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Senior Moments – The CU Senior Class produces a surprise in defeating Washington

In many circles, the first year for a new head coach is considered to be “Year Zero”.

The reference is that the incoming staff shouldn’t be judged on the results from the first year. Very few of the players on the roster during his first fall campaign are “his guys” (and now-a-days, that’s even more true, with the early Signing Day being moved up from February to December). Once the new staff has had a chance to put its system into place, with some of its players, then a verdict can be passed on whether the new coach is making some inroads.

“Year Zero” is a probationary period … the real Year One for the new coach comes in Year Two of their term.

That may be true, but CU head coach Mel Tucker, and his boss, athletic director Rick George, never bought into that concept.

“Obviously the expectations are high,” Tucker said at his introductory press conference last December. “We’re here to win championships. I’ve never been in a game, as a player or a coach, that we weren’t expecting to win. Ever. So there’s one thing that I can tell you, there’s no one on this planet that can put more pressure on me than I can put on myself. The expectations I have for this university and this program are extremely high. We’re going to start working today to get this thing going in the direction it needs to go.”

“He’s been a part of two national championships and that is where I aspire this program to be,” George said. “Those are the expectations that we have for this program. It is about winning championships and he has experienced success at the highest level. That is a level we want to be at here at the University of Colorado.”

Sounds good, but the reality is that building a championship program takes time. “The culture shift is taking place and we’ll continue to build on it and we’re going to get there,” Tucker said at the press conference Tuesday in advance of the Washington game. “We’re going to get it done.”

With the future looking brighter than it did a few weeks ago (from a team on a five-game losing streak to a team which defeated Stanford and Washington in back-to-back games, while picking up a five-star defensive lineman, a four-star defensive back, a four-star running back, a highly recruited three-star linebacker (the son and grandson of NFL stars!), and a three-star defensive lineman with offers from half of the Pac-12.

This just in … Buff fans are excited about the future of the program.

But what of the seniors, who won’t be around to enjoy much of the success which Mel Tucker & Co. believe they will be delivering to the University of Colorado?

A total of 17 seniors were honored before the Washington game, a relatively small number, with only six fifth-year seniors. As with every class, there were long-time starters and part-time contributors. Adding to the uniqueness of the Class … eight of the 17 began their collegiate careers elsewhere.

They may not be there when CU returns to the promised land, but their contributions won’t be soon forgotten:

  • Delrick Abrams – cornerback – a leader in the ridiculously young and beat up secondary, Abrams missed the Stanford game due to injury, but started every other game this fall;
  • J.T. Bale – long-snapper – a four-year mainstay in a position where you only hear the player’s name called when they make a mistake, Bale has played the most snaps of any specialist in CU history … without a single bad snap;
  • Beau Bisharat – tight end – converted from running back his senior season, Bisharat was a special teams star. Twice a recipient of the Bill McCartney Award for special teams contributions, Bisharat again leads the team in special teams points this fall;
  • Tony Brown – wide receiver – While not the heralded wide receiver during his time in Boulder, all Tony Brown did was produce. Brown led the team in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns for most of the season (being passed by Laviska Shenault only after the Washington game). With his four catches for 42 yards against the Huskies, Brown became the 31st player in CU history with over 1,000 career receiving yards;
  • Lucas Cooper – safety – A special teams contributor, Cooper was one of the walking wounded in the secondary this fall, missing the first three games due to injury;
  • Nu’umotu Falo – linebacker – Oddly enough, Falo is likely to end the season as the only Buff in the top ten nationally in any category. Falo has three fumble recoveries this season (two against Nebraska), tying him for fourth in the nation in that category;
  • Josh Goldin – quarterback – Fourth on the depth chart at quarterback, Goldin has found his way to contribute by being a holder on kicks;
  • Arlington Hambright – offensive lineman – a graduate transfer from Oklahoma State, all Hambright has done is start every game at left tackle, helping to restore Buff fans’ confidence in their offensive line;
  • Jalen Harris – tight end – The one of the three graduate transfers brought in by Mel Tucker to not really work out, Harris will still go down in history as the player to score the first points of the Mel Tucker era, scoring on a one-yard touchdown pass from Steven Montez in the opening drive against Colorado State;
  • Alex Kinney – punter – Kinney has played in more games than any player in CU history (53), and has more punts inside-the-15 of any punter in CU history (62). Kinney broke the record with his 62-yard wedge shot in the first quarter which miraculously took a right turn at the two-yard line, bouncing out at the one to set up Washington’s first three-and-out of the game (out of five for the game);
  • Tim Lynott, Jr. – offensive lineman – A freshman All-American in 2016, Lynott, with a start against Utah, will tie three other players with the most starts by an offensive lineman (42), and, depending on the number of offensive plays CU has against Utah, could set the record for the most plays from scrimmage by any offensive player in CU history. After the Washington game, Lynott became the first offensive lineman in the 22-year history of the “Buffalo Heart Award” to receive that honor;
  • Mikial Onu – safety – The other graduate transfer (along with Hambright) to make Mel Tucker look like a very shrewd and talented recruiter. Onu came to CU from SMU, and has started every game at free safety. Onu is second on the team in tackles (with 67), and leads the team in interceptions, with four;
  • Davis Price – kicker – Utilized mostly for kickoffs, Price got to be on the sidelines to watch his younger brother, Evan, kick the game-winning field goal as time expired in the win over Stanford;
  • Jack Shutack – offensive lineman – An often overlooked contributor, Shutack stepped in and earned his first career start against Washington State after Colby Pursell was injured. Shutack has gone on to start the last five games;
  • Davion Taylor – linebacker – The “Star backer” in Mel Tucker’s system, Taylor has started eight games this season, and 18 in his career. Taylor is third on the team in tackles, and leads the team in tackles for loss (8 – including a sack against Washington), third-down stops (11), and passes broken up (7);
  • Alex Tchangam – linebacker – a junior college transfer in 2018, Tchangam has started four games this season, and has 29 tackles this fall (including three against Washington.

And then there is Steven Montez.

The holder of 43 school records (with the 39-yard touchdown pass to Laviska Shenault in the second quarter of the Washington game, Montez broke the record for most career touchdown passes, with his 61st … both Cody Hawkins and Sefo Liufau had 60), Steven Montez, in many ways, represents his senior class.

Quality play .. with hints of greatness … but with disappointments as well.

The holder of the record for most consecutive starts by a quarterback (35), Montez is second only to his predecessor, Sefo Liufau, in total career starts (38, to Liufau’s 40).

The pair will go down in CU history as the two most prolific quarterbacks to wear the black-and-gold, with the two far out-pacing their predecessors:

  • Passing yards … 1. Sefo Liufau, 9,568 … 2. Steven Montez, 9,492 (needs 77 against Utah to pass Liufau) … 3. Cody Hawkins, 7,409
  • Total offense … 1. Sefo Liufau, 10,509 … 2. Steven Montez, 10,473 (needs 37 against Utah to pass Liufau) … 3. Kordell Stewart, 7,770

But in the ultimate measure of a quarterback’s success – wins and losses – Liufau and Montez come up short.

Liufau finished his career 16-24, while Montez just notched his 17th win (against 21 defeats). Montez is now tied for fifth in career wins by a CU quarterback, but only Liufau posted more career losses.

What separates Liufau and Montez, though, in the eyes of many Buff fans, is the leadership demonstrated by the two players. Liufau was the unquestioned leader of the team, and “The Rise” in 2016 can largely be attributed to the will Liufau impressed upon the team – even when he went down, and Steven Montez led the Buffs to an improbable victory over Oregon. Liufau was CU’s captain, and he, along with a strong senior class, was not to be denied.

Compare Steven Montez. Last year, when CU had a record seven team captains for the season … but Steven Montez was not one of the players chosen.

Then there was this interesting exchange between Steven Montez and a mic-ed up Mel Tucker after the game-winning kick against