Fall Camp Primer – Offense

Dates to Remember:

– August 4th (Tuesday) … Players report for Fall Camp

– August 5th … First practice

– August 8th … First practice in full gear (tentative)

– August 24th … First day of classes

– September 3rd … Colorado at Hawai’i, 11:00 p.m., MT, CBS Networks

Most, if not all, of the Fall Camp practices will be closed to the public. As a result, there will be much speculation – and little hard data – as to the status of the team as the season opener approaches. Buff fans this August will be left to read the tea leaves from the post-scrimmage comments from the players and coaches as they try and discern how well the team will play come September 3rd.

But that won’t stop us from at least asking the questions … and arguing over the answers.

Questions to be answered this fall … Offense

Is Sefo Liufau ready to become an elite quarterback in the Pac-12?

For only the third time in the past decade, Colorado enters a season with a quarterback firmly entrenched as the returning starter. Junior Sefo Liufau set dozens of school records as a sophomore in 2014, but the Buffs went winless in conference play for the first time since 1915.

The good Sefo passed for over 3,200 yards and 28 touchdowns last season, both school records.

The bad Sefo threw a league-high 15 interceptions, and has won only four games in his eighteen career starts.

“We’re not teenagers anymore,” Coach Mike MacIntyre says about his 2015 team. “We’ve got 20-year-olds playing. So that’s exciting to me. We’ll have more strength and power, and we’ll be a little bit older team”.

Liufau was selected as a team captain as a sophomore, and will likely fill that role again this fall. His maturity and leadership will go a long ways in determining Colorado’s fate.

“He has been through almost all of the different game situations now so he’ll know how to handle those better”, MacIntyre told BuffStampede.com. “Some of them he handled well, some of them he didn’t handle as well. But that is all part of the maturity process. I think he’ll be a lot better in those same situations this year.”

Buff fans can only hope …

Will Colorado have its first 1,000-yard rusher in five seasons?

Senior Christian Powell has a chance this fall to become just the second running back in the history of the program to lead the team in rushing all four seasons of his career.

Sounds good, but Powell’s stats are as much a reflection of Colorado’s inability to run the football effectively as it is of Powell’s dominance.

Powell’s numbers – while leading the team – have continued to decline. After posting 691 yards and seven touchdowns as a freshman in 2012, Powell’s production slipped to 562 yards and three touchdowns in 2013, and 448 yards and four touchdowns last season. The sub-500 yard total was the lowest for a Buff leading running back since Lee Rouson led the team in 1983 with 494 yards.

This just in: Colorado needs to be better than 75th in the nation in rushing if the Buffs are to contend for a bowl bid in 2015.

Will it be Powell, who led the team, but was limited to 85 rushes in ten games due to injuries?

Is it time for junior Michael Adkins (398 yards in 2014) or sophomore Phillip Lindsay (391 yards) to take over the mantle of lead rusher?

And what of Aaron Baltazar? According to an article in the Daily Camera, Baltazar, a transfer from Boise State, was spending his July still trying to qualify to join the team.

“He should be,” MacIntyre said of Baltazar being able to join the team when fall camp opens. “He’s finishing up a couple class things.”

Whether it is Powell, Adkins, Lindsay or Baltazar, someone in the running back corps needs to assert themselves this fall, taking some pressure off of Sefo Liufau and the passing game.

Rodney Stewart, the only other rusher in CU history to lead the team in rushing all four years, was also the last Buff to eclipse the 1,000-yard barrier, going for 1,318 yards (and ten touchdowns) in 2010.

Here’s guessing Christian Powell would love to match Stewart’s 2010 numbers in 2015.

Will Nelson Spruce have fewer catches in 2015 … and yet be more effective?

Fact: In 2014, Nelson Spruce became the first in CU history with over 100 catches (106) in a season.

Also a Fact: After opening the season with four 100-yard games out of five (with 97 yards receiving in the fifth game), Spruce had only one 100-yard game in the final seven games of the campaign.

Fact: With all of the records Spruce set last season, one of the records he lost was that of number of receptions by a freshman. Spruce had 44 catches for 446 yards in 2012, but freshman Shay Fields had 50 catches for 486 yards in his freshman campaign last fall.

Also a Fact: Even with record-setters in Spruce and Fields, the Buffs are still looking for a game-breaker in the receiving game.

Could it be that Devin Ross will fill that role?

When we last saw Ross, he was collecting a handful of catches and returning a handful of kickoffs as a true freshman in 2013. Last fall, Ross sat out the season as a red-shirt after suffering a pulled hamstring and knee sprain during Fall Camp, 2014. The only offensive player to score a touchdown in the Spring Game, Ross may be poised to have a breakout season in 2015. If so, or if fellow sophomores Donovan Lee or Bryce Bobo can show that they deserve the attention of opposing defenses, Buff star receiver Nelson Spruce may see his numbers reduced this fall …

… but his effectiveness increased.

