Respect

My essay for the Nebraska game, “Trust the Process“, opened with the following line:

“I had forgotten how much I hate Nebraska.”

For this weekend’s game against Air Force, I could well have opened with:

“I had no idea how much Air Force hates Colorado”. 

Or … at least how much some folks in Colorado Springs hate Boulder.

And it didn’t help matters much that one of those at the Air Force Academy who still harbored a hatred for all things CU and Boulder was its long-time athletic director, Hans Mueh.

While the renewal of the long dormant Colorado/Air Force rivalry had seemed to be a no-brainer to many, there had been one person who kept the concept from coming to fruition for years, and that was Mueh.

From an article in the Daily Camera:

When Mike Bohn took over as CU’s athletic director in 2005, he immediately reached out to AFA about possibly rekindling the rivalry. Despite previously serving as an associate AD at AFA for eight years, Bohn was emphatically rebuffed. By that time Hans Mueh had taken over as AFA’s athletic director, and he made it clear revisiting the rivalry was beyond the lowest of priorities for the Academy. AFA’s athletic director from 2004 through 2015, Mueh played football at AFA in the 1960s and remained bitter over how the Cadets were treated in Boulder, an experience he recounted this week to the Colorado Springs Gazette.

“You weren’t there, but I was and I know how ugly it was when I was a cadet,” Mueh told the Gazette. “I hope that I’m wrong. I hope that CU fans accept Air Force the way Michigan, Oklahoma and Tennessee fans have accepted us. I hope CU has turned that page and that they are as welcoming. I am skeptical.”

Wow … just wow.

That’s a sentiment that is now two generations old, and is more than a little skewed. I checked back at some of the road games Air Force played in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Between 1966 and 1968, the Falcons traveled to the Bay area in California three times, taking on Stanford (twice) and Cal. While I didn’t go back and try to find news accounts of those games from 50 years ago, here’s guessing that the Air Force trip to Berkeley in the late 60’s wasn’t all parades and flyovers.

From my viewpoint, the first Air Force trip to Boulder since 1973 was handled in a very respectful manner, from the flyover to the standing ovation given to the”Hero of the Game” (who just happened to be a former Air Force ROTC student from CU).

And, certainly, the Falcons had to leave Boulder feeling respected after defeating the Buffs, 30-23, in overtime.

Which brings me to …

You have to respect:

1) The way the Buffs have bounced back from adversity in the second half of their first three games of the Mel Tucker era.

True enough, the way CU has opened the first three games against Colorado State, Nebraska, and Air Force has left much to be desired. That being said, take a look at the following:

  • Colorado State – 21 first half points, but the third quarter drive chart went as follows: Fumble; Interception; Field Goal;
  • Nebraska – 17 first half points, but the third quarter drive chart went as follows: Punt; Punt; Punt; Punt; and
  • Air Force – 20 first half points, but the third quarter drive chart went as follows: Fumble; Punt; Field Goal.

I’m not saying that giving up 58 first half points in the first three games (while scoring only 34) is acceptable by any stretch of the imagination. The Buffs have come out of the gate playing sluggishly in the past two games. Steven Montez has been inconsistent, while the offensive line play has, as feared, at times been a weakness. Colorado has failed to establish a consistent rushing attack, and the Buffs’ best player, Laviska Shenault, has been under-utilized. The defense has been stout late in games, but a sieve too often during the meat of the contests. The defensive backfield, a known liability, will now be even more at risk with the loss of starting safety Aaron Maddox.

The takeaway – When the CU coaching staff under Mel Tucker figures out how to get the Buffs to play with fire from the opening kickoff … the second half adjustments will make for much more welcome finishes.

2) The scheduling by Air Force

Give Air Force credit, they did a great job in setting up their schedule to make the most of its opportunity to face Colorado.

While the Buffs were opening the 2019 season against its two most hated rivals, Colorado State and Nebraska, the Falcons opened with a game against Colgate … and a bye week.

