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Coming Out Party

 

It’s been a long nine months.

Last November 25th, the 5-6 Buffs traveled to Salt Lake City to take on the 5-6 Utah Utes. The winner of the game would receive a bowl invitation and a chance to finish off the 2017 season with some momentum. The loser would stay home with a 5-7 record.

Utah raced out to a 28-0 halftime lead against Colorado, coasting to a 34-13 win. The Utes went on to beat West Virginia in the Heart of Dallas Bowl – the only Pac-12 team to win their bowl game – carrying momentum from those two wins into the 2018 campaign.

The Buffs, meanwhile, limped home with half as many wins as the year before, going from worst-to-first-to-worst in the Pac-12 South.

It’s been an off-season of criticism, of doubt, and of self-reflection.

While one game does not a true sample make, what the Buffs accomplished with their 45-13 rout of Colorado State in the 2018 Rocky Mountain Showdown is worthy of note.

These may not be your 2016 Buffs … but they ain’t your 2017 Buffs, either.

The change in personnel is staggering.

Eleven Buffaloes made their first career starts against Colorado State: cornerback Delrick Abrams, defensive end Israel Antwine, linebacker Jacob Callier, tailback Kyle Evans, defensive end Mustafa Johnson, linebacker Nate Landman, wide receiver K.D. Nixon, center Colby Pursell, wide receiver Laviska Shenault, left guard Brett Tonz, and linebacker Carson Wells.

I listed all of the names in hopes that the sheer length of the list would bring you pause.

Eleven – half of the players who took the first snap of the game for the Buffs – had never started a game for Colorado before taking the field against Colorado State.

Want more?

In all, 34 players made their CU debuts in the opener. As far back as Buff player records have been kept (generally speaking, since World War II), this was (in Dave Plati’s words) “easily” the highest-total of new players taking the field wearing black-and-gold to start a season.

Some of those making their debuts made a bigger splash than others:

Laviska Shenault … Buff fans got a taste of what Shenault could do last season (enough to openly question why he didn’t see more playing time as a freshman). Against Colorado State, Shenault had 11 catches for 211 yards. The totals were Rocky Mountain Showdown records, with the 211 receiving yards becoming the fourth-highest single game total in school history.

“It was definitely nice to see him do that to someone else and not us in practice.” said linebacker and team captain Rick Gamboa. “He is very athletic and physical for his size. As a defense, we know what he can do. We are not the biggest fans of having to tackle him day in and day out. Getting to see him play in a game in a big role, I was happy to see that.”

Or, as quarterback Steven Montez put it: “Laviska is a freak, he is an absolute freak. Y’all saw that play (the 89-yard touchdown catch) when he kind of snapped it off and sat there while they brought that zero pressure? I got it to him and then he took off. He was gone, I was like ‘Man he is moving, he is so fast’ he is like 225. He is obviously a freak.”

Travon McMillian … His ten carries for 103 yards and a touchdown somehow got lost in the Buff offensive show, but McMillan averaged over ten yards per carry, becoming only the eighth Buff back in school history to go over 100 yards in his Buff debut.

“I mean he looked good today,” said Montez. “He looked exactly how I thought that he would, he played well and had a big run. He was running tough and hard, he made some nice cuts so he looked good.”

Nate Landman … The sophomore had 16 tackles in his first start. How good was the effort? Um … it had never been done before. The most tackles any Buff had posted in their first career start was 14 (by three players). In addition to his first career interception, Landman had two tackles for loss, three third down stops, a pass break-up and a quarterback hurry.

“I saw Nate flying around, making plays, made a pick,” said MacIntyre. “I saw the Nate Landman that I see every day in practice. He’s just a football player that arrives in an angry mood and makes plays. He’s gotten bigger and stronger, he can dissect plays really well, He’s an excellent football player.”

Added fellow linebacker Rick Gamboa on Landman: “He has been waiting for this game since the end of last year against Utah. He has been waiting almost a whole year so he was very excited going into this game. He knows what he can do, and as a defense, we now what he is capable of. We all trust him no matter what. We told him to just go out and play, play ball and have fun, and that is what he did. He had a hell of a game.”

Other nagging questions also had positive responses in the rout of the Rams (the qualifier: we don’t know how good – or bad – Colorado State will be this year, but a game against a live opponent gives us a much better yardstick than practices against air or vanilla scrimmages):

How will Darrin Chiaverini fare in his first game as a play-caller? … After the Buffs posted 21 points on three first quarter drives – without facing a third down a single time – we have an early answer. The Colorado State defense was porous, but the play-calling was imaginative, getting play-makers in space to make plays.

