2015 Grades – Offense

With Colorado’s 4-9, 1-8 record now relegated to the history books, and with (some) of the emotion of yet another close season-ending loss to Utah subsiding, it’s time to take a look at how the different units on the team performed this fall.

The standard applied looks not only at the raw numbers produced, but how those numbers match up with the expectations we had for those units when the season opened in September. It is also worth noting that no player or unit operates in a vacuum … a great running back can take a great deal of pressure off of a quarterback, while a sieve of an offensive line can leave the best quarterback in the country running for his life.


In his sophomore campaign in 2014, Sefo Liufau set or tied a total of 51 school records. He set season marks for all major categories: attempts (498), completions (325), passing yards (3,200) and touchdowns (28), with total offense records of plays (567) and yards (3,336).

While Buff fans were not necessarily looking for a repeat performance in 2015, there were expectations of maturation. Liufau’s 28 touchdown passes in 2014 were mitigated by his 15 interceptions. There were concerns about his abilities on certain throws and his decision making. And then there was, of course, the lack of any victories in Pac-12 play.

In 2015, the Buff Nation got improvement from Liufau in one category … he only threw six interceptions. Otherwise, it was a mixed bag from Liufau. Before being injured late in the season, Liufau threw for 2,418 yards and nine touchdowns, and led CU to all four of its victories. Yet, once again, the important “over-the-hump” victory eluded him.

Liufau’s replacement for much of the final three games of the season was Cade Apsay. There is a saying that there is no more popular player on the team than the backup quarterback, and Apsay certainly fit the bill. Problem is, when Apsay got his chance, he did not prove to be able to produce the break-through win for the Buffs, either.

Apsay went 59-for-92 for 582 yards, three touchdowns and five interceptions in his three games behind center before also being injured. Jordan Gehrke came in in relief of Apsay in the finale against Utah, going 11-for-20 for 113 yards against the Utes, with one touchdown and one interception in the Buffs’ last failed comeback attempt of 2015.

Overall, the passing numbers equate to CU’s success – or lack thereof – on the field:

Colorado went from 19th in the nation in passing in 2014 (286.4 yds/game) to 48th (240.6 yds/game).

As noted above, CU’s failures to win more games cannot be isolated to one position, but it is safe to say that the Buffs and their fans expected more from the quarterback position in 2015.

Grade … C-.


Running backs

In pure numbers, the Colorado offense got as much out of its rushing attack in 2015 as it did in 2014.

In 2014, the Buffs ran for 154.6 yards per game.

In 2015, the Buffs ran for 156.2 yards per game.

Then why does this fall’s results feel like such a disappointment?

The previous three seasons, Christian Powell led the team in rushing. This fall, it was felt that Powell – or one of his compatriots – would have a break out campaign. The offensive line was deeper and more experienced, and the Liufau/Spruce connection was still on the roster.

Instead, the Buff rushing attack failed to dominate. Take away the 390 rushing yards against UMass and the 358 rushing yards against Nicholls, and you are left with a team which averaged 116.6 yards per game in its other 11 games … which would have ranked CU 118th in the nation, ahead of only Washington State (a team indifferent to running the ball) in the Pac-12.

Phillip Lindsay led the team in rushing, with 653 yards and six touchdowns. Lindsay is a popular player with the Buff Nation, but that has much to do with his outspoken leadership as his ability to strike fear into the hearts and minds of opposing defenses.

Bottom line … when CU was 4-5 at the end of October, and still fighting for a chance at a bowl bid, the CU rushing attack ceased to exist. In November, the Buffs produced rushing “attacks” of 83 yards, 59 yards, 85 yards, and 49 yards.


That is not getting it done.

Grade … D+.


Wide Receivers / Tight Ends

Like quarterback Sefo Liufau, wide receiver Nelson Spruce had a banner year in 2014. Spruce set or tied 31 school records, and was a semi-finalist for the Biletnikoff Award.

This fall, Spruce was to set a slew of new records … and he did.

But he did not have the year Buff fans were hoping for.

Spruce leaves Colorado with 43 school records, a list which almost every significant CU mark associated with the position: most touchdown catches in a game, season and career (3, 12, 23); most receptions in a game, season and career (19, 106, 294); and most receiving yards in a career (3,347).

He’s also the all-time Pac-12 leader in career receptions (294), is tied for the conference record for most catches in a game (19), is eighth in all-time Pac-12 receiving yards (3,347) and is a two-time second team all-Pac-12 selection.

He also leaves town with only a handful of Pac-12 victories.

Shay Fields was supposed to take some of the pressure off of Spruce this fall, and, when healthy, he did. Despite being hampered with injuries the second half of the Pac-12 campaign, Fields production closely matched that of last season (2014: 50 catches for 486 yards and four touchdowns; 2015: 42 catches for 598 yards and four touchdowns).

After Fields, however, there was again a significant drop-off in wide receiver production. While Devin Ross (25 catches, 324 yards, two touchdowns), Bryce Bobo (24 catches, 207 yards) and Donovan Lee (26 catches, 128 yards) had their moments, none caught the imagination of the Buff Nation … or the attention of opposing defensive coordinators.

