A Different Mindset

Last Tuesday night, ESPN aired its 30-for-30 program entitled “The Gospel According to Mac”. The program took the viewer from the hiring of Bill McCartney as CU’s head coach in June of 1982 through to his retirement in 1994.

(If you haven’t watched it yet, you owe it to yourself to do so. You are reading an essay about a team heading for a tenth straight losing season. This video will help you get through the next three weeks … and yet another long off-season):


The 2015 Colorado football team watched the video Tuesday night, and came away inspired. The players voted to ditch the black-and-silver “Raider look” uniforms they had selected for the Stanford game, opting instead to go with the traditional black-and-gold.

The look was similar to the 1989 and 1990 Buff teams which played for the national championship … but the mindset of the players wearing the black-and-goal 25 years ago was completely different than the mindset of the players on this year’s team.

How clear is the difference? Compare:

Here are quotes from CU quarterback Sefo Liufau from the past two weeks:

Before the UCLA game: “We’re really confident with the game plan given that we can go out there and put up a good showing, and even win the game. No one really believes us — that’s OK, we believe in ourselves.”

Before the Stanford game: “You just take the next game that is up, and you just go out there and win it or do your best to win the game”.

Now compare those quotes to some of the quotes from “The Gospel According to Mac”:

– Alfred Williams, on taking on No. 8 Illinois : “They had no idea we were going to unleash holy hell on them that day” … No. 8 Colorado 38, No. 10 Illinois 7 (Sept. 16, 1989);

– Kanavis McGhee, Mike Pritchard, and Charles Johnson, on playing No. 21 Washington … McGhee: “The feeling was – I’ve got a job to do, and you’re in the way” … Pritchard: “Washington had no chance that day. I don’t think they knew what hit them” … Johnson: “We went out and beat Washington like they were a JV team, and they were one of the top teams in the country” … No. 5 Colorado 45, No. 21 Washington 28 (Sept. 30, 1989);

– Alfred Williams, on taking on No. 2 Nebraska: “I talked to the team, man, and I told them that we had to have it. We HAD TO HAVE THAT GAME” … No. 9 Colorado 27, No. 2 Nebraska 12 (Nov. 3, 1990).

See any difference?

Yes, the 1989 and 1990 Colorado teams were ranked, and were expected to win most of their games. But compare the emotion and confidence in the quotes from those teams with the “we can go out there and put up a good showing” and “just go out there to win it or do your best” quotes from Sefo Liufau, one of the 2015 team captains.

And it’s not just Liufau.

I was also struck by a quote from senior captain Nelson Spruce after the UCLA game. Spruce was talking about the Buff comeback against the Bruins, which started when Donovan Lee scored on a 1-yard run, followed by defensive tackle Samson Kafovalu scoring on a 33-yard fumble return to pull the Buffs within 28-23 early in the fourth quarter.

“I was like, ‘Man, stuff like that never happens to us,’ ” Spruce said of the fumble return for a touchdown.

I don’t take issue with Spruce’s comment. I, along with many others in the Buff Nation would concur. A fumble return for a touchdown, on the road, against a ranked opponent, giving the Buffs the chance at an upset win?

Stuff like that never happens to us.

Stuff like that usually happens to us … that is present day mindset of the team and its fans.

More often, Buffs and their fans have to endure plays like those which took place in their 42-10 loss to No. 9 Stanford.

The Buffs played even with the Cardinal in the first quarter, answering a long touchdown drive by Stanford with one of their own. Then, in the second quarter, there were a series of plays which put the Buffs – and their fans – into “here we go again” mode:

– The Buffs played man-to-man defense with Stanford facing a third-and-18. The result? A 43-yard touchdown pass, making it a 14-7 game;

– The CU offense then responded with a ten-play drive of its own, only to miss a 37-yard field goal attempt;

– The defense then forced a third-and-one, a third-and-five, and another third-and-five from the Stanford offense, but could not close the deal. On a fourth-and-two at the six, Stanford quarterback hit Dalton Schultz with a lob pass and a 21-7 lead;

– With just under two minutes to play, and the chance to get back in the game, Sefo Liufau overthrew a wide open Nelson Spruce by a good ten yards, with the ball intercepted;

– A pass interference penalty on Kenneth Crawley, who had just been burned on the 43-yard touchdown pass a few minutes earlier, set the Cardinal up for a last second score. At the one yard line, where a stop would have left Stanford without any points, Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan waltzed in with one second left before the break.

