Spring Game – What to Watch For

The Colorado Spring Game (Sunday, 2:00 p.m., Pac-12 Networks) is a great opportunity to see if you are a “glass half full” type of person, or, instead, a “glass half empty” type of person.

Here is a potential Mark Johnson call on Sunday on KOA. See if you read the result from the “half full” or “half empty” perspective:

… “Sefo Liufau drops back, has plenty of time, finds Shay Fields deep … Touchdown, Colorado!” …

– Glass half full: CU’s offensive line is protecting the quarterback … Liufau is playing with confidence and finding the open receiver … Shay Fields will be a star this fall

– Glass half empty: There has been no improvement in the play of the defensive line … The defensive backfield, which gave up 33 touchdown passes last fall, has failed to show any improvement.

Scrimmages and Spring Games are the ultimate no-win situations for coaches. For every good play made, there is arguably an equal and opposite bad play made by another Buff.

Then there is this … CU has closed its practices to the public all spring. This being the case, there is very little reason to believe the CU coaching staff is planning on showing off new plays, schemes, or formations in the one scrimmage which will be on tape for opposing coaches.

And then there is this … The “Spring Game” will only be half game/half scrimmage, so those who show up for the beautiful Boulder Sunday afternoon (projected high in the mid-60’s) won’t have much actual football to watch.

To recap … The “game planning” will be generic, for every great play there will be both positives and negatives, and the Spring “Game” will only last a half.

So, what is there to look for?

Well, there are several players, and several position battles, which should be of interest this Sunday.


Barring injury or amazing breakthrough by one of the backups, the starting job at quarterback belongs to Sefo Liufau. As such, keep an eye on the play of backups Jordan Gehrke and Cade Apsay. The Spring Game is really there opportunity to shine and get some quality playing time before the Buff Nation.

Gehrke, a junior, is the incumbent backup, but he does have something to prove. Coaches have expressed confidence in him, and giving him his first start on the road – against Oregon – was hardly a fair test, but Gehrke did not perform well against the Ducks (8-for-19, 64 yards), so Buff fans will be looking to see if Gehrke is the real deal, or if Cade Apsay is CU’s most recent best bet for the quarterback of the future.

Running Backs

Nothing to see here … Most of the backfield rotation from last year is hurting, so just keeping enough healthy backs in uniform to field two squads is challenge enough this Sunday. If Christian Powell or Phillip Lindsay has a good afternoon, it will be a bonus.

Wide Receivers

If you were hoping to see if Donovan Lee as the break out star of the Spring, you will be disappointed. Lee was one of the three players (along with defensive lineman Josh Tupou and linebacker Jaleel Awini) involved in the brawl which led to Tupou’s arrest this week. While all three continued to practice with the team this week, none are expected to participate on Sunday.

Which leaves Shay Fields, Bryce Bobo, Devin Ross and Elijah Dunston – four sophomores – who will be looking to supplement Nelson Spruce’s production. Perhaps even more interesting for Buff fans is to see whether either of the red-shirt freshmen – Lee Walker or Jay MacIntyre – make an impression in their first action before a crowd wearing the black-and-gold.

Tight Ends

If Colorado is playing on making better use of its tight ends this fall, it would be a surprise if that plan was unveiled during the Spring Game (just in case the coaches at Hawai’i happen to be tuning in). Still, this weekend will mark the debuts for red-shirt freshmen Dylan Keeney and Hayden Jones. If either (or both) players show some of the skills which led Buff fans to be excited about their signing with CU 13 months ago, it could be a bonus for the Buffs going forward.

Offensive Line

Colorado must replace both starting guards this fall, with Kaiwi Crabb and Daniel Munyer having graduated. It would be simple if the Buffs were playing one’s vs. the two’s on Sunday, in which case CU fans could figure out the front-runners for the job by simply watching to see who came out with the one’s as the starting guards.

The teams, though, have been divided up by the seniors (the winners get steak dinners; the losers get hot dogs), so both of the offensive lines on Sunday will be a mix-and-match affair.

“We have four or five guys who are rotating in there,” MacIntyre said of the current competition for the two starting guard positions. “It depends on how they play, to be honest with you.”

