“We can play at this level”

It was just the usual pre-game talk.

“We’re going out there to win. We’re not going out there to measure how close we can lose by”, said quarterback Sefo Liufau in the days leading up to the game against No. 16 Arizona State. “You should never go in with that mindset. We’re going out there to win. We’re going out to win every Pac-12 game”.

“I think if we handle our business on offense and defense, we’ll still be in it”, chimed in wide receiver Nelson Spruce. “We’ll be in it for four quarters. If we can finish like we did last week, then it’s anyone’s game.”

Bold talk for a pair of players who were on the field for the debacle which was the 54-13 blasting by the Sun Devils a year ago in Tempe, a game in which the Buffs were down 25-0 after one quarter; 47-6 at halftime. Brash words from a team which had been 11 points down in the third quarter just seven days earlier to a Massachusetts team with two wins in three seasons as a member of the FBS.

But then again, what would you expect them to say? It would have been real news if a CU player came out and said, “We’re out-manned, out-talented, and out-coached. We’re just hoping to get through this game, and this season, without a major injury”.

The Sun Devils were prohibitive favorites to again dominate. Many of the Buff faithful, despite the 8:00 p.m. kickoff, still had plans on getting home with plenty of time for a decent night’s sleep.

But something happened on the way to the rout … Colorado played well, even very well at times. Until Sefo Liufau threw an interception inside Sun Devil territory with just under five minutes to play, the game was still in doubt. While many of the 38,547 who came for the game left in the third quarter, these Buffs battled to the end before falling, 38-24, to the No. 16 team in the country.

How much improved were the Buffs from a year ago?

Last fall, Arizona State ran up 532 yards of total offense, to only 268 for Colorado.

In 2014, the Buffs actually had the advantage in total yards, 545 to 426.

In almost every phase of the game, the Buffs showed promise.

The running game … led by Christian Powell’s 118 yards, the Buffs churned out 232 yards, the most since Mike MacIntyre took over as head coach. Only once before (against Charleston Southern) had the Buffs surpassed the 200-yard mark rushing (with four games with less than 100 yards on the ground).

The passing game … Sefo Liufau went 31-for-46 for 278 yards and three touchdowns. His two interceptions (especially the first, which should have been a touchdown) were costly, but Liufau continues to mature. Nelson Spruce, meanwhile, has been nothing short of amazing. Spruce had two touchdown receptions against Arizona State, becoming the first Buff in CU history to record two touchdown receptions in three straight games. Spruce just missed out (seven catches for 97 yards) on becoming just the third Buff (and the first since 1993) to post three straight 100-yard games. And Spruce has some company, with Shay Fields showing in his first three games wearing black-and-gold that he is on a path to become the Buffs’ next great wide receiver.

The offensive line … While it shouldn’t be a laudable feat to simply avoid mistakes, the Buff offensive line is getting better. There were a few penalties (though not as many as the Buff Nation has become accustomed to seeing) and a few sacks were surrendered. Anytime your offense, though, cranks out 545 yards of total offense, the offensive line has had a good night.

The defensive line … Again, a work in progress. The Buffs did pick up a pair of sacks, but were not consistently able to control the line of scrimmage. Aided by a better game plan (more blitzes), the line was not the focal point of the contest – in and of itself a small victory.

The defensive backfield … Seeing that CU star linebacker Addison Gillam had only four tackles, it would be easy to conclude that the Buff defense had been through a terrible night. To the contrary, the defensive backfield managed (for the most part), to hold its own against an Arizona State team loaded with talent at every skill position. The lack of turnovers certainly hurt the bottom line, but the Buffs do have some talent – Pac-12 talent – on its defensive roster.

The special teams … Okay, where the hell has that been? Five kickoffs – five touchbacks. After an abysmal showing against UMass, the Buff kicking game held its own, with Will Oliver booming every kickoff to the endzone, with zero runbacks by the Sun Devils. Oliver also made his only field goal attempt, and extended his school record for consecutive extra points made to 70. Darragh O’Neill (three punts, 48.5 yard average, two inside the 20-yard line) quietly continued his excellent play.

