Colorado vs. Massachusetts – A Preview

Colorado limps into its home opener against Massachusetts (noon Saturday, Pac-12 Networks) off of a 28-20 loss to Hawai’i.

For nine long months, the Buff Nation built up its hopes that Colorado would come out strong in 2015. This was to be the year the Buffs would live up to its promise.

Or so we thought.

Instead of watching a coming out party, Buff fans instead stayed up late only to be treated to see a rerun of previous season openers.

Now the Buffs are taking on a UMass team which has yet to open its 2015 season.

The Minutemen finished with a 3-9 record in 2014, with wins over Kent State (which finished the season 2-9), Eastern Michigan (2-10) and Ball State (5-7). UMass, though, was like Colorado in that the Minutemen had a season of “what if’s” last fall. In addition to the 41-38 loss to Colorado, UMass had near misses against Vanderbilt (34-31 – on the road), MAC East champions Bowling Green (47-42), Miami (Ohio) (42-41), and MAC West co-champions Toledo (42-35).

Just like Colorado (at least until a week ago), UMass has dreams of making a bowl game in 2015. Until another team puts the Minutemen back in their place as a middling Mid-American Conference team, there is hope in Amherst.

The Buffs are 16-point favorites over the Minutemen this weekend.

Of course, the Buffs were 17-point favorites over the Minutemen last year …

 

T – Talent

In 2013, Massachusetts was 12th in the 13 team MAC in passing yards per game.

In 2014, behind Marshall transfer quarterback Mark Frohnapfel, UMass led the MAC in passing, with 311.8 passing yards per game (CU had 284.6). Frohnapfel threw for 3,345 yards, had 23 touchdowns and only ten interceptions. Against Colorado, Frohnapfel threw for 267 yards and three touchdowns.

How big a difference has Frohnapfel (and the return of coach Mark Whipple) made?

In 2013, UMass had 14 offensive touchdowns. In 2014, the Minutemen had 45 offensive touchdowns.

UMass went from 4.29 yards per play in 2014 to 5.75 yards per play last year (CU was at 5.29, while giving up 6.55).

Frohnapfel, for one, is not lacking in confidence. “We went toe-to-toe with them,” Frohnapfel said last week of the Minutemen’s 41-38 loss to Colorado. “Having a chance to face them again, we know that’s a game we can win.”

Frohnapfel lost one of his primary targets, tight end Jean Sifrin, but many of his other targets return, including leading receiver Tajae Sharpe, who had 85 receptions for 1,281 yards and seven touchdowns (compare Nelson Spruce: 106 catches for 1,198 yards and 12 touchdowns). Sharpe has had at least one reception in each of his 35 collegiate games (Spruce’s streak is at 26).

The entire offensive line returns, led by senior center Matt Sparks, who was placed on preseason Rimington and Outland award watch lists.

If there is an issue with the UMass offense, it is with the running game. The Minutemen return four backs who each started at least one game last year, but, due to injuries, never really established themselves as the primary back (see: Colorado). As a result, UMass finished last season 112th in the nation in rushing.

On defense, nine of 11 starters return. Jovan Santos-Knox emerged as a key cog in the UMass linebacking corp as a junior in 2014. During the season, Santos-Knox led all Mid-American Conference players with 143 tackles for an average of 11.9 per game.

In the defensive backfield, Randall Jette owns 35 career starts in the University of Massachusetts football secondary over the previous three campaigns. UMass returns three starters to the defensive backfield, but the Minutemen did give up a number of big plays last season.

The biggest problem for the Minutemen on defense is the defensive line, which is relative inexperienced and small.

Overall, last season UMass tried – and usually failed – to outscore his opponents. The Minutemen were 101st in the nation in total defense (CU was 111th), and 103rd in scoring defense (CU was 116th).

Last year’s score was 41-38, Colorado.

It wouldn’t be a surprise to see that many points put up this weekend … with hopefully more on CU’s side of the ledger.

 

I – Intangibles

UMass won just one game in each of its first two seasons as an FBS school. Last year, the total went up to three, with a good chance at three or four more wins. With much of last year’s team returning, there is hope that the Minutemen will continue to make progress.

And progress is important.

