“We are just not able to finish”

Nelson Spruce added to his collection of records during Colorado’s 27-24 loss to USC.

With his 22nd touchdown reception, a nine-yarder in the second quarter, Spruce tied Scotty McKnight for the all-time lead in that category. Spruce long ago became the all-time leader at Colorado in receptions (now up to 279, which is also a Pac-12 record) and reception yards (3,116), with the touchdown record the last of the major records to obtain.

In addition, Spruce picked up the Buffalo Heart Award after the game. The award, presented “by the fans behind the bench”, has been given out since 1998. The award is coordinated by the same group of fans, selecting the player they feel best represents what it means to be a CU Buffalo.

The recognition and the touchdown record were all fine and good with Spruce, but it wasn’t enough.

“I was talking about this week getting that signature win and that would be my memorable moment here and we were right there,” said Spruce. “But the story of this season, we are just not able to finish. So being my last game this was definitely one that I wanted even that much more so it does hurt a little bit.”

Actually, it hurts a lot.

Before we get too critical of how the USC game played out, let’s go back 24 hours. Had you offered almost any Buff fan a three-point loss in the hours leading up to the game against the Trojans, they would have taken it, sight unseen.

The Buffs have been owned by the Trojans, with USC coming into the game with a 9-0 all-time record against Colorado. As members of the Pac-12, the Buffs have lost to USC by scores of 42-17, 50-6, 47-29, and 56-28. Matt Barkley set a school record with six touchdown passes against the Buffs in the 2011 game … then matched it in the 2012 contest. Last season, Cody Kessler did Barkley one better, throwing for seven touchdowns – with four in the first quarter as the Trojans raced out to a 28-0 lead.

Do the Buffs – 16.5-point underdogs – have reason to take the three-point loss with a twinge of pride?

Yes, except for the fact that in the world of college football, style points in losses don’t count.

We heard often this past off-season about CU’s two double-overtime losses in 2014. About how close the Buffs were to turning the corner.

Welcome to the 2015-16 off-season, where we will hear often about how close the Buffs were to defeating Arizona (31-38 final), UCLA (31-35) and USC (24-27).

About how close the Buffs are to turning the corner.

Same song, different off-season.

“The positives are what we’ve been seeing all season”, said defensive lineman Derek McCartney. “We know we can be great but we just have to do it every play.”

“I’m very disappointed because I know we can beat these teams and we believe that we can beat these teams but it’s up to us to go out and do it”, said defensive back Jered Bell.

“They’ve been a resilient bunch”, said head coach Mike MacIntyre. “Our coaches do a great job of not ‘brow-beating’ them; they (the players) do a good job of taking it (the coaching). They were hurting, which is a great sign, and they should be. They’re like me, they are getting tired of hearing, ‘You’re so close.’ I walked in here and I just looked at my phone and I got all these texts, but you have to win those games. And we will, we will”.

When, exactly?

You want a sobering number?

USC interim head coach Cody Helton has twice as many Pac-12 victories (4) in five games as the head coach of the Trojans than Mike MacIntyre has in three seasons at Colorado (2).

Are there positives to be taken from the 27-24 loss to USC?

Most certainly:

– In the first four Pac-12 games between these two teams, USC had outscored CU 63-10 in the first quarter, 56-13 in the second quarter and 119-23 in the first half; Friday, CU was ahead on all three, 7-3, 10-3 and 17-6.   This season, USC had outscored its opponents 131-39 in the second quarter, but Colorado had a 10-3 advantage in this game;

– Red-shirt freshman quarterback Cade Apsay showed signs of being able to handle the Colorado offense. Apsay had only seen mop-up duty this fall before taking the reins for the final three quarters. His stats for the game – 18-of-23 for 128 yards and two touchdowns – were not spectacular (and taking five sacks didn’t help), but the Buffs should be in good hands for the final two games of the season with Sefo Liufau out for 6-8 months with a lisfranc (midfoot) injury on his left foot;

– The much-maligned Colorado defense is showing signs of being able to compete in the Pac-12. Last season, the Buffs did not hold a single Pac-12 opponent under 38 points, and gave up an average of 39.0 points in all games. This fall, the defense is giving up just over 28 points per game. Giving up four touchdowns a contest is not going to win championships, but it is 11 points better than last year, and over a touchdown better than any other season as a member of the Pac-12; and

– The team remains relatively young. There were only six senior starters for the Buffs on Senior night. Nelson Spruce, Jered Bell, Stephane Nembot, Justin Solis, Christian Powell and Ken Crawley will be missed, but there are players at each of those positions who are able to take over (and, in some cases, already have).