With all of that gushing, it might be hard to remember that Colorado lost the game by two touchdowns, and was behind by two or more scores for almost the entire game.

True enough, and the game against Arizona State did start like so many other blowouts in recent years.

The formula was almost predictable:

Buff offense goes three-and-out, followed by a touchdown drive by the opposition.

Buff offense turns the ball over, followed by a touchdown drive by the opposition.

Buff offense goes three-and-out, followed (a series later) by a field goal drive by the opposition.

Same song, different verse.

The first quarter stats of the Arizona State game were, well, ugly.

Arizona State: 222 yards of total offense – 113 passing; 109 rushing.

Colorado: 22 yards of total offense – 31 yards passing; minus-nine yards rushing.

It was a mauling in the making.

But then a funny thing happened on the way to the massacre … The Buffs didn’t quit.

It seems so basic, so obvious. But, as Buff fans have been subjected to in recent years, it was anomalous … The Buffs didn’t quit.

After Arizona State was stopped in the red zone and forced to kick a field goal (a victory in itself, as nine of ten red zone drives by CSU and UMass had resulted in touchdowns), the Colorado offense responded. A ten-play, 77-yard drive, culminated in a four-yard touchdown pass from Sefo Liufau to Shay Fields.

The Colorado defense, which in the first quarter hadn’t shown any punch, posted a three-and-out, giving the ball back to the Buff offense. Another 77-yard touchdown drive was the result, with a 15-yard touchdown pass from Liufau to Nelson Spruce. Arizona State 17, Colorado 14.

Another three-and-out from the Buff defense gave the CU offense the ball and the momentum. Instead of driving for the go-ahead score, however, the Buffs fumbled on the first play, with Arizona State driving all of nine yards to take a 24-14 lead.

Faced with adversity, the Buffs again did the unusual … The Buffs didn’t quit.

The Colorado offense, taking over with 2:41 to play before the break, didn’t score … but they didn’t give the ball back to Arizona State, either. Converting two third downs, the Buffs maintained possession, trailing by only ten at halftime.

Arizona State head coach Todd Graham, displeased with only 24 points against a Buff team which had surrendered 47 in thirty minutes a year before, told his team on the sideline before the start of the third quarter that the Sun Devils were going to score on every possession in the second half.

And it appeared early on that his prediction would come true.

Taking the second half kickoff, the Sun Devils needed only six plays to travel 75 yards to take a 31-14 lead.

But again … The Buffs didn’t quit.

Aided by a 55-yard run by Christian Powell, the Buffs answered with a Will Oliver field goal, to temporarily stop the bleeding.

The ASU offense, though, was not impressed, again taking only six plays to cover 75 yards. The score was now 38-17, and the rout was on.

But again … The Buffs didn’t quit.

CU’s ensuing drive went well, taking 12 plays, covering 79 yards … and netting no points. Facing a fourth-and-one at the Arizona State three yard line, Phillip Lindsay was stopped for a loss of a yard, giving the ball back to Arizona State.

But again … The Buffs didn’t quit.

The defense held the Arizona State offense at bay, while the Colorado offense put together a 99-yard touchdown drive (the seventh such drive in school history). Christian Powell rumbled for 42 yards to get the ball out from the CU one-yard line, with the drive finished off with a Liufau-to-Spruce 31-yard touchdown connection. Arizona State 38, Colorado 24, with 8:38 still to play.

The Buffs continued to press, taking the ball into Sun Devil territory twice more before the game ended, but were unable to get any additional points.

“The guys fought all game and you can’t take that away from us,” said Sefo Liufau. “We moved the ball up and down the field, the defense made plenty of stops. We should have won that game flat-out. That’s how I feel and that’s how the whole team feels.”

“Wow. It really hurts, it really hurts,” said Coach MacIntyre. “Can’t turn the ball over, but we have to cause turnovers on defense. Our kids kept fighting, kept battling. We are improving, but golly that hurt …  I thought we flew around and fought and battle hard out there tonight.”

