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Same Record; Different Outlook … “Our culture is starting to take hold”

On a fourth-and-five at the Utes’ 31-yard line in the first quarter of CU’s 2019 regular season finale against No. 6 Utah, Steven Montez connected with Laviska Shenault for a six-yard gain and a first down. With the gain, Montez passed Sefo Liufau on the CU all-time list for most career yards, giving Montez 10,477 yards of total offense (to 10,473 for Liufau. Montez finished the game, and his career, with 10,609). The Buffs finished the drive with a Montez-to-Brady Russell touchdown pass, giving CU a 7-0 first quarter lead.

With a seven-yard completion to Dimitri Stanley in the third quarter against the Utes, Montez passed Sefo Liufau in career passing yards, with 9,573 (to Liufau’s 9,568. Montez finished with 9,649). That completion proved to be the longest play on a five-play drive which included Montez taking a sack which resulted in a punt on fourth-and-27 … a punt which was returned for a touchdown.

Those two record-setting plays pretty well encapsulated the career of Steven Montez at Colorado.

Steven Montez giveth; Steven Montez taketh away.

Until the next three- or four-year starter at quarterback comes along at the University of Colorado, the most recent two Buff quarterbacks will be entrenched in the CU record books. The distance between second-place Sefo Liufau and the Buffs holding third-place on the career passing yards and career total offense lists is ridiculously large:

  • The gap between No. 2 Sefo Liufau and No. 3 Cody Hawkins on the passing charts (9,568 v. 7,409) is 2,159 yards … or just shy of what CU all-time greats Bobby Anderson (2,198) and Ken Johnson (2,175) passed for in their entire CU careers;
  • The gap between No. 2 Sefo Liufau and No. 3 Kordell Stewart on the total offense charts (10,509 v. 7,770) is 2,739 yards … which is more total offense than Chris Brown (2,690), Hugh Charles (2,659) and Byron “Whizzer” White (2,538) had in their entire CU careers.

Suffice it to say, the names Sefo Liufau and Steven Montez will be a part of CU football history for some time to come.

The longevity of the pair also binds them in an ignoble statistic … the only two quarterbacks to lose more than 20 games as a starter (Joel Klatt, who was 19-15 as a starter for CU, is third on that particular list). Sefo Liufau finished his career with a 16-24; Montez finished 17-22.

Montez finished his career with just shy of 50 school records, but also is responsible for one record which you won’t find in any record book:

  • Over the course of three seasons, Steven Montez was the starting quarter in 11 games in which Colorado had five wins, needing a victory to become bowl-eligible. Montez went 0-11 in those games.

With the most recent loss with bowl-eligibility at stake, CU finished with a 5-7 record for the third straight season.

The national pundits won’t hesitate to use that statistic, along with others, to declare that there has been no resurgence for the CU football program under new management.

  • They will point out that CU regressed on offense in the first year under Mel Tucker (388.5 yards of total offense per game, down from 392.6 in 2018; scoring 23.5 points per game, down from 27.1).
  • They will point out the CU regressed on defense in the first year under Mel Tucker, (441.9 yards per game surrendered, up from 380.3 yards per game in 2018; giving up 31.8 points per game, up from 27.3 in 2018).

Another season, another 5-7 record, another season-ending Thanksgiving weekend loss.

Another blow-out loss to Utah with a bowl bid on the line.

Doesn’t matter who is the head coach, they will opine … It’s the same ‘ol, same ‘ol in Boulder.

Buff fans would be well advised, however, to ignore such black-and-white conclusions.

“We didn’t finish the way we wanted to finish tonight”, said Mel Tucker of the 45-15 defeat at the hands of No. 6 Utah. “But I have a lot of respect for this football team and I told them to keep their heads up. It’s a privilege to be able to coach this group of guys. Our record doesn’t necessarily reflect everything about this football team.”

The Buffs weren’t just competitive in the first quarter against the nation’s No. 6 team, they were dominant. Not only did the Buffs become the first Pac-12 to score a touchdown in Rice-Eccles stadium in 15 quarters of football, they put up 91 yards of total offense while holding the Ute offense to 27 yards on 11 plays.

One quarter does not a game make, but it gave Buff players and their fans a glimpse of what is possible for the future.

“Our culture is starting to take hold with our guys,” said Tucker. “You can see the shift in how way we play, just being able to run the ball, stop the run. You’ve seen flashes of what I think we will be able do on defense.”

The 45-15 final in the Utah game, and 5-7 finish to the season, also belies the achievements by Mel Tucker in his first year in Boulder. A few examples:

  • CU went 2-2 against ranked teams in Year One under Mel Tucker. His predecessor, Mike MacIntyre, went 2-20 against ranked opponents;
  • CU defeated a ranked opponent on the road (No. 24 Arizona State). CU had gone 0-29 (through four coaching regimes) since the last road victory over a ranked opponent (at UCLA in 2002);
  • The Buffs defeated Washington for the first time as a member of the Pac-12. Dating back to the two games in which Rick Neuheisel defeated his former team in 1999 and 2000, CU had lost nine straight games to the Huskies;
  • The Buffs won two games in November. Mike MacIntyre’s teams went 6-19 in November games (with four of those wins coming in 2016. In his other five seasons in Boulder, Mike MacIntyre went 2-19 in games played in November).

And, it bears noting, the Buffs did not finish last in the Pac-12 South.

It may seem trivial that CU finished 5th (the Buffs were 3-6, 5-7, while Arizona finished 2-7, 4-8), but, other than CU’s first season in the Pac-12 (when the Buffs finished in a tie for 5th) and the 2016 title season, the Buffs finished dead last in the Pac-12 South the other six seasons.