All positives, to be sure, but, at the end of the day, you are what your record says you are, and Colorado is 4-7, 1-6.

Two games remain to be played, both on the road. Colorado will be off to Pullman next Saturday, to play Washington State in the chill of the Palouse (8:45 p.m., MT). The Cougars have accomplished what the Buff Nation hoped would happen to Colorado this year … they have broken through. Wins over Oregon (on the road), Oregon State, Arizona and Arizona State have Washington State bowl-eligible and on the rise in the eyes of the college football intelligentsia.

The finale will be on the road against No. 10 Utah. The Utes have been able to keep quarterback Travis Wilson healthy this year, and the result is an 8-1 record.

While not an impossibility, it’s hard to see the Buffs winning either of those games.

It’s hard to see Colorado not finishing the 2015 season on a five game losing streak; with a 1-8 record in Pac-12 play.

It’s hard to see anyone remembering – as another bowl-less December turns into another low-ranked Signing Day and another off-season with Colorado picked to finish last in the Pac-12 South – that Colorado had leads against Oregon, Arizona, UCLA and USC.

What the pundits will remember (and be happy to point out), is that Colorado has exactly five wins in five seasons as a member of the Pac-12. That Colorado finished the 2015 season with a school-record ten straight conference home losses.

“He always tells us to keep our heads up”, said Justin Solis of Coach MacIntyre’s post-game talk. “This one really hurt, especially for those seniors on senior night to go in there and lose such a close game. We’ve just got to keep on fighting. We still have two games left. We still have a chance you know to potentially make a bowl game. This one definitely hurts but we’re going to try to leave this one behind us, come back on Monday and start getting ready for Washington State. We’re down right now but we’re definitely not out and we’ll definitely be back next week.”

One of these days, the Buffs will start winning the close games.

One of these days, the CU student section will have the opportunity to rush the field after a signature win.

One of these days, us older members of the Buff Nation will be able to look back and tell a younger group of fans, “you have no idea what we went through to get here”.

As soon as the Buffs learn how to finish.



4 Replies to ““We’re just not able to finish””

  1. It is mind boggling to me the number of Buff fans on this and other sites that are disappointed about the progress made this season (although this site is by far the best – I don’t even visit any other sites for Buff info). What a lack of perspective. Obviously close losses hurt, but measuring a season, or whether we have turned a corner, based on one signature win (which likely would have come about because of luck or many balls bouncing in our favor) is crazy. It completely confounds the causal chain of how a team systematically improves and eventually turns that corner. If we had beat USC (or UCLA or Arizona or Oregon for that matter), this does not mean that we will turn the corner and therefore become a better team and therefore be able to beat these teams more often. First, a team gets better (through better recruiting, better coaching, and better preparation), this leads them to turn the corner in terms of talent, ability, and competitiveness. Turning the corner leads to wins against opponents that were previously much better than us, which leads to a positive feedback loop of getting even better players. We are doing that and have doe that this year. I would easily take this season over one where we beat USC, but were blown out four or five times by the other teams. That is not a sign of turning a corner!

  2. About coaches. Mac is the right guy. Difficult call on Lindgren. I really thought it looked like Apsay opened up Lindgren’s offense — went through his reads faster, was sometimes hitting the 2nd and 3rd guy, and with his arm can get the ball into coverage in ways Sefo simply cannot or will not. I would like to see how things go the last 2 games with Apsay in charge.

  3. When CU plays with the quarterback under center we had 6 runs for 28 yards with a 4.67 average per attempt and 5 passes for 64 yards and a 1 yd touchdown for a 12.8 average with no incompletions. Our running average (even if you ignore the sacks) was 26 attempts for 91 for 3.5.And Cade had 18 completions for 128 for a 5.6 average. Maybe, just maybe we should run more pro set with the quarterback under center. Just saying.

    Maybe Lindgren will wake up in time for us to win anothe game or two.

  4. this is all hard to take as a long time Buff fan . There have been alot of good points and moving foward in alot of areas hopefully next year will have that change we all want. hate that term well there`s always next year

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