Perhaps, though, Nelson Spruce said it best.

“I think it shows that we can play at this level,” said Spruce. “Last year this was a team that dominated us in all aspects, but today I never felt as if we were out-manned at all. I think we learned a lot about ourselves from this game.”

Buff fans learned something about their team as well.

There will be plenty of struggles – and losses – to come.

But the Buffs were competitive. The Buffs were effective on offense, gaining a Mike MacIntyre era best 545 yards of total offense. The defense and special teams, while still in need of more Pac-12 quality players, did not look confused or out of position.

For the past few years, when Pac-12 play rolled around, the second halves of many Colorado games looked like NFL preseason games – players you never heard of going through the motions in a game where the score was not of vital concern.

Now, Buff fans – for at least one night – saw a glimpse of what they hope will be a brighter future.

A future in which Colorado is not an easy out. A future in which the Buffs are not only competitive, but winning games. A future in which there is a filled-to-capacity Folsom Field, cheering the Buffs on to nationally recognized victories.

At the end of his first season, Mike MacIntyre said, “We’ve gone from the valley to the foothills”.

While one game is not a season, the competitive game against Arizona State gives CU fans hope that the Buffs are continuing to climb.



9 Replies to ““We can play at this level””

  1. WOW !!!!!!!!!! What diatribe.

    Stuart, good article as usual….. nothing wrong with dealing with reality. I know for a fact that there’s no one who is a bigger, more positive fan than you….. you have proven that over and over for decades.

    Although Earl seems to be a loyal Buff fan, he sure as hell doesn’t need to spout off about “backassward emphasis” on your part…. and he sure as hell isn’t an objective judge of others.

    Earl, you need to go into publishing yourself; put out a daily rag and title it, “The Real World According To Earl.” THEN, SEE IF YOU CAN MAKE ANY PROFIT WITH ONE SUBSCRIBER….. YOU.

  2. Hawk’s teams often quit, Water Bottle’s teams regularly quit—it was part of the culture.

    HCMM’s teams may feel over-matched or overwhelmed by momentum, but they do not quit! Time to stop that myth and start with a new mantra.

    Wonder why the perception of this program sucks and fans, (I mean the casual fans who don’t hold season tix or live and die all things BUFF) won’t fill the stadium?

    Its because the perception they get from visiting sites like this one (one of the best I will note), is generally tinged with a lot of negativism about the team!!! Your backassward emphasis on they “unlike before, didn’t quit” is just one example.

    The questions in the “polls” run here do the same thing start with a lot of negativity for the casual fan right up front! Polls are funs but far too often, the cynics and arm-chair negativity nancies lurking here, are the primary responders, so when Average Joe fan says to himself, “Gee, Maybe I should take in the Hawaii game in Boulder. I hear this “CU at the Game” site knows a lot about the Buffs, I’ll check to see if they’re worth the drive and the tickets.” Then, the first thing spotted is a fan poll showing nearly 70% of the posters believe the team sucks to the point of only winning two more games at most….why should a fan put up with that drive on 36 for that crap? (Or bother to stay around for the second half of a game the Buffs were in until that int. with 5 mins. to go?) I’m all for “objectivity” and I know the ‘sophisticates” lurking here love to show off their knowledge of the program by railing on sunshine pumpers, but there is something to be said for changing emphasis toward the positive aspects of the team and program.

    Another real downer for me was your coverage of the UMass game, horribly tinged, I surmise. by your crappy experience flying through Chicago. I was there in Foxboro too, and had fun with my family, the CU contingent and the comeback win against a team the was under-rated because of their past—(See vs. Vandy. They should have have beaten Vandy, in Nashville! And UMass played BC even up for much of their game; same BC that hung one on the Trojans!)

    Did the Buffs look like world beaters? Heck, no, but they showed many signs of improvement, much of which was lost in your real downer of a report. Contrast your reporting with the media’s glowing reports of the Broncos’ “valiant stand” against an injured, third rate KC team….just sayin’…..

    Think about it, a change of tone certainly would be welcome and maybe even helpful?!? Or is that too “unsophisticated”?