And did we mention that Colorado has pass catching tight ends?

You will be forgiven if you have positive memories of Sean Irwin, Dylan Keeney and George Frazier making plays this fall. There were moments – a combined total of 27 catches for 350 yards and one touchdown – but, as Frank Sinatra would say, “too few to mention”.

Grade … C-.


Offensive Line


Where do we start?

Perhaps the bookend losses at the start and the end of the season best summarize the Buffs’ offensive line woes.

Against Hawai’i in the opener, the Buffs finished with two scores in four red-zone opportunities, with Sefo Liufau being sacked four times in a 28-20 loss.

Against Utah in the finale, the Buffs finished with one score in three red-zone opportunities, with Buff quarterbacks being sacked six times in a 20-14 loss.

Colorado finished the 2015 season 120th (out of 127 teams) in red zone offense, and 116th in sacks allowed. Had the Buffs been even marginally successful in those categories this fall, the Buffs and their fans would be preparing for a bowl game right now.

True enough, the offensive woes cannot all be laid at the feet of the offensive line, but the success of the offense begins and ends with the play of the line.

Is it possible that the loss of left tackle Jeromy Irwin, who suffered a torn ACL in the second game of the season, was the most significant personnel loss of the year? The loss of Irwin first brought sophomore Sam Kronshage onto the field for his first career start, coming in at the all-important left tackle position. Later, when Kronshage was unable to handle the role, Stephane Nembot over from his right tackle position. When Nembot moved over to left tackle, red-shirt freshman John Lisella made his first career start at right tackle.

And so on … and so on …

In all, the Buffs used nine different offensive line combinations in 2015, and none proved effective. In addition to the first career starts by Kronshage and Lisella, Shane Callahan (v. Oregon State) and Sully Wiefels (v. Stanford) were also placed into starting lineups for the first time in their careers.

The CU offensive line loses only Nembot to graduation, so the 2016 offensive line will return a number of players with starting experience.

… It just that they weren’t supposed to be that “experienced” just yet.

Grade … D.



Colorado finished the 2014 season with a 2-10 record, with an offense which was 10th in the Pac-12 conference and 64th in the nation in scoring, at 28.5 points per game. Record-setters Sefo Liufau and Nelson Spruce were back, along with almost every receiver except Tyler McCulloch and every running back except Tony Jones.

Improvement on 2014 numbers were not an unrealistic expectation.

Instead, the Colorado offense regressed considerably.

The Buffs finished the 2015 campaign averaging 24.6 points per game, 97th in the nation, ahead of only Oregon State in the Pac-12.

The Colorado defense made significant strides this fall, with the per game scoring average dropping from 39.0 points per game to 27.5.

The final tally in the only numbers that matter – 4-9, 1-8 – therefore, must rest with the unit which did not progress in 2015.

Grade … D+.





16 Replies to “2015 Grades – Offense”

  1. I will grant Lingren the fact that he was blressed by Devin “Butterfingers” Ross (personally responsible for missing 10 points and giving up 7 @ UCLA), but there is no excuse for not using the TEs and Frazier more, especially in the Red Zone or on 3rd and short. Nor is there any excuse for not using more quick-hitting misdirection plays. Lingren’s ideas for reverses were telegraphed by personnel changes, often seemed to take minutes to develop and were usually stopped for losses. That stuff may worked in the MWC, but not in the Pac 12!

    Must have a co-OC this season or have Leavitt work extensively with Lingren on OC from a DC/ex-HC’s perspective.

  2. wow
    according to scott there is “man love” for Sefo but I have never seen so much man hate. I will note that he is in a very small minority. Sefo could have been one of the great QBs at CU if it wasnt for the O line….and of course,
    drumroll….the OC.
    Throughout the games and throughout the season it never seemed that nothing ever changed from Lingering. Someone above has already mentioned that adjustments have to be made to suit personnel whether it is through injuries or not, not to mention what the D is throwing at you at any moment.
    I think its interesting to note that 2 teams that raced past us out of the cellar were driven by offense minded coaches.

  3. Stuart I think your grades are pretty accurate, but the lack of a consistent offense with any real rhythm, or even much of the time a semblance of vision as to what kind of offense this team is attempting to operate was probably the reason many of areas you graded were so low. Just like Real Estate, COACHING, COACHING, COACHING.

    When the fans that follow this team closely are able to predict much of the time what the play is going to be called in many repeated situations one can only wonder what opposing defensive coordinators are thinking.

    The Red Zone offense was just atrocious, particularly inside the 10 yard line.

    You mentioned the lack of TE in the O but what was mystifying is that when Apsay played they utilized the TE probably more then all the previous games combined. Was that Lefau or the OC who was so remiss in that part of the game? Whatever, the Offensive Coaching really does have to be questioned big time in this their 3rd year. Very little improvement during many crucial moments in winnable games.

    1. Shocking. Just shocking. If only you would have listened to me last year and the start of this year.

      And Yup, it is easy to see ain’t it.