Buff players, as they should, denied that the emotional wins over the Rams and the Cornhuskers had anything to do with the loss to the Falcons. “Playing football is definitely a big emotional thing”, said Laviska Shenault. “I don’t think (the emotion win over Nebraska) played a part in it but we just know that you have to come out hard, you have to finish and you have to just do every little thing the right way so it kind of hurt us in this one.”

Still, it didn’t help that while the Buffs were focusing all of their attention on the Cornhuskers, the Falcons were able to focus all of their attention on the Buffs.

In fact, considering the fact that the only game Air Force had before coming to Boulder was a tune up (48-7) against FCS Colgate, an argument could be made that the Falcons had all of Fall Camp to get ready to play Colorado. The Falcons threw all of one pass in their opening game, but threw a pass on their first play in Folsom Field, and ended up with two of their three touchdowns in regulation coming on long pass plays.

How big of a deal is it for Air Force, from the Mountain West, to take down a Pac-12 team?

In their media release, the Falcons don’t refer to the Power Five conferences as Power Five conferences. Rather than give the Pac-12, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC any sense of having a loftier status than teams from the Mountain West, the Air Force media release refers to such schools as the “Autonomous Five” conferences.

Left-handed respect – at best.

Make no mistake, the Falcons were gunning for this game, and had been for some time.

No excuses, but when you pit a team which has had, in essence, nine months to prepare for a game, taking on a team which has had a week to prepare for its opponent – and its unique offense – you can see why Las Vegas had this as a close game, with CU being only a 3.5 – 4.5-point favorite despite playing at home.

3) CU Coaching History

While Buff fans have a great deal of hope when it comes to CU’s future under Mel Tucker, the Air Force game provided a reality check.

The Buffs, arguably, are a blocked extra point attempt (the first missed extra point of James Stefanou’s career, and the first missed PAT by Buffs kickers – 107 in all – since 2016) away from being 3-0. After all, had Stefanou’s extra point with 6:09 remaining been good, then the score would have been 23-17, and the touchdown run by Laviska Shenault with 28 seconds remaining would have set the Buffs up for the win in regulation, not a tie to send the game into overtime.

On the other hand, the Buffs are just a play or two away (ask a Nebraska fan, they’ll give you a list) from being 1-2. The Buffs took the field against the Falcons as a 2-0 team, but this was a Buff team which looked dreadful in the first half against Nebraska, and could well have been – perhaps should have been – blown out at home by the Big Red.

Which leaves us with the harsh reality that there are no miracle fixes.

Here is a look at how CU coaches have fared in their first seasons, dating back (arbitrarily) to the last time CU and Air Force played:

  • Bill Mallory (1974) … 5-6
  • Chuck Fairbanks (1979) … 3-8
  • Bill McCartney (1982) … 2-8-1
  • Rick Neuheisel (1995) … 10-2
  • Gary Barnett (1999) … 7-5
  • Dan Hawkins (2006) … 2-10
  • Jon Embree (2011) … 3-10
  • Mike MacIntyre (2013) … 4-8

The obvious outlier here is Rick Neuheisel, but he took over under circumstances unique in CU history. Bill McCartney’s 1994 team went 11-1, finished 3rd in the final polls, and arguably had the most talented team in the history of the school (all 11 starters on offense eventually played in the NFL). Gary Barnett also took over for a team which hadn’t fired the previous coach, with Neuheisel leaving CU for Washington at the end of the 1998 season.

Point being, it ain’t all sunshine and light for first-year head coaches at Colorado (and it’s also worth noting that the two first-time head coaches on the list, Bill McCartney and Jon Embree, went a combined 5-18-1 in their first seasons).

There are going to be some growing pains. Colorado has posted exactly one winning record in Pac-12 play since joining the league in 2011, so it’s asking a great deal to expect the Buffs to go out and take the Conference by storm in Mel Tucker’s first season.

Still, this team has shown heart, and has fought back from double-digit deficits the last two games to force overtime.

