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“Nothing to Say … A Lot to Prove” – CU’s mantra for the 2018 season is paying dividends

For the unbeaten Colorado Buffaloes, it was kind of a rough week.

Instead of being celebrated as being the only team in the Pac-12 to emerge from the month of September without a loss, it was a week of Buff-bashing for the No. 21 team in the nation.

Brad Crawford at 247Sports had this to say … College football’s worst unbeaten Power 5 team is Colorado, per ESPN’s analytics model. Ranked No. 53 this week in the FPI, there’s still a good chance the Buffaloes (4-0) fail to reach bowl season believe it or not. Colorado isn’t expected to win against Arizona State, USC, Washington, Arizona, Washington State, Utah or California the rest of the way. That would be a cataclysmic collapse for Mike MacIntyre and Co. This week’s game vs. Arizona State is the first loss.

Crawford was not alone:

  • Bill Bender at The Sporting News … The Buffaloes are undefeated, but their opponents so far have combined for a 1-16 record this season. Arizona State has been tested, and the key will be seeing how they adjust in what should be a rowdy road environment. We think the Sun Devils get through it.
  • Tom Fornelli at CBS Sports considered Arizona State over Colorado to be his “Lock of the Week” … Yes, the Buffs are 4-0, but they’re 4-0 against Colorado State, Nebraska, UCLA, and New Hampshire. Those four teams are a combined 1-16 on the season. If you look at F/+ ratings, Arizona State is ranked No. 39 in the country while Colorado is at No. 57. Yes, Arizona State has two losses, but metrics suggest it should be the team favored in this matchup. Arizona State 31, Colorado 30

For their part, the Buffs remained humble and quiet.

When asked at the Tuesday press conference about achieving a national ranking, quarterback Steven Montez smiled and responded: “Shhhh … you’ve got to keep that real quiet. Only people in this room know that we’re ranked. We (in the locker room) have no idea – we’re going to play it just like that. We’re going to act like we’re not ranked, and keep putting the work in … The ranking doesn’t matter. It doesn’t get us to our end goal”.

For much of the first half against Arizona State, it appeared that the pundits were right, and that Colorado would be a “one-week wonder” in the national polls.

The Sun Devils ran the ball with great success against the Colorado defense. Running back Eno Benjamin, who had gone for a school-record 312 yards against Oregon State the previous week, had 20 carries for 96 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. The Sun Devils held the ball for 16:28 of game clock in the first two quarters, and converted five-of-six third downs.

“Their offensive line was big and physical, and Benjamin is good,” said Mike MacIntyre after the game. “Our kids just kept playing and playing. We missed a few tackles early. He made a couple of great cutbacks. A lot of running backs can’t make those cutbacks. We said we have to stop doing that and get him corralled. They’re a good team.”

Of course, ASU’s early success should not have come as much of a surprise to Buff fans. Colorado had played two other Power-Five conference teams before the Sun Devils, and had struggled in the first half in both games:

— Against Nebraska, the Buffs trailed, 21-17, at the break, and had been out-gained, 329 total yards to 139.

— Against UCLA, the Buffs led, 14-13, at halftime, but allowed the hapless Bruins to gain confidence, holding a slim 196-to-191 advantage in total yards.

The second half of each game?

The Buffs have been nothing short of amazing, especially on defense.

As was the case in the Pac-12 opener against UCLA, the Buffs allowed a score by the opposition to open the second half, with Arizona State scoring a touchdown in short order to take a 21-14 lead.

As was also the case in the Pac-12 opener against UCLA, however, the Buffs dominated the remainder of the second half. Arizona State, which hadn’t been forced into punt formation in the first half, had the following drive chart their final five drives:

  • Four plays, punt;
  • Three plays, punt;
  • Three plays, punt;
  • Five plays, downs; and
  • Three plays, punt.

The most important line on the sheet, of course, was the “five plays, downs”. Colorado had not allowed a fourth quarter touchdown all season, but that appeared to be a streak certain to come to an end. The fourth quarter opened with the Sun Devils at the CU two-yard line with a second-and-goal. The Buffs were up, 28-21, but a score to tie the game appeared imminent.

Then the defense made a stand which the sellout crowd of 52,681 will long remember.

First, Mustafa Johnson sacked ASU quarterback Manny Wilkins for an eight yard loss. On third-and-goal at the CU ten, Wilkins completed a pass to Ky Williams for seven yards, leaving the Sun Devils with a fourth-and-goal at the CU three-yard line.