A 7-7 game, and, just like that, it was a 28-7 halftime score.

Game over. Thanks to the 40,142 for coming in for the early kickoff. Drive carefully on the way home.

After the blowout win, Stanford head coach David Shaw was unusually effusive in praising Mike MacIntyre, the coach of the team who fell to 2-22 in Pac-12 play:

“First of all, I have to say this: not enough credit is given to Mike MacIntyre and the job he’s done here at Colorado”, said Shaw. “They’re fighting everybody, they’re really close. You can see it by the way we played offense today. They made a lot of things very difficult. The score doesn’t look like it, but we had to come with reverses and trick plays because we thought they were very sound, fought very hard, and were very physical. They have a tough offense to stop with a running quarterback, a really tough (running) back, and a receiver that makes all kinds of plays. The score is what it is, but I think coach MacIntyre has done a phenomenal job here”.

The debate about Mike MacIntyre’s success is not a new one, and will continue over the winter. Colorado is certainly more competitive than it was three years ago, but shouldn’t more progress be seen by now?

– Shouldn’t Sefo Liufau be getting better, not worse?

– Shouldn’t the play calling be getting more creative as the season goes on?

– Why are the Buffs running Patrick Carr inside the five yard line, when any number of choices – Christian Powell, Donovan Lee, Phillip Lindsay … hell, even Sefo Liufau – would have made more sense?

– Will the Buffs ever be able to master the red zone offense?

The Buffs are 4-5, with three more games to play. First, there is a USC team, which is 3-1 since the firing of Steve Sarkisian. Next comes Washington State, which has already taken down Oregon, Arizona, and Arizona State. The finale is against Utah, which could be in the top ten by the time the Buffs hit Salt Lake City.

Three more games. Three more chances at an upset which will legitimize the Buffs as a team on its way up, a team which can not only compete in the Pac-12, but win games in the Pac-12.

Senior safety Tedric Thompson perhaps best summarized the state of the Colorado program:

“It’s demoralizing,” Thompson said of the loss. “Every team we’ve lost to doesn’t have any more talent than we do on their team.  They aren’t doing anything we aren’t preparing for, I’m not sure what it is but it hurts to keep losing these games.  I’m tired of hearing people say that we’re this close and if we had made this play or that play it would be different.  It’s happening week after week and we need to come together as men and really figure it out.  It’s out of the coaches hands at this point.  They are doing everything right, making the right calls and preparing us.  We just need to buckle down as men and accomplish our goals and then we can turn things around.”

Put another way, the Buffs need a different mindset.

And it’s going to take more than just a change of jerseys to accomplish that feat.



9 Replies to “A Different Mindset”

  1. Kudos to everyone calling for a new OC…we had a chance to adapt our O when we blew out UMass and Nicholls…instead we see OC trying to make this work. At this juncture it’s not Lindgren, it’s Mac unfortunately. Everyone else see it, it needs to come from him to change our approach but obviously too late now.
    To that end, watching Mac on the sidelines this year reminds me a lot of Hawk pre-Zen days, too much raw negative emotion for this team. Leavitt should be the Coach and we should make the move before the season ends and he moves on. Here is a coordinator that took the talent he had to work with a molded a scheme to maximize their talents. Remember our D the last few years, really one of the worst in all of college football, no real notable changes except for a new DC and now our D is not the problem, really all you can ask from them/him. Promote him for the good work and professionalism that Mac has lost. Go Buffs.

    1. Excellent comment and we’ll thought. Of McIntyre loses against SC in zero home Pac wins in two entire seasons, fire him,right after. We will be out of a bowl, and two road games no one will care about. Out if right,out of mind. Its already rhymes. Fire McIntyre.

  2. I do not want to be trapped in “remember when” but my time as an undergrad in Boulder began in the fall of 1985. The 1985 season was the first one in which Coach Mac, aided by Coach DiNardo and Coach Barnett, implemented the wishbone. His first three years in Boulder, the Buffs threw the ball a lot and got their rear ends kicked quite a lot as well. Barry Switzer still smiles thinking about OU hanging 82 points on the Buffs.