Four players preparing to take those o-line spots are sophomores Gerrad Kough and Jonathan Huckins and juniors Sully Wiefels and Shane Callahan.

Defensive Line

With the uncertain future of returning starter Josh Tupou, the need for other defensive linemen to step up has become even greater.

There will be no shortage of new faces for Buff fans to track during the Spring Game, and no shortage of storylines:

– How do Samson Kafovalu and Tyler Henington look? Neither lineman played a down for the Buffs last fall, with Kafovalu taking the semester off, and Henington out for the season after an August knee injury

– Has Clay Norgard finally settled in with the defensive line, his third position in three years?

– What can we make of the junior college transfers: Jordan Carrell; Blake Robbins; and Leo Jackson?

For the Buff Nation, the defensive line play – who plays, and how well they play – will be one of the most interesting aspects of this year’s Spring Game.


For the linebacker unit, which is replacing Brady Daigh, Woodson Greer III, and K.T. Tu’umalo, the interest is as much about positioning as it is about results in the first public viewing of the 2015 Buffs.

Addison Gillam and Kenneth Olugbode are set as two starters at linebacker, but where will playing time come for the other candidates? The contenders can be broken down into two categories:

First, the inside linebackers, like Gillam and Olugbode. Competing for time here are Deaysean Rippy, Ryan Severson, Travis Talianko, Ryan Severson, and Rick Gamboa.

Second, there are the outside linebacker/rush end candidates, those players who CU coaches will be playmakers this fall: Jimmie Gilbert, Derek McCartney, Tim Coleman, De’Jon Wilson, Markeis Reed, and the two red-shirt freshmen, Terran Hasselbach and Michael Mathewes (Jaleel Awini would also fit into this discussion, but, as noted, he will not be playing Sunday).


Other than the battle for the two new starting guards, there is no other more clear-cut need for a replacement at starter more than at one of the cornerback positions. Greg Henderson, a four-year starter, is gone, and its time to find the next man up.

Kenneth Crawley seems to be set to return at the other cornerback position.  “I think he [Crawley] improved last year and he’s getting bigger and stronger,” MacIntyre said. “That’ll be a big difference for him so he’s not getting pushed off on by other guys who are stronger going to the ball. I’m looking for him to have a great senior year.”

There are two heirs apparent to take over at the other corner position, Ahkello Witherspoon (the hero of last season’s Spring game) and Yuri Wright (the four-star recruit who has yet to live up to his billing). Of Witherspoon, MacIntyre had this to say: “Ahkello has had a phenomenal spring,” MacIntyre said. “We have to make sure he’s healthy and he’ll have a good fall and a good season. He has great ball skills.”

Junior college transfer Afolabi Laguda and red-shirt freshman Jaisen Sanchez will be making their debuts Sunday, hoping to make a positive first impression upon the CU coaching staff … and the Buff Nation.

Kicking Game

CU’s next Mason Crosby, kicker/punter Alex Kinney, is still strolling the halls of Rocky Mountain high school in Ft. Collins, leaving it to Diego Gonzalez and Chris Graham to try and make an impression on the Buff faithful during the Spring game.

With the “Game” only lasting a half, there may be only situational uses for the only other two scholarship kickers on the CU roster, but coach MacIntyre and staff will undoubtedly want to put these kickers on the field at some point to see how they fare under game-condition pressure.

After all, one or both of these kickers is just an Alex Kinney injury away from being relied upon this fall to handle CU’s kicking duties in 2015.

There has been very little hype leading up to this year’s CU Spring Game.

Perhaps it has to do with the early start to spring practices, the earliest in school history.

Perhaps it has to do with the closed practices, which has stifled any discussion as to player development or position battles.

Or perhaps it has to do with Colorado coming into the 2015 campaign off of a 2-10 season, riding an eight-game losing streak into the fall.

Whatever the reason, here’s hoping that the Buff faithful will come out to support the team, enjoy the warm March Boulder sun, sign the ceremonial “topping out” beam, take a few selfies with the players …

… and walk away excited about the 2015 season.


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