Down 28-21, with over 14 minutes still remaining, many would have argued for a field goal attempt to cut the lead to 28-24. First-year ASU head coach Herm Edwards – he of the infamous “You play to win the game” rant as an NFL head coach – was having none of it.

“When you are the underdog you have to try and steal a possession and go for it even more,” said Edwards. “That is the logic behind it. You are the underdog, you are on the road, you just had a  nice drive and you feel like you have the momentum. You feel like you can go in and score and tie it up”.

The fourth down pass was a jump ball to wide receiver Curtis Hodges. Junior cornerback Delrick Abrams, Jr., had the coverage, with the ball falling incomplete, turning the ball over on downs.

“I knew they were going to come my way because he’s 6’8”,” said Abrams, who himself is 6’3″. “He’s a big receiver. But it came out our way. It felt great to stop them on fourth down.”

While the Buffs had the lead and the momentum, the ball was still at the CU three yard line … with 13:25 still left to play.

With the game result still very much in doubt, the Colorado offense, including its much-maligned offensive line, took over.

The Buffs not only managed to get out from underneath the shadow of their own goal line, the offense held the ball for 11 plays, chewing up 5:40 of game clock, and moving the ball out near midfield.

Arizona State did get the ball back at their 30-yard line with 8:01 to play … plenty of time to put together a game-tying drive.

Instead, three plays and 51 seconds later, the Sun Devils punted the ball back to the Buffs.

The Buffs now had the ball and the lead, but the clock still read 7:10.

The 2017 Colorado offense (or that of pretty much any Buff team since 2006, excepting the 2016 squad) would probably have found a way to give the ball right back to the opposition.

Instead, the Buffs ran it right down the throats of the Sun Devil defense. Travon McMillian, who had 17 carries for 80 yards the first three quarters, had 13 carries for 56 yards in the final two drives.

Twice on CU’s final drive, the Arizona State defense forced a third down.

Twice, Steven Montez found Laviska Shenault for eight yard gains and a fresh set of downs.

Just like that, 7:10 of game clock was extinguished, and the Buffs had a 5-0 record for the first time since 1998. More importantly, the Buffs found themselves alone atop the Pac-12 South, with a 2-0 conference record.

Last season, the Buffs opened up 3-0 in non-conference play, but fell flat with a 2-7 Pac-12 conference record. The senior leadership which had carried the 2016 team was missing. The #BlackoutBoyz wide receiver crew was a major disappointment. The #MoneyGang defensive backs finished 95th in the nation in pass defense.

This year, there has been none of that.

The mantra this past off-season was “Nothing to say … A lot to prove”.

Before the season opener against Colorado State, offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini reminded his charges of their 2018 slogan:

The Buffs, of course, went out and dominated the Rams, and haven’t looked back.

What’s been most impressive about the 2018 Buffs has been their resiliency. They trailed in the second half against Nebraska, UCLA, and Arizona State. In each game, the Buffs have found a way to win.

It goes without saying that most of other CU teams in the past decade would not have emerged from those games 3-0.

“This team I really like,” gushed Mike MacIntyre in his post-game remarks. “I like being around them. I like going to practice. I like hanging out with them. They have that unique ability to be focused but also be loose. You don’t find that all of the time. I think they have that – which you need. You have to be focused and you have to be loose. They just keep playing.”

Up next is a road game against USC. You will have to go off the grid this week not to hear the numbers 12 and 0 again and again … as in USC’s 12-0 all-time record against Colorado.

No doubt – USC has more talented players.

No doubt – the Trojans, the defending Pac-12 champions, will be favored to defeat the Buffs in Los Angeles next Saturday night.

There is also no doubt that these Buffs will be prepared to play, and will fight to the final gun.

They still have a lot to prove …

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2 Replies to “Nothing to Say … A Lot to Prove”

  1. The fun part is a lot of the players are young, viska is only a sophomore so he cant declare until next year. If Steven stays (which is starting to become a big if with the way he is playing) we could have a legitimate contender next year. However if we win the next to games, the future is now. One game at a time but this is getting exciting. It feels so good to be relevant again. Go buffs

  2. I think it has been proven time and time again anyone can do a sports pundit’s job’
    “Lock of the week?”
    When you get fired Fornelli tell CBS to give me or my grandaughter a call. I havent been to the big apple for quite a while

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