Reading Between the Lines

For the casual college football fan, the result of the game between Colorado and No. 19 Arizona played out pretty much as expected:

– Arizona was a 16.5-point favorite coming into the game, and won by 18 points;

– The Wildcats were averaging 506 yards of total offense per game prior to the game, and posted 499 yards against the Buffs;

– Colorado was giving up an average of 38.7 points per game on the season, and gave up 38 to Arizona.

Same old, same old.

Even the score reads like old news:  Arizona 38, Colorado 20. The final score was not too far removed from the score the week before (Washington 38, Colorado 23) or when the Buffs had taken on the other school from the desert (Arizona State 38, Colorado 24).

Nothing new to see here. The only team in the Pac-12 without a conference victory lost again by double digits.


But Buff fans know differently.

The Buff Nation, which endured blowout loss after blowout loss during the Embree years, understands that there is more to see here than the final score. They know that the Buffs were not only in the game against the Wildcats … they deserved to win. The much maligned defense did give up almost 500 yards of total offense, but also kept the Buffs in the game with fourth down stops and key plays. The Colorado offense, which crashed and burned in the fourth quarter (16 total yards, to 167 for Arizona), made plays throughout much of the game, keeping it a one-score game until midway through the fourth quarter.

Anyone who watched the game understands that, while the Buffs may not have had as many talented players on the field as the Wildcats, were nonetheless not defeated by the Arizona players … they defeated themselves.

It’s an understood rule of thumb in college football that the underdog cannot afford to make mistakes.

It’s a given that a team playing on the road has to take advantage of opportunities.

It’s axiomatic that a team going up against a ranked opponent cannot turn the ball over and have any hope of victory.

So what was Colorado doing, on the road, as a 16.5-point underdog, turning the ball over four times to Arizona?

While every turnover hurts, the timing and effect of each of the Buffs’ turnovers help to demonstrate the frustration the Buffs and their fans are dealing with in the 2014 season:

Turnover No. 1 … Late in the first quarter, Colorado ahead 7-0. The Buffs had scored on the first play from scrimmage on a 75-yard touchdown pass from Sefo Liufau to Shay Fields, and the defense had made the lead hold up. The first quarter had been a disaster for Colorado heading into the game (out-scored 100-55), while Arizona had feasted on its opposition (71-31 advantage in first quarter scoring), but the Buff defense had been solid. A goal line stand, with four stops from inside the two yard line, had been followed by the Buff defense forcing two punts from the Wildcat offense. The Buffs had the ball at their own 29 yard line when Sefo Liufau was sacked. Not only did Liufau lose the ball, but the fumble was returned for a touchdown. A 7-0 lead was now a 7-7 tie, and all of the good first quarter work of the Buff defense was for naught.

Turnover No. 2 … Early second quarter. Just six plays after fumbling the ball away to the Wildcats, Sefo Liufau fumbled the ball away again. Arizona took over at the Buff 31 yard line, and, six plays later, had their first lead of the game. In just four minutes of game time, the Buffs had gone from a 7-0 lead to a 14-7 deficit, with the defense giving up all of 31 total yards in the process.

Turnover No. 3 … Late in the second quarter. Showing a resiliency which had not been the staple of past teams, the Buffs rallied after the second Wildcat touchdown. Colorado scored on its next two possessions following the second Arizona score, changing a 14-7 Arizona lead to a 17-14 Colorado advantage. The Buff defense, after giving up the short drive for a touchdown, had bounced back as well, forcing two punts. The second punt gave the Buffs the ball at their own 41 yard line, with 2:33 to play before halftime. The Buffs had the ball, the lead, and good field position. Another score might have made the difference in the game – even holding onto the ball would have meant a halftime lead. Instead, Sefo Liufau threw an interception. An eight-play, 55-yard drive by Arizona followed, with the Wildcats scoring just before halftime. What had been a promising half in most categories was still a deficit, 21-17, at the break.

Turnover No. 4 … Early in the fourth quarter. The two teams traded field goals in the third quarter, with Arizona taking a 24-20 lead into the final stanza. Another forced punt by the Colorado defense – the fifth of the evening – gave the ball back to the CU offense at their 25-yard line. Down only four points, with over 12 minutes left in the game, there was plenty of time for Colorado to not only post a Pac-12 win, not only a Pac-12 win on the road, but a Pac-12 win on the road against a ranked opponent (CU’s first win over a ranked opponent on the road since … 2002). The stars were aligned; the Buffs were due. Then … disaster. Another interception. Taking over at the CU 31 yard line (just like they had after the second quarter fumble), Arizona needed only three plays to score, making it a two score lead for the home team for the first time all night.

Arizona’s final score was only window dressing. It made the Wildcats 18-point winners, just as expected. It meant that a Colorado opponent had scored 38 points, just like usual.