“When you have good skill, you want to try to put them in space and let them do what they do,” Chiaverini said. “ … That’s what you want to see from an offense — can we get big chunks (of yards) when we need to get them? We were able to do that.”

We’ll see how Chiaverini handles big boy defenses, but no one can be upset about how the Buff offense looked in Chiaverini’s debut;

Has Steven Montez matured, or will he continue to make bad mistakes which cost the Buffs? … Montez opened the game with 12 straight completions, tying a school record. His 13th pass, though, was an underthrown bomb to Jay MacIntyre. Those of us outside the Champions Center may never know if Chiaverini was getting greedy with the play call (up 21-7 with the ball in CSU territory to open the second quarter), whether Montez misread the coverage, or whether Montez just threw a bad ball. Overall, though, a 22-for-25 night (with two drops to go with the pick), for 338 yards and four touchdowns (not to mention a 38-yard touchdown run to open the scoring) … it was a good night for Montez.

“It felt like we were just clicking,” said Montez. “I think that we’ve been working extremely hard across the board during fall camp. I think our guys have been hungry and were antsy to get onto the field. I think that’s just what happened today.”

How will the Buffs’ inexperienced cornerbacks handle CSU’s large and agile wide receivers? … Seems like an odd question now, but the answer turned out to be: “Quite well, thank you”. The Buffs’ secondary faced the same questions last year – can the new faces in the defensive backfield hold up after graduating its stars into the NFL? Last year, the potent Ram passing attack never found the end zone. Against the 2018 defensive backfield, there was one lapse which led to a score … the only touchdown of the game for the CSU juggernaut;

Will the offensive line and defensive line hold the Buffs back? … This, of course, is still to be determined. Still, for the first game of the season, but lines were more than adequate. The Buff offensive line did not surrender a sack the entire game, while paving the way for almost 600 yards of total offense (the Buffs were over 600, but gave back yardage with kneel downs at the CSU ten yard line to end the game). Never before in school history had a Buff offense created a 300-yard passer, a 200-yard receiver, and a 100-yard rusher in the same game. While CU’s skill position players had much to say about that, the offensive line deserves high marks.

The defensive line also had a good game. The Buffs registered three sacks and nine tackles for loss in helping to hold the Rams to 284 yards of total offense – less than half of what CSU posted in their first game. The Nate Landman interception came on a ball tipped by defensive end Mustafa Johnson … on a three-man rush.

What will the attitude of the Buffs be in 2018? … With so much at stake for Mike MacIntyre (and the near future of the program), the Buffs could not afford to stumble out of the gate this fall.

“They are kind of bonding on everybody calling them a failure last year, and hearing, ‘You let it down,’ and ‘You didn’t keep it going,'” MacIntyre said during his Tuesday pregame press conference. “They have two chips on their shoulders, and have decided to shut their mouths and work at it, and let the results on the field stand for it.”

It all sounded good, but the Buffs showed that the last nine months of talk was not just talk. They came out prepared and focused, and took take of business against an inferior opponent. That’s what you expect good teams to do.

The Colorado State game was about self-respect.

The Nebraska game will be about national respect …

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3 Replies to “Coming Out Party”

  1. I believe one of the most encouraging things from the revamped coaching is how they seem to be getting the best players on the field regardless of experience or seniority. I think the move to put Landman in the middle and move Lewis outside was brilliant. Landman is your prototype mean MLB, Lewis wasn’t. Starting both sophomore WRs instead of seniors said a lot too. I think Coach Mac learned his lesson last year in being too loyal to upper classmen and maybe the new assistants are being more vocal on who should be on the field. It just felt like we are finally putting our best talent on the field for a change to prior years.

  2. The play calling against CSU seemed to be more imaginative and opportunistic depending on various situations, caused by field position, game clock, and personnel on the field. I hope it continues.

    I watched Auburn — UDub and I thought that Lingering had gone to OSU. UDub must have made a Lend Lease agreement with OSU for his services in the 2nd half agains Auburn. UDub looked like CU has in the Red Zone the whole 2nd half.

    It’s a shame that the Buffs won’t have any film on the Huskers for the upcoming game. Guess they’ll just have to watch last year’s UCF team that Frost coached.

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