Will a tight end (finally) emerge?

Kyle Slavin was the “go to” tight end in the Colorado offense in the first two seasons under Mike MacIntyre.

Slavin had nine catches for 68 yards in 2013; 11 catches for 111 yards in 2014.

And now even Slavin is gone.

A dash of hope for the future was instilled into the Buff Nation in February, 2015, when Colorado signed two tight ends, Hayden Jones and Dylan Keeney. Both are 6’6″, both are in the 230-240 range, both sat out last season as red-shirts …

… and both sat out the spring with injuries.

So Fall Camp, 2015, will be the first opportunity for Jones and Keeney to really show their stuff to the coaches. Buff fans will be hoping for positive reports from the August practices, then for production this fall.

Junior Sean Irwin (seven catches, 67 yards) returns. Connor Center has left the unit to pursue a career as an offensive tackle. There isn’t much depth in the position, so Jones and Keeney have a clear shot to take over the position.

We’ll see …

Will the offensive line (at long last) become a force for good?  

Colorado’s offense improved significantly in the first two years under Mike MacIntyre. In 2012, the year before Coach Mac arrived, the Buffs were 116th in the nation in total offense. In 2013, Colorado moved up to 87th. Last season, the Buffs averaged 439.2 yards of total offense per game, good enough for 37th in the nation.

For Colorado to take the next step, and become a dominant offense which can dictate to defenses, and control games, the offensive line has to dominate the line of scrimmage.

Sefo Liufau can be healthy and make good decisions.

Christian Powell can stay healthy and run with authority.

Nelson Spruce et al. can run precise routes and confuse opposing defensive backs.

But it will all mean nothing if the Colorado offensive line cannot produce.

Is that a realistic possibility?

When the Outland Trophy watch-list was announced in July, 13 offensive linemen from the Pac-12 were amongst the nominees.

None were from Colorado.

Glass half-full: Colorado does return three quality starters along the offensive line: tackles Stephane Nembot and Jeromy Irwin, along with center Alex Kelley. Stephane Nembot, with 27 consecutive starts, is second on the team in that category (second only to Nelson Spruce’s 32). Alex Kelley and Jeromy Irwin were starters for all but one game last season (Irwin was out for the Oregon game). They form a solid base from which to build.

Glass half-empty: Both guards need to be replaced. Kaiwi Crabb and Daniel Munyer are both gone, with underclassmen likely to be their replacements. Gerrad Kough and Jonathan Huckins, both sophomores, are atop the depth chart as the starters for the fall, though junior Shane Callahan, the highly recruited transfer from Auburn may find his way into the lineup by September 3rd.

The offensive line stayed relatively healthy last season, and good health will be important this fall as well, as there is little experienced depth behind the starters.

Will this be the season that the Buffs finally break through?

Will this be the season that the Buffs win all of their non-conference games, setting the stage for a run at a bowl game come the start of the Pac-12 campaign?

Will the Colorado offense, which made great strides in 2014, have another record-setting fall?

We’ll find out … starting August 4th.



4 Replies to “Fall Camp Primer – Offense”

  1. On offense, I agree with cricky that it has to start with the O-line. If they can finally come together and RUN BLOCK consistently, the offense could be scary good. But until they can blow people off the line and pound it in to score touchdowns in the Red Zone. Let’s hope this year they improve the running game as much as the passing game last year.

    As for the “D”… I think Leavitt will have these guys playing aggressive, lights out, football. They might give up some big plays, but they should create a lot more turnovers.

    This is the year the Buffs finally start upsetting some teams and announcing their presence with authority. Thank goodness, it’s been a long time coming.


  2. Stats are fine, but big plays win games. The course of most games is decided by the outcome of three or four plays. The Buffs need to start winning some of those plays and it has to begin with the O-line.

  3. One thing consistently overlooked: The quality and maturity/age of the guys on the depth chart.

    You play an oppenent once for three hours. You practice against teammates for 15 hours a week. How much a player improves is dierectly attrituable to the quality of his opponent in practice.

    Think about it: Sefo faced DBs in practice who sat back and didn’t take chances in coverage, their DC (Baer) didn’t demand it. So when in a game, Sefo was, from practice, used to seeing “open” receivers, not realizing that the coverage would be more aggressive. I don’t believe Leavitt’s “D” will allow the same this fall.

    Fiannly, HCMM has decent quality on the depth chart to practice against. That alone should lead to a much better record

    1. no one is talking about the conference improving. How are the buffs improving in relation the rest of the conference? Lets hope its at a rate higher than everyone else, otherwise it could mean more heartbreaking losses.

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