For Colorado, the Arizona game was just another tough loss. Another woulda/coulda/shoulda game in a season of such games.

With the loss, Colorado fell to 2-8 on the season, but, outside of the small (and shrinking) Buff Nation, there are few who will consider:

… Against Colorado State, the Buffs led throughout much of the game, and had a 17-7 lead midway through the third quarter;

… Against No. 16 Arizona State, the Buffs, after falling behind 17-0 early, rallied to make it a 17-14 game in the second quarter;

… Against Cal, the Buffs had a 21-7 lead in the first quarter and a 28-14 lead at halftime. Colorado later rallied to take a 42-35 lead with three minutes to play in the game, and had ample opportunities in the double overtime loss to get out of Berkeley with a victory;

… Against Oregon State, the Buffs rallied from a 17-7 deficit to take a 21-20 lead at halftime. The Buffs then scored with three minutes left to make it a 36-31 game, and had the ball in Beaver territory in the final minute before turning the ball over on downs;

… Against No. 25 UCLA. the Buffs rallied from 17-0 and 24-7 deficits, out-scoring the Bruins 17-0 in the fourth quarter to take the game into overtime. Again, as is true with any double-overtime loss, Colorado had several chances to win that game in extra time as well;

… Against Washington, the Buffs ran contrary to tendencies, racing out to a 20-10 lead over the Huskies in the second quarter. It was still a one score game – despite an interception return for a touchdown – into the fourth quarter, before an 87-yard punt return for a score doomed the Buffs’ chances.

Counting the Arizona game, that makes seven of eight losses in which the Buffs had a fighting chance to win. Even if the Arizona State game is taken off the board (the Sun Devils kept a two-score advantage throughout the second half), there are six games this season in which the Buffs either had the lead, or had a decent chance at a victory, late into the final quarter (and/or into overtime). Give Colorado a split of those six games, and we are talking about a team with a 5-5 record, and at least a puncher’s chance at a bowl invitation and a winning season.

Instead, we are where we are. Colorado is 2-8, 0-6 in Pac-12 play, with two ranked teams left on the schedule.

In August, I posted my preseason essay, entitled, “Buffs Still a Year Away“, which concluded:

I’d actually be happy if Colorado put up totals like Utah did in 2013 – 5-7, 2-7. The Utes were tantalizingly close in several Pac-12 games – a 51-48 overtime loss to Oregon State, a 34-27 loss to UCLA, a 20-19 loss to Arizona State – to go with a spirit-raising 27-21 upset of No. 5 Stanford.

Would close losses be frustrating? Hell, yes. It would be agonizing to be that close to a bowl game, and still come up short.

But CU has to get closer to the rest of the Pac-12, in both talent and experience, before it can expect to start winning those games.

2014 is all about being competitive. It’s about getting close. Knocking on the door.

2015 can then be the season when the Buffs kick the door in …

Be careful what you ask for, I guess.

The reality is that, nationally, little with be thought of when it comes to the University of Colorado this upcoming offseason. The Buffs have now gone nine years without a winning season, and number ten will be an easy forecast to make. Next year, as CU celebrates the 25th anniversary of the national championship team, it will come as a surprise to some that CU was ever that good, while others will discuss the irony of CU’s present state when compared to its prior status as a championship program.

With the other five teams in the Pac-12 South having spent time in the national rankings in 2014, the only consensus pick for 2015 will be that the Buffs will again finish last in their division.

That may prove true, but Buff fans understand, that, with a turnover here and a break there, Colorado would have been in the mix for a bowl in 2014.

Buff fans can only hope that, based upon how close the team has come to victory this fall, that next fall will be the payoff.

You just have to be able to read between the lines …



17 Replies to “Reading Between the Lines”

  1. yo Stuart,
    thanks for keeping me updated from halfway around the world. I think everyone needs to give Sefo a break. The guy is still a kid and all he has done is rewrite the record books. Football passing these days is all about timing and receivers being where they are supposed to be. It is wrong and overly simplistic to blame Sefo every time.

    Remember when Manning first got to Denver and had a bunch of interceptions? Did it mean he was “all of a sudden” a bad quarterback? Or did it mean that the QB and the receivers were just slightly off?

    fans need to remember that coaches are adding more and more of the offense as Sefo and the offense learn. It is the reason we’ve been “in the games” against ranked teams all year. The Buffs are 2-8. This is the time to make the mistakes so they can learn from them for next year.

    All that being said, if Sefo is injured he should sit. With the bye week he should be okay, but Mac should give Gherke lots of reps just in case.

