finding its way.

And that’s what Buff fans can take from the 21-12 over Hawai’i.

Colorado has been consistent – consistently poor – all too often the past few years.

The Buff defense has been ranked in the 100’s nationally in almost every significant category. One-third of the way through the 2014 season, Colorado is in the top 35 in pass defense, and the top half in total defense.

Not great, but a huge improvement.

The Buff offense has been ranked well down the list nationally in almost every significant category. One-third of the way through the 2014 season, Colorado is in top 40 nationally in passing, and in the top half in total offense.

Not great, but a huge improvement.

Inconsistent play is something Buff fans can live with, as inconsistency in this context is the Buffs mixing the good with the bad.

It’s nice to have some good to talk about for a change.

Colorado has a 2-2 record. To date, Colorado has played to the level of its opponents. The level of competition is about to rise … so, perhaps, the level of play will also be rising.

If that trend continues, Buff fans will have much to be pleased about from the 2014 season.




3 Replies to “No Such Thing as a Bad “W””

  1. I’m with Earl T here. I don’t think you get the offensive production (Spruce nation-leading TDs, catches and yards; the year after having all-everything P-Rich do the same) while also getting all your playmakers involved (Fields, DD, McCullough, Bobo is getting in the mix, RBs and TEs and the emergence of Frazier) 400+ yards of total offense (including a game against ASU) three games in a row, and Sefo playing very well, statistically speaking, with an 80% vanilla offense.

    Sure, you can do that if your offense is executing those “vanilla” play calls to perfection, but? They’re not. Once they do? Look out. It may not happen this year. Why? Because they’re still incredibly young. There will be bumps in their road. But, fewer and further between, I think, than during the ‘lost decade’ of CU football.

    And those calling for Neinas’ head already? Hey, they’ve improved special teams, and so far removed the “un” from what we saw in the first couple games.

    The D has shown they can compete with a juggernaut offense like ASU. We’ve seen some depth emerge – witness Daigh stepping in for all everything Gillam, etc.

    This young team continues to show me exactly what I wanted to see this year. Continued progress in every category. The wins will follow.

    One more starts Saturday. 1 and 0 this week.

    Go Buffs.

  2. Why show your full package to a team (and put it on video for every Pac 12 opponent) you can beat, with a boring “80% vanilla” package. Oregon runs the same 10-15 plays every game, but they have the experience and the speed to get away with it and still be called “exciting”.

    Quit acting like UH plays with a total bunch of walk-ons and rejects; Buffs beat a decent Hawaii team by more than any of UH’s other Pac 12 opponents and followed the same pattern of yielding early and yet making good defensive adjustments at half. Buffs just need to get better at playing like a Vince Lombardi team: “Here’s what we’re gonna run, now try and stop us!” Ten minutes of ball possession in the 4th qtr. protecting a lead, is pretty efficient even if you don’t score.

  3. Time to call Lindgren to the carpet; yes, some of these miscues on offense are on players, youth etc. But COME ON…….the play calling sets the tone and continues to be beyond frustrating.

    To wit: ko return to mid field, bubble screen, -2 yd, same play again, -2 yds,now its 3rd and 14……..ugh

    next series: run up the middle, same play TWICE, 3rd and long……..ugh

    result: lost momentum

    My only hope is there is some offense we have held back for conference play to avoid showing in OOC. What is being run is 80% vanilla, boring, no creativity……and you cant fault the players necessarily for not executing when the other team knows exactly what will be run. BREAK TENDENCIES…..When they are creative, like the Fields TD run, they perform quite well and get explosive plays.

    And forgive me for criticism of Sefo, but at some point, he has correct his hitched delivery, accuracy and find an option other than Spruce. For all the respect Nelson desrves for setting records yesterday, 13 receptions shows that Sefo looks his way far too often as an outlet. Spruce will get hurt and CU will lose games if Sefo cant correct always looking to one guy.

    All that said, congrats to Buffs D on improving in the red zone…..Daigh played great in relief. we can save the criticism of the defensive penalties for another time, but something has to be done there. Walker’s int was great, until it was called back for a lack of discipline issue by Henderson.

    A W is a W…….a few changes by the coaches and we get more style points. But congrats on the Win.

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