This is the last season for UMass as a member of the Mid-American Conference. After 2015, the Minutemen will become an independent … with a very uncertain future. It’s not as if UMass has the cache of Notre Dame, Army, or even BYU. It’s hoped that a strong 2015 season, capped by the first bowl appearance for the Minutemen since 1972 will lead to UMass being attractive to another conference down the road.

Then there is the altitude.

Buff fans know that players coming in to play at Folsom Field can adjust fairly quickly to the 5,360-feet of altitude at Folsom Field.

But the Minutemen don’t necessarily know that.

Just like Colorado traveled a day early to Hawai’i to adjust to a change of four time zones, Massachusetts is traveling a day early to Boulder to adjust to a change of altitude.

And they are leaving behind two non-starters due to concerns about their health at altitude.

And they are renting oxygen tanks and “over-hydrating” to make sure the players have every chance to compete on an equal field with the Buffs.

UMass is trying to downplay the effects of traveling to Boulder, just as Colorado tried to downplay the effects of traveling to Honolulu.

The Buff Nation would like to think that the road trip to Hawai’i played a role in their season-opening loss … and that the Minutemen’s road trip to Boulder will play a role in their season-opening loss to Colorado.

 

P – Preparation/Schedule

Speaking of “season-opening” …

As you surely know by now, UMass did not play last week, with Colorado their first game of the 2015 season.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to which team has an advantage.

First, there is the Gary Barnett school of thought … that teams make their greatest improvement of the season between the first game and the second game.

If that is the case, then Colorado, which played last week, has a distinct advantage over Massachusetts, which will be taking its first snaps of the year this Saturday.

Second, there is the argument that the underdog team which has, in essence, a month to prepare for their first opponent has the advantage over the favorite. Add to that advantage the fact that this particular underdog already has a game’s worth of film on record to review and prepare for, while the favorite has to guess what the Minutemen coaches have been cooking up for the past nine months.

Mike MacIntyre seems to belong to the second camp.

“That’s two weeks in a row we’ve opened up really kind of blind, which makes it tougher for us,” MacIntyre said after Sunday evening’s practice. “Of course, they got to see us play. … It helps to have some familiarity, but I don’t know if they’ve changed a bunch of stuff or not. We’ll see in the first quarter and go from there.”

The first quarter was not a friend to the Buffs last weekend …

 

S – Statistics

With only one game in the books, it’s difficult to look to any game statistic and declare improvement. For example, Colorado gave up 307 yards of total offense to Hawai’i, which ranks Colorado 47th in the nation in total defense after Week One. That’s quite a step up from last season, when the Buffs surrendered 461.0 yards per game (111th nationally).

It would be great if the Buffs could maintain that ranking throughout the season, but it’s not likely.

Still, there were some numbers of note to take from Game One …

– Colorado rushed for 215 yards against Hawai’i, certainly better than last year’s average (154.6), and the best for the Buffs in a season opener since 2004 (255 against Colorado State);

– The Buffs had two interceptions against the Rainbow Warriors, after posting only three in all of 2014 (Chidobe Awuzie’s pick in the first quarter was the first thrown by a CU opponent in nine games … and 282 passes);

– Sefo Liufau did not throw a touchdown pass for the first time in his career, and did not throw multiple touchdown passes for the first time in 12 games. His streak of 20 straight games with a touchdown pass ties him for fifth on the Pac-12 all-time list … with Stanford’s John Elway;

– Colorado did not start a freshman, true or redshirt, in the season opener. The last time CU did not have a freshman starter in the opener? 2005.

And finally …

Colorado is 19-8 in its last 27 home openers.

Not bad.

But the Buffs are only 3-6 in their last nine …

Prediction … Dare to dream … Colorado 42, Massachusetts 27.

—–

 

7 Replies to “CU v. UMass – A Preview”

  1. So, Lindgren says, “I thought (Hawaii) did a lot of things that we expected them to do. I thought we just, as a unit, as a whole, we just made too many mistakes, individual mistakes. Everybody kind of took a turn. I wouldn’t pin it on one position.”

    I “WOULD” PIN IT ON ONE POSITION…….THE OC. We were not prepared for Hawaii…… Never was prepared. Never will be. Lindgren has not taught his players how “to think.” He also has done a poor job coaching Sefo. Cryin’ out loud. There are many teams out there who have an OC who would drool at the thought of having Sefo to coach.

    Time to get rid of the OC….the OLC and the STC.