    For those who are forgetting how far this team has come, I suggest re watching the first quarter of the Fresno State game from 2012. These Buffs are SO MUCH better it’s amazing. If we played in CSU’s conference we would be making holiday plans for a bowl game. Folks need to keep things in perspective.

    from Shanghai this week

    1. Just curious Devil if think that sitting Sefo for half a game or a game would let him look at what is going on out on the field to improve his mind set?
      I would say that Sefo is the best QB we have had since Klatt and maybe
      Pesavento buit he needs to take step back to take some steps forward right now.

  2. turn overs kill alot of teams ,most give up after a point but what we are seeing is a team that doesnt want to quite. I really think that if the buffs can get that one victory over a team of anyranking in thier conference the start of change will happen . no cool aid here just the facts of what I see happening and hope that I m not wrong .this team has a tough mental head about themselves,once the turn over stop they will get that win. go Buffs

  3. I do not care about Gehrke getting exposure this season, more interested in how that young guy Apsy is doing this year. Haven’t heard anything about his progress during his readshirt season. I know they run the scout team offense, but often you see (or don’t see) good traits in practice. He might be the guy pushing for minutes next season.
    Stuart, tell us what you find out.

    1. I’m afraid we’ll have to wait until next spring. Practices, since mid-August, have been closed to the press and public.
      As a result, anything information we get on the red-shirts this fall will have to come from the players or coaches.

  4. Not a frequent commenter, but I feel moved to comment about the heart of this Buffs team. Sport isn’t fair, if it was, the W/L records would be different, but they are believing and fighting for each other, week-in and week-out. It’s inspiring to watch after this program just getting clobbered the last few years. I am proud to be a supporter of this team and believe they will get to a bowl game in the next two years. Also, I believe in Sefo as well. Those turnovers are killers, but he has done some amazing things as well. He just needs to understand that he harms his team more than helps them when he forces things that aren’t there. He’s just trying too hard to make things happen and I think experience and maturity will help him learn this lesson.

    1. Great observation on Sefo. I said earlier that he is pushing, and still believe that to be true. It appears that he feels he has to make EVERY play, even when one isn’t there. Let him sit for a bit, and get a little air back under his wings. I’m of the opinion that all he needs is a little time to see what is going on from the sideline, and he will be more effective in the game.

      He can’t win these games by himself, but is taking on that responsibility, and that is unfair to him and the team. It doesn’t appear that the team has given up on him, so neither will I.

  5. Knock knock, who’s there? The mighty Buffalo. You can’t come in. we’re busy! (Animal Hose reference). Well I’ll huff and I’ll puff and blow your house down (or just kick it in!).
    The Buffs have made tremendous strides under Coach Mac. Next year will be a good one, sort of like 1986 for those old enough to remember. Some decent recruiting, coaching em’ up and more experience will take us to the next level. No longer will we be the best 2-8 team, we will be fighting for a bowl berth.


  6. Some times my frustrations need to be kicked out from underneath me. Good job Stuart. On game day as I watch the Buffs play I say come on if you make this play or that play and cut down the turn overs we could win these games. Frustration is watching a game unfold and see the same results week after week. But we have made progress and we are better than we have been in years.
    I do think Sefo needs to sit on the bench for a while so he can get some prospective on what he needs to do during the game.
    We have a snow balls chance in hades this week, but that’s why they play the

  7. Said it last week and will keep saying it. When Mac is able to put redshirt juniors and seniors on the field, Buff wins will come in droves. Many ’14 Buff starers are in their second year of the program, have shown the fight and grit needed to succeed, but physically can’t compete YET for four full quarters. CU will rise again in ’15 and beyond. Why? Because they failed so many times in ’14 and ’13 but refuse to quit, to accept defeat. They’ll win because they earned it with every hard fought loss. They’re showing us what is coming, but many have already closed their eyes. I’m not one of them.

    Go Buffs

  8. I was proud of those kids. I don’t put those turnovers on Sefo either. The line collapsed so fast after the snap the poor kid was just trying to make things happen and on every snap but four, he was awesome. God bless him and the entire team, these kids are not quitters and should be proud of their progress….I am very proud of them.

  9. Next year could be the Buffs turnaround year but not, in my opinion, if Sefo remains at QB. Great kid that I personally would like to see succeed but there is no progress on his game killing mistakes. I do not think that his performance under pressure will improve by next year. We need to get Gehrke reps now. I don’t know that he has what it takes but Liufau has proven that he makes the same big mistakes in the same game situations over and over. He at least needs to take a mental break from game while Gehrke gets reps.

    1. If that is the case then Notre Dame needs to bench Everett Golson, he cost Notre Dame the game against ASU with his four turnovers. Sefo needs to learn and progress, he has the arm strength and accuracy, he needs to make the mental adjustment to not trying to make every play and accept the sack or better yet throw in away.

    2. CJ,

      Gehrke will not even be in the mix next year. Awini will be leading to put the heat on sefo. Plus Apsay.

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