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“It’s Just the Beginning of Our Program”

Two wins … Three wins … Four wins …

Guesses as to how many wins the Buffs will post in 2019, with a defense giving up 500 yards per game?

No.

It’s a list of how many wins the last three CU head coaches have posted in their first seasons.

Apparently, it’s not easy taking over a Power Five conference team with issues, just ask Dan Hawkins (2-10 in 2006), Jon Embree (3-10 in 2011) and Mike MacIntyre (4-8 in 2013).

From the time his hire was announced on December 5, 2018, head coach Mel Tucker preached fundamentals. It was all about the team, regardless of the opponent. Pressure was a privilege.

“If you don’t feel something you probably don’t care very much,” Tucker said a few days before his first game as CU’s head coach. “That’s my opinion. That’s not a concern. We have to continue to prepare the rest of this week. Then when we go out, it’s going to be about execution, following the game plan, playing harder, playing longer, trusting your training, trusting each other, being unselfish, urgency.

“Every play is going to have a history and a life of its own. We’ll play one play at a time to the best of our ability. That’s our goal.”

Goal number one for game number one was to post a victory, and in that, the Buffs were successful, taking out the CSU Rams for the fifth consecutive season, this time by a score of 52-31.

Was it pretty? No.

Was it ugly? At times.

But it was a win, something only two CU coaches have accomplished in their first games since 1932 (Rick Neuheisel over Wisconsin in 1995; Mike MacIntyre over CSU in 2013).

Here’s the thing …

If you had talked to almost any Buff fan over the course of the past nine months – that’s nine months of being reminded of CU’s seven-game losing streak to end the 2018 season; nine months of being told the Buffs would finish last in the Pac-12 South .. again – and asked that fan if they would have taken 52 points and a three-touchdown win over the Rams in the opener … they would have taken it.

For the more-than-casual Buff fan, if you told them only the 52-31 score, and given them none of the details of the game, they would have likely concluded that the Buff wide receivers had shredded the CSU secondary all night long, leading to the high point total, but that deficiencies in the CU defensive line and secondary helped contribute to the Rams posting 31 points.

And they would be about half right.

The Buff offense did post 45 points (with the other score coming on a Mustafa Johnson nine-yard fumble recovery for a score late in the game to give CU it’s only three-score lead of the game), but not in the manner most Buff fans would have expected.

Mel Tucker said he wanted a balanced offense, and he got it.

The Buffs posted 475 yards of total offense, with 243 coming on the ground and 232 through the air.

Now, that’s balanced.

“We want to have balance on offense, not just run-pass, but also with how we distribute the ball with carries and touches,” said Tucker after the game. “Tonight was a starting point.”

The rushing attack looked better on paper than it did at times during the game. Alex Fontenot had 125 yards on 19 carries, with three impressive touchdown runs of seven, 14 and 22 yards. Jaren Mangham contributed 40 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries, while well timed runs by Steven Montez (39 yards on five carries) and Laviska Shenault (35 yards on three carries) also helped move the chains.

Still, it didn’t appear that the Buffs were able to dominate the line of scrimmage, with a number of first downs being runs up the middle for little or no gain. “We couldn’t run the ball on the inside on a consistent basis,” said Tucker. “They hit us with a trap early and that was pretty much the inside run game”.

There were only 13 completions in the passing game, with only nine passes completed to CU’s best unit, it’s wide receivers. It was nice to see the Buff tight ends get into the action, with Jalen Harris getting two first half catches for 24 yards and CU’s first score of the night, with Brady Russell collecting two catches for 44 yards in consecutive plays, leading to a fourth quarter touchdown.

Senior Tony Brown actually led the team with three catches for 71 yards, with Laviska Shenault held to three catches for 48 yards and a touchdown (Shenault did bring about two first half pass interference penalties, which kept drives alive).

Six touches all game for Shenault?

Glass half full … the Buffs scored 45 offensive points, largely without Shenault being called upon to make plays.

Glass half empty … Where was Shenault? And why wasn’t he being used more often in the offense?

“Laviska’s going to get targets, he’s going to get touches, he’s going to make plays for us,” said Tucker. “He’s such a force. But we also have other guys who can make plays and that’s going to make defense hard to play against.”

Guess Buff fans have to be pretty excited about an offense in which the line couldn’t consistently dominate the smaller Ram front, an offense in which Steven Montez – at times – looked more like a sophomore than a senior, and an offense which didn’t need Laviska Shenault to be a human highlight reel … and still scored 45 points.

Now, about that defense …

We knew it wasn’t going to be great, but, for much of the evening, the defense wasn’t even close to good.

Take away CSU’s kneel down at the end of the first half, and the two futile drives in the last four minutes when the game was already decided, and the Ram drive chart for the 2019 RMS looked like this:

  • TOUCHDOWN
  • Interception
  • TOUCHDOWN
  • TOUCHDOWN
  • Fumble
  • Interception
  • FIELD GOAL
  • TOUCHDOWN
  • Punt
  • Fumble

Were it not for the four turnovers, the game would have been in doubt to the very end, with a Ram victory certainly not out of the question.