    By the time I was a senior, in 1988, winning had become regular habit for Coach Mac’s Buffs. The worst season they had during my four years – in terms of won/loss record – was 1986, which is the season in which they took down Nebraska 20-10 at Folsom for their first win in Boulder over the Huskers since Ike had been in the White House. During those first couple of years, before Sal arrived to play QB, the Buffs were not always exciting to watch on offense. But they did develop a level of consistency. Then, under first Sal and then Darian Hagan the Buffs had a QB built for the offensive system Mac wanted to run – and they were virtually unstoppable.

    I don’t know if you can recruit kids to play a run-first offensive scheme in college any longer. Among the many things about which I know nothing is what is important to a 17 or 18 y/o high-school football player. I think though – at least to a degree – the scheme you play is reflected in the attitude of your players. Stanford is the most physical team in the Pac-12. They are just about the only “non-spread” offense. It seems to me that part of their physicality stems from their offensive philosophy, which is when the ball is snapped I’m going to knock the guy across the line from me on his a**.

    Losing becomes endemic and that might well be reflected in the attitudes of this year’s team captains.

    Whether the coaches need to make a change at QB, or whether Coach Mac needs to make a change at offensive coordinator, I would not pretend to know enough about football to offer an informed opinion. I would say only this – again reaching back to yesteryear. Sal Aunese had much greater on-field success – including of course his win/loss record – than Sefo Liafau has had to date and none of his success kept Hagan from pressing him for his starting job. Sal won with regularity and was his team’s leader, and he was pushed for his position by his back-up. It is unclear to me (unless the other options on the roster are simply inadequate) why Sefo has been immune from such a challenge to this point.

    For Coach Mac I, the tide started to turn in Year Four. I’m not prepared to abandon ship on Coach Mac II, here, three years into the process. And my reason for keeping the faith may be nothing better or worse than I believe I have seen this movie before…and I very much enjoyed how it ended the first time.

    Go Buffs.

  3. I am a huge supporter of MacIntrye. He has done the hefty lifting and remarkably difficult task of getting this team to the point, talent-wise and development-wise, that they can compete in the Pac-12.

    But something strange has happened this season…

    Tough to put my finger on it, but I would attribute the difference in attitude (that Stuart talks about above) to the coaches. My gut tells me this coaching staff doesn’t actually believe in their team. I know that sounds crazy, but consider it… This coaching staff doesn’t believe in this team and thus, the team doesn’t believe in themselves.

    Look at how we lost to Arizona. A 7 point lead early in the 3rd quarter and we start playing “not to lose.” — WHY? — Because these coaches don’t believe in their team! They were so worried that the players would screw it up (by turning the ball over) that we started playing not to lose.

    Another example was at UCLA and that breathlessly BAD call of a jet-sweep on 2nd and goal at the 3 yard line. WHY make that call? Easy if you don’t believe in this team. Just run it down UCLA’s throat for the score… but the coaches know that UCLA expects it and the coaches DON’T BELIEVE in this team. So they try to get cute on play-calling to surprise UCLA. Everyone watching that game knows if they had just handed off to Lindsay or Carr and gone straight ahead we would have scored. Everyone except the CU coaches.

    Maybe the problem is Lindgren (who I think is terrible play caller and must certainly know the heat is on). He doesn’t call plays for the game they are actually IN. But then again, MacIntyre is aware of the game they are in and allows things like that jet-sweep to be called. It is really strange. This offense has regressed HUGELY and I don’t think it is all about the bad O-line. But we certainly lack good plays from the coaches. We have the premier short yardage player on the field in Spruce, but how many short passes on a cross have we seen this year? Two… maybe? Every time we have used the Tight Ends we get 20 yards… why we don’t do that more? Lindsay is a baller… didn’t see much of him against Stanford. Liufau locks on receivers and doesn’t get through his reads. But do you hear the coaches talk about working on that with him? No.

    Last year, we saw remarkable improvement from this team nearly every week. But this year, we are seeing stagnation and regression. And that falls on the coaches shoulders, IMO. Until the coaches believe in this team and call a game that gives them a chance (if something is working, don’t stop running it), we won’t win a game.

    And if the coaches don’t believe in this team, then Rick George has a tough decision to make THIS December.