Finishing 5th isn’t cause for great celebration (UCLA finished with a 4-8 overall record, but was 4-5 in Pac-12 games, and so will be looked upon as finishing fourth in the division), but for a program viewed nationally as a bottom-feeder (which is sadly ironic, considering CU never finished last alone – not even once – as a member of the Big Seven, Big Eight, or Big 12), any step up is, well, a step up.

In all, CU will lose 17 seniors, including the enigmatic Steven Montez, but there will be plenty of talent returning … with plenty of new talent on the way.

“We know what we need to do in recruiting,” Tucker said. “We know what we need to do in our offseason program and our fourth quarter conditioning program and our nutrition, in the weight room, our scheme evaluation. We know exactly what needs to be done. And we’re not gonna take any days off in getting that done. This is just a starting point for us.”

There will be many questions Buff fans will be dissecting over the next nine months … Who will be the starting quarterback in 2020? Can Laviska Shenault be replaced? Will the young defensive backs learn from their baptism by fire in 2019 (or be recruited over)? Will there be any graduate transfers to help plug the remaining holes, both on offense and defense?

But one thing Buff fans won’t be questioning – and this hasn’t been the case for over a decade – is whether the University of Colorado has the right man for the job.

“Our players see it and they now know what is required,”  Tucker said. “They see this is what we need to do. We’re going to compete at the highest levels in this league and throughout this country … This is really just the beginning for us.”

The last episode in the Star Wars saga premieres later this month. “Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker”, is sure to be a box office hit.

But Buff fans should be more inclined to look upon the CU football program, both for what transpired this season, and what they have to look forward to, as being more akin to the first Star Wars movie, which came out in 1977.

What was the subtitle for Episode IV again?

Oh, yeah …

“A New Hope”.

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10 Replies to “Same Record; Different Outlook”

  1. If this season was “a new hope” I wonder if we will end up with the young up and coming Jedi learning the ropes and suffering for it in The Empire Strikes Back. Or if we will skip to Return of the Jedi where the young Jedi natures and overcomes great odds to win the day……

    Maybe we hire a bounty hunter for the next year…..

    I think one of the Florida QBs is looking. Do we know when the recruit from Texas is coming in? Will he be there for Spring?

  2. Stu thank you for another great season from CUATTHEGAME. I have enjoyed your articles and your insight to our beloved Buffs.
    To the commenters thank you for the entertainment and sharing your knowledge with me over the past season. I look forward to next year.
    Here’s to improvement in 2020 and cheering maniacally for the Buffs to make a bowl game.

  3. Stuart, always enjoy your write ups. Thanks for another season of good articles. I also enjoy the tone on this board that stays professional overall. That’s a credit to the other posters and to your moderation. I’m looking forward to how the Buffs will grow and improve in the next 2-3 years. I felt that the jury was out for a while on Hawkins, Embree, and Macintyre and never got to the point where I was sold on any of them. For the first time in a long time, I feel that we have a head coach with leadership qualities. I do feel hope.

  4. Amazing how fast this season went
    Amazing how important the Air Force game became (Now they are rated #25)
    And USC and Arizona
    3 tough losses………………………….AT HOME Dang nab it.

    Anyway nice writing Stu.

    Buffalo up:

    Note: Lousy Kornholer miss post season 3rd year in a row.
    Blame it on the “Buff-a-Nova”with its magic spell
    Blame it on the “Buff-a-Nova” that sent you to hell

    Note 2: Stu, funny how there are many kornkob articles on different kornkrib port-a-potty sites that are penned similar to yours.

    Note 3: It is even suggest on some of them that………………..”they have an outside chance of getting a bowl bid even with the 5-7 record……….” Well if there is one of those available, the Mighty Buffs better get offered it……………and damn well better take it.

    1. PAC-12 doesn’t allow 5-7 teams to go to a bowl. The Pac-12 presidents passed the rule proposed by a subcommittee of athletic directors. Not sure if Rick George was on that committee, but even if he wanted to go, he can’t.

        1. A moot point, but I am not sure a 5-7 team ever deserves to go to a bowl. However, for a team like CU who needs to continue developing young guys and gives HCMT more “hands-on” time to further instill the culture change–who cares?–the extra practices outweigh the “do they deserve to go” aspect.

          HCMT and staff are using the time to burn up the recruiting trail instead of bowl prep. Mike Mac would have used the time to remind everyone how bad CU was when he “graciously” accepted the head coach position.

  5. Thanks Stuart for keeping this website going and all the hard work and excellent writing. I would also like to thank the group of commenters for continuing to be positive and entertaining [although I don’t see what Stuart has to block w.r.t. comments :)].

    I along with everyone that visits this site will be watching eagerly on the recruiting front. Stuart your comments on the record holding QBs is right on target. To me the QB position is THE key to future success for the program. What is it about the CU football program that many of the top record holders — Montez, Liufau, and Hawkins — all good guys who battled, but were at the helm of underperforming teams? Of course there is the running/option history that brought the Buffs much success in earlier times, and those QBs won’t have the passing numbers. But still, how many years have we watched record-setting Buff QBs get outplayed? Why do other seemingly lesser teams seem capable of attracting good QBs every once in a while? We get recruits with potential, but time and time again they don’t live up to it. The consistency of this situation over many years and multiple coaching regimes is truly puzzling to me. So I’ll be watching recruiting with excitement, but worrying about the QB position in 2020.

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