    1. EarlT…Maybe you should write a blog and you can positively spin all of the articles the way you see it. Cu at the Game is the best and if you do not like it go read something else….just sayin’

    2. EarlT – Are you watching a different team. Its not negativity if it’s true, it’s called reality! This football would be mediocre in M.W. What do you want people to write about? How do you spin a 14pt home loss in a positive light? I can see you are a ribbons for everyone type of person and probably believe we should have put Coach Mac on our shoulders and rushed field Saturday night because the team didn’t “quit”. Who really cares if they didn’t quit? The bottom line is a loss is a loss. I don’t get a warm and fuzzy feeling inside from losing and no body associated with this team or university should either. The great thing about this game it that it is black and white your either a winner or a loser. At this point in time this team is full of losers, that is not opinion it’s just a fact!!!!!!!!!

      This site is great!! Stuart please don’t change a thing and ignore those out there who believe it should be ribbons and orange slices for everyone.

      Go Buffs!

      1. Stuart, I liked this article and I actually didn’t find it negative, though I think sometimes your articles do dabble into the bleak too far (understandably, and not too often). The following comment is not directed at Stuart, it’s directed at Bobby D.

        The only thing that’s black and white is the final score. I’d like for you to go write your expert “they’re all losers, its a fact!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” analysis and send it as an open letter to the team, the coaches, and the athletic department with your name on it. Preferably including your personal email for comments from the recipients.

        It matters a whole friggin bunch that they didn’t give up like they did last time. It matters a whole friggin bunch that they out gained ASU by 119 yards. Of course everyone would like a big, fat ‘W’ on the schedule. In lieu of that, I’d prefer to actually give credit for improvements when they’re obviously there. That’s not some “everybody gets a ribbon” thing, it’s nuance. I have a hard time believing that you can’t see any difference between this loss and the one from a year ago. And if you can’t, you’re not being objective.

        I get being gloomy about a flat-energy flop against Toledo and Sacremento State. That makes sense. I don’t get kicking the team after they out perform all reasonable expectations and still come up short against a team they were never supposed to be in the game with at all.

        I don’t expect you to polish a turd for its own sake, I also don’t appreciate fans who “boo” their own friggin team. Having had season tickets all my life until moving to Boston, I have indeed seen black and gold clad jerks booing their own team through the tunnel in Folsom’s section 120. So, I’m sorry, but your comment just struck me the wrong way. I don’t mean any disrespect.

        Go Buffs.

        1. Andrew
          I can’t sugar coat it. When you win you’re a winner and when you lose you’re a loser. This team has for years now has lost a significant more then they have won, therefore by definition making them losers. I’m glad that they didn’t quit but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter if they lost. The fact that they didn’t quit is not going to make me sleep any better at night or give me the warm fuzzy feeling that it appears the rest of the fan base has. It’s sickening to me that a 14pt loss could lead to such euphoria.

          I’m not teaching my kids to get your ass beat and feel good about it because you didn’t quit. Any man who has any self respect should know that quitting is unacceptable. I hope when my kids lose or fail that they hate that feeling so much they are motivated to not let it happen again.

          Sorry reality is a tough pill to swallow for you. But at the end of they day facts are facts these players have lost more then they have won therefore they are losers and will remain losers until their record reflects otherwise.

        2. Andrew…I am not sure how they are “outperforming all reasonable expectations” They lost to CSU in which they were a favorite. They barely beat a bad UMASS team in which they were a 17 point favorite. On Saturday they had a late touchdown to backdoor cover against ASU. We will be lucky to get 3 or 4 wins this year. So…it is very hard to get excited about almost wins when we have a history of winning…that is something you do when you are in the MW.

  3. I thought the Buffs had more energy, speed, and physical play than I have seen in a long time. The running backs were hitting the holes like madmen. Oh, and there were holes to hit. The receivers were grabbing balls out of the air. It was great to watch. I bet it’s going to be a fun week at practice and let’s hope they carry that momentum and hit Hawaii hard.

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