  4. The fact that Lindgren and Mac cannot seem to grasp that we are not a finesse spread offense team sucks. Don’t get me wrong, there are times Sefo and crew can execute the offense and execute it just fine but at the end of the day that is not who you have as players. They evebntually miss a critical pass, or block and we end up punting or not scoring the touchdown. What we are good at is power football. I am at a loss as to why Lindgren can’t see it and why Mac doesn’t make him change it. Don’t get me wrong, Stanford was going to stop our power offense as well, but it would have been a closer game. I have really like Mac and I think he has a great eye for kids who are diamonds in the rough. I think this team has the ability to win and should be winning more games but the offensive play calling is horrendous. You can’t fire your offensive coordinator in the middle of the season but I would think about it. The running backs coach needs to go as well. You need to pick a back and stay with that person. Running backs need to get a feel for the game. This whole fresh legs crap is just that …. crap. A running back still has fresh legs after 1 series of 3 and out. And trying someone else because his “style” may work better. Crap if you can’t figure out which back is better in film study then you don’t deserve to be a coach. Because of the disaster that was the Hawkins era followed by the Embree era Mac deserves 1 more year. There is talent on this team and mac continues to recruit talent despite the record. But if we continue to run a spread offense with Sefo we will continue to lose games. Sefo is a perfecrtly fine quarterback. The problem is his skill set is not set for the spread offense. He consistently works better under center. I am so frustrated by the offensive set that I have done some rough charting of the games and we are consistently a better team when we play from under center. The play action pass significantly slows down the pass rush and the run blocking scheme is much better and easier for our lineman to execute. Does it work every play. Heck no, those kids are on scholarship as well. But I will tell you Sefo’s completion ratio is way up, our average yards per completion is up and our yards per run attempt is up. If Lindgren is not released at the end of the season for a new OC then Mac needs to be tied to Lindgren next year and they only get 7 games. If they lose 3 of their first 4 Pac 12 games next year Mac will need to go as well. Promote Leavitt to Head Coach and see what he can do with the talent on this team. I hate to call for peoples jobs but it is getting ridiculous that they do not learn. Great coaches adapt their schemes to fit the players they have. I bet Lindgren’s offense works if he has a better line and a different quarterback. But he doesn’t and unless Montez makes massive strides next year this is who we have. You can still have a 50/50 mix from a pro set. Sefo is awesome on play action pass with a naked boot. Build an offense around that.

  5. Stewart,

    I’ve been thinking about this for a while and i do feel that it is all Mental at this point with the buffs football team. the coaches have gotten them out of the “easiest” team on an opponents schedule. its all mental and teams have had to unload their play books at us!!! we got a road Pac-12 victory. UCLA destroying Oregon state arizona playing tough against USC i mean the Pac 12 is a crap shoot this year. its all about mental toughness at this point and that is on the players and not the coaches. no matter how you look at it, you can’t control someones mind no matter how hard you try.

  6. Im the biggest CU football fan around but I got to say I’m not watching them next weekend. I can’t watch the Buffs get the ball first and goal and throw it three times in a row. I bet the buffs lined up in the I formation for power football twice the entire game. Our QB gets worse ever weekend, and so does our play calling. Every week we go down by 7 points on the opponents first drive. We don’t come out fired up or prepared. I blame the coaches and the team. At some point someone has to show some fire and intensity and these kids and coaches have not showed that all year. Until Colorado decides to play Stanford football, line up and beat the other team up running the ball we will continue to lose. Time to get back to what built Colorado football defense and running the ball. Not the pistol offense. Very frustrating to watch.

  7. I don’t pretend to know the mind of Rick George, but judgement day comes at the end of next season. At that point, Coach MacIntyre will have one year left on his contract and it will be time either to renew or fire him. Looking at next year’s schedule (CSU, Idaho St, Michigan, and 9 Pac12 games) and assuming no screwups in the first two preseason games, the Buffs will need to win 4 of the remaining 10 games to get to .500. Can a P5 coach who hasn’t gone to a bowl in four seasons be retained? It doesn’t seem likely.

  8. On the play that made it 21-7, I couldn’t figure out how nobody was taught to look for a TE releasing. Sefo’s INT overthrow to Spruce was ridiculous. How we play man on a 3rd and 18 is stupid. Sefo isn’t the answer and the play calling on both sides needs to improve. I give the DC some leeway, he’s done great taking over the D. The OC has to go.

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