Colorado State ran over the Buffs for 505 yards of total offense. The Buffs forced all of one punt during the game, and that wasn’t until midway through the fourth quarter. The Buffs also didn’t pick up a sack until the fourth quarter, although both sacks – one forcing the punt; the other forcing a fumble returned for a touchdown – were huge.

“Obviously the yardage and some of the plays we gave up I’m not happy about, but we’ll get those mistakes corrected,” said Tucker.

Suffice it to say, if the Buffs have plans of going bowling in 2019, the defense will have to play better. The Rams were able to move the ball without much resistance, and, if not for the turnovers … well, let’s not think about that.

What Buff fans can think about is the victory. Colorado’s 52 points were the third-highest output in a season opener … in school history (and the most since 1954). As noted, Tucker became just the third CU coach to win his opener in over 80 years. The Buffs did end up beating the Rams for the fifth consecutive season … and wins over the Lambs are always welcome.

The CU offensive line, for all of its woes, did not give up a sack. The Colorado offense did not turn the ball over.

The CU defense, for all of its exposed weaknesses, adjusted in the second half, giving up only ten points after the break.

“There are things we have to improve upon and things we have to get straightened out,” said Tucker. “That’s the message to the team. We are not going to get too high. We are not going to get too low. We’re going to be steady and we’re going to work and trust the process.”

It’s going to be a long process, the process being that of getting CU back to being a nationally recognized program on a consistent basis.

The Colorado State game was just a first step. It wasn’t pretty, and there is much grousing to be had about much of what the Buff Nation witnessed in Week One.

But it was Week One.

Not only of the 2019 season, but of the Mel Tucker era.

“We’ll stick with our process and make sure our guys are ready,” Tucker said. “I expect to see a better football team next week.”

Fingers crossed …

—–

7 Replies to ““It’s just the beginning of our program””

  1. So on to kornholer week.
    The cobs won today
    13 for 22 1 int 178 yards He didn’t look good actually
    rush 44 for 98….taking out the junk and martinez they rushed 29 for 116
    Martinez 13 rushes for 6 yards. ( They didn’t show all their stuff)

    the holers gave up 88 yards on 44 carries. The front d line is big and tough. Gonna have to whip em

    opponents had 35 passes completed 19 had 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions

    so the nubs scored 35 points. 14 by their offense. Whoa.

    Okay Buffs didn’t look good.

    Don’t care. Their 25 ranking is wishful thinking by the hangerons…………..
    Buffs can beat em.

    Dang nab it…………….I wanna see it

    Up the Buffs and down the nubs

  2. When Mike Leach looks at film of Colorado’s defense against the pass his eyes will look like saucers and he will think Christmas will arrive for the Cougs on October 19th.

  3. What I liked the most….. we actually got better as the game wore on. There were very few of those type games under the previous coaching regime.

  4. To me it looked like a completely different defense after halftime, when they seemed to mostly abandon the 3-4 and go to more of a 4-3 or nickel look. Early in the game it seemed like the outside linebackers had no idea who to cover and the safeties had no idea what the linebackers were doing, much less what to do themselves.

    But eventually they adjusted and stopped giving up easy completions on out routes to slot receivers, h backs, and tight ends.

    Nebraska is a team that loves to attack the field horizontally, and the defensive weaknesses csu exposed in the first half this concern me greatly. But the corners played well and the safeties played better than I expected and once the linebackers adjusted to what csu was doing the defense looked ok.

    Meanwhile Nebraska offense looked awful today against South Alabama. The jags, though, are a clearly better team than csu (except at qb). Nebraska won based on defensive and special teams touchdowns, but looked bad otherwise.

    Not sure what to make of it all.

    P. S. : Montez needs to work on his mechanics and stop throwing off his back foot every third play

  5. To me this year is about making progress. Progress on the offensive line, Steven Montez making better decisions and the overall defense learning how to play in the new system instinctively without having to over think everything will be what I want to see. Getting a game under their belts will really help next week. Nebraska was not a good football team last year either and they will have many weaknesses too. Buffs can learn from this one and show up better next week. Go Buffs!

  6. Great article Stuart. Yeah, serious mixed-bag. Wow did Fontenot look good. Shifty and powerful. I think that was my take-away as most exciting part of the game. Love that balance of run and pass. I’m not worried about Viska’s touches, if he connects on either of those PI’s his stats look great. Very concerning that both Buff lines couldn’t establish against the Rams. Landman had a really shaky game – he doesn’t look like he’s improved in pass coverage. And Montez still looks so inconsistent with his footwork and decision making. That’s pretty concerning. Hopefully Tucker and Co. can make some tweaks for the Huskers. Happy to start the Tucker era with a W.

  7. CSU opened up the entire play book on the buffs, especially in the first half. One thing I did genuinely notice was the adjustments in the second half though not absolutely 100% pretty but they got the job done . I am honestly glad our best wide receiver, Laviska, was not heavily used in the first game so that way he can be fresh for the rest of the season . It seemed as though last year he was almost overused and could not stay healthy . I love the balance to tack and I especially liked the mental toughness the defense had even though they were giving up yards . Hopefully this is a team that can build and improve upon throughout the year instead of peak in the beginning and begin the plummet to the bottom .

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