      Go Buffs

      Note: Fire the OC

  4. Good, fair, unbiased assessment. Bravo! If you take away the Manlove McIntyre has for Sefo and his records he brags about often, the no usage of Frazier and Bobo who everyone knows are playmakers , and his Napolian syndrome over Lindgren, we would have wins. Probably 8 more in last three years. We would have good recruits. Here on campus now. McIntyre will play his kid a LOT next year, Sefo will be back in time and the narcissistic McIntyre will be 2-10 and be blown out. Mark my words.

    1. If lindgren is still here and we don’t win 1 of our first 3 pac12 games my bet is Leavitt is promoted to interim head coach.

  5. Yo Stuart,
    I don’t think it is fair to rate the production of the offense without mentioning the horrible play calling of OC Brian Lindgren. The total passing yards in 2014 dropped around 8.4% in 2015 (3415 yards to 3128). The number of touchdown passes dropped from 29 in 2014 to only 13 in 2015. That’s more than a 55% drop, mostly due to horrible play calling in the red zone.

    As programs around the country make changes to their assistant coaching staffs quickly so as not to disrupt recruiting, it saddens a lot of Buff fans as MacIntyre appears to be standing pat with the leaders behind the Buffs woeful offense.

    I don’t know what the basis for the firing of strength and performance coach Forman was, but I am absolutely certain that Forman was not at fault for the horrible play calling and special teams blunders.

    The key to effective coaching is doing what’s most effective for winning based on the players the team has available. They cannot continuously blame the players for not effectively running the called plays. Once maybe, but not for game after game or season after season.

    As a coach, the plays that you call SHOULD be different based on personnel. You don’t ask a Tim Tebow type of player to play as if he is Peyton Manning, and vice versa.

    And it is also important to attack the weaknesses of the opposing teams. When you play the team with the worst rushing defense in the country, you don’t start out the game by throwing the ball 80% of the time (Unless you are the OC of Colorado, that is).

    The D under Leavitt should be one of the better units in the Pac 12 next year, but I fear that if Lindgren is still calling the plays the offense will not have enough cohesion to get the Buffs to a bowl. Mac is taking a big gamble if he does not make a change before spring practices.


    1. Mark hit it on the head. My only hope is that the same exists for the of that existed last year. Mike has already told lindgren he is gone but is giving him the opportunity to find a new position as he has already started to line up an amazing oc but needs the other teams season to wrap up before announcing it.

        1. Yo Rob, Jason, and Now it is Me,
          Mac has great history of letting his assistants “move on” on their own even when it is clear that they have been let go (other than Forman, that is). I am hoping against hope that is the case with Lindgren. As a guy who has been following football in depth since before “Brian” was born, let me pass on a sage bit of advice that you should listen to you elders and move on. Coach Leavitt has five years on me but has shown that he can have an immediate impact. Lindgren is almost 20 years younger than I am, but he is in way over his head in the Pac-12. The only winning season he has had as an Offensive Coordinator has been due to NFL quarterback David Fales. Without Fales 11-2 record, Lindgren has been a complete wreck as a coordinator. In three years at CU, the Buffs have won a grand total of 10 games, less than the one year that Lindgren had Fales.

          Let us hope and pray that MacIntyre has learned from this debacle.


          1. What about Norm Chow? He had tremendous success at USC prior to Hawaii. He is available now. Problems as a head coach doesn’t mean that they can’t effectively be an OC. Look at Lane Kiffin.

          2. Mark, it appears Lindgren is staying. He would have been gone by now. I don’t think it’s a matter of McIntyre waiting till Lindgren finds a job. Lindgren is unhireable I believe after schools see tape on his terrible choices on play calling. I also think his passion for Sefo to set records like with Fales backfired on him. Sefo has now officially set a record that will never ever be broken. In the Pac’s 100 years now, with 20 games as a starter or more, Sefo was 2-19 as a starter, or a 10.5% winning percentage. No Pac 12 coach ( Like “Mighty Mike Mcintyre” would EVER keep playing a QB that has lost 90% of his games with all those starts behind him. We unfortunately have to live with Rick George giving McIntyre an extention till 2018, which was a BAD CHOICE, and that means living with McIntyre-Lindgren for at least another year. I;m not drinking the Kool Aid in 2016 with those two back.

  6. Stuart, not your usual real in depth work. Nice, but based on your past performance, and what is expected of you, B- may be a little high but I’ll give it to you.

    Now it does appear that this grading system is just all about the positions, and the players. Is that correct?

    Didn’t see anything about coaching in your analysis. I am assuming that you will have another set of grades coming out for the coaching staff. Certainly they deserve as much scrutiny as the players. It would be very interesting to read this I am sure.

    Cause it ain’t about the jimmies and the joes. But it damn sure is about who is coaching them jimmies and them joes, regardless of their “Star Rating? I can use Michigan as an example. I can use the Buff D as an example from last year to this year.

    Anyway, anxiously looking for your next grades of the D the ST and of course the coaches.

    Go Buffs. CU next year.

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