  2. McIntire-Why not go for 2 and not have your team always in a hole? Kicking the extra points instead of going for 2 showed the team that you lack confidence. If you show some imagination and backbone, you just might have some of it rub off on the team. Keep this up and when you start playing the big boys there are going to be a lot of empty seats in the stands.

  3. This is a must win game. It frightens me to think what will happen if we lose. And I admit that I expect us to lose at this point. And even if we win, I think it’s got to be by 3 touchdowns, not 3 points, for me to feel like this team is turning the corner. These are supposed to be the easy games right now. Sure doesn’t look easy to me anymore for these Buffs.

  4. there is alot to fix and the coaches had better get the team on the same page .they all seemed to have that look like what do we do next ? hopefully they will play better or it will be another long day or night. dont want to predict the score and jinx the the team .I`ll just say they better show up mad and ready to play.Go Buffs

  5. Stuart, Fist, as always your T.I.P.S. are a joy!
    Some thoughts pertaining to what I ‘saw’ from the Hawaii game and 3 points for this game, that should take us to your prediction.

    If the staff was not prepared for an all out rush on the first punt by a Freshman kicker in his first collegiate game, then that is on the staff. If it was just a blown assignment, FIX IT.

    Offensive line play was sub-par to awful on numerous series, but what concerns me most is that they seemed unable to respond during the game. ADAPT & FIX IT DURING the GAME! Otherwise, the logical conclusion is that they were not ready or that they do not have the talent to be D-I starters in the first place.

    Sefo and the passing game. First and foremost if you are under pressure and running for your life, it is ‘a little’ hard to read the open routes and execute. On the whole pass protection was a disaster, including from the running backs. From my view, the route patterns were well conceived and on numerous occasions more than one receiver was open. That being said, it is hard to design plays that will work well when the opposing D can use a 3-4 man pressure successfully. But, also after watching Sefo through 20 games I’m not sure that I can say that he is particularly adept at seeing the whole field. This has nothing to do with character, grit or heart, just a trait. I now live in the NW and this was noted when he was in HS, so maybe I’m using eyes from another era in judging him. Sefo can lead a team to a wining record, with a little help from his line.

    My prediction, if our D gives the same effort as they did in Hawaii and the O shows marked improvement. COLORADO 45 UMass 17

  6. Whipple is an excellent coach with his team on the uprise and a very good QB that will get drafted. UMass should have won that game last year,and Sefo made a lucky 70 yard pass to Spruce while almost out of bounds, he was a half step away. and the defensive backs gave up on play. Spruve was wide open. I was there. That won’t happen again. That was the difference. It was a two hour drive for them as their stadium is being refurbished. Not a home game really. McIntire is quickly losing this team. Team was arguing amongst them selves during the game and receivers were holding their arms up after the plays saying to Sefo, why didn’t you throw me the damn ball? That’s in game one! first signs the wheels are falling off the cart. Arrogant statements after the game by a hoorible QB, worst in Pac 12. even the new frosh are better. McIntire does nothing about it. U MASS 42 Our Buffs 27 Hate to say it. The beginning of the end for McIntire.

  7. Me thinks EP (Extrapoint) on buffzone had it nailed…. hence a cut and paste.

    “Brian all this generic talk of fixing mistakes is kinda nice, I guess, but it is starting to sound like HWSRN. Love to see if you can pin Lindgren down on his play calling and more details on fixing the O line play.”

    We better get it right one day or a NEW OC and OLC (and STC) need a one way ticket outa’ town.

    I thought I might not see a run up the middle on 3rd and 16 after all of the criticism last year. Wrong. The offensive strategy is putrid. No imagination. No scheme. No taking advantage of our athletes skill in many phases of offense. POOR play calling. My 7 y.o. grandson could probably beat Lindgren in the best of 5 at checkers, monopoly and the Madden game.

    And, you tell me how the promise of “more strength and speed” in the OL is helping us ? We need a new OLC…… a new STC.. and a new QB coach. Sorry Lindgren….when you have a QB with Sefo’s skills and size, there’s no reason this side of the moon you can’t design plays to take advantage of that.

    Wish I hadn’t gotten kicked off Instant Debate for calling T. Woods “Scum” so I could post on BuffZone. Oh well, this is the best site going anyway (thanks Stuart), so no loss.

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