“It’s consistency. You have to do it play in and play out,” Mel Tucker said. “That is where we are lacking right now. If you don’t execute it will catch up to you. Our guys fought and played hard, but it is not about that. It is about being able to execute for four quarters, 60 minutes. Plus being able to finish. That is where we are right now.”

The “where we are right now” is a 2-1 record, with Pac-12 play about to begin … against a Arizona State team which has given up 21 points (that’s 7, 7, and 7) in its first three games … on the road … in Tempe, where the lowest high temperature prediction for the upcoming week is 98-degrees.

It will be a tough test for the Buffs, playing their first true road game under Mel Tucker.

The University of Colorado, from its administration, to its coaches and players, to its fans, showed respect for the Air Force Falcons and their program.

For the Buffs to earn the respect of the rest of the college football world, work still needs to be done …

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6 Replies to “Respect”

  1. Frustrating game. No one should be surprised that AFA’s offensive scheme gave us problems. But that should have been overcome by the Buff offense, but their performance was just plain embarrassing. To have our O-line dominated by AFA isn’t acceptable. Where is the adjustment to this with some roll-outs by Montez, quick WR screens to Viska (why isn’t this a staple on offense), etc.? Our new offensive coordinator still apparently doesn’t understand how mobile Montez is. Can’t understand why there aren’t called QB runs and roll-outs. A game like this should have been willed to win by 5th year senior Montez. He is just not consistent enough.

  2. It wasn’t little things. We got whupped. Kisla might me right. Our talent level isn’t there yet. recruit recruit recruit!!!

  3. Air Force is a good disciplined team that will go onto lose 2-3 games in the MW. The reason they will lose is that the MW teams play them every year and are used to the option schemes they run. CU like Michigan doesn’t see option at all. Guess what, both games were close, both went to OT. You really have to throw this one out, put it in the rear view mirror, ASU will be the real test on how well this team will do this year.

  4. Stu, I am growing weary of hearing about “lack of execution.” Aren’t you? Football = execution. So if we’re not executing, then I guess the schemes are too difficult. Right? Air Force came in here with the same scheme they’ve always had and beat us badly with it. Their execution was spot on. Quick, what’s Washington State’s execution/identity? Pass. Hence, they pick up another quarterback who was on a different team last year and he quickly adapts, looks like he’s been with the team for years, and throws for three 400 yard games. Why not Montez who is a 5th year senior? Why is he/we still bumbling around around on offense? Quick, what’s Cal’s new identity? DEFENSE! And they throw in enough offense to get by. Quick, what’s Utah’s identity? DEFENSE! …you get the point. Now, tell me what CU’s identity is? Couldn’t tell you yet. And I’m afraid it’s already starting to look all too familiar in trying to establish, yet again, a simple identity…at least on one side of the ball. Tucker says we’re going to be a running team. Really? Maybe next year.
    I’m not even sure what to expect anymore. Trying not to be negative here, but man does this look like the last 10 years again or what? ASU 26 CU 3

  5. Here is my take
    The linebackers continually lost gap control, van diest has been sent to the bench at least two weeks in a row for obvious reasons
    The oline continues to struggle. The play of lynott see the snap five feet iver Montez head just about got him killed
    Receivers like Nixon running lousy routes by not making squared off breaks
    Montez is just so inconsistent, no improvement since his 1st year
    Play calling stinks, the oline and the of does not run enough quick plays to counter act the defense
    Lastly what happened to utilizing the te?

  6. I was actually stunned to hear the animosity towards the buffs from the Air Force side. Im not saying it isnt warranted . Boulder being hostile to a service academy in the 70’s sounds like something that would be true. But I have always been a casual fan of the Falcons. I have respect for the work they do for our country and they play the game the right way with heart and discipline. My opinion has not changed after this weekend, and the result of the game while frustrating didnt shock me. Learn from it, get better, move on. I will also say I am thankful to the AFA for playing this game and look forward to more games against them on the front range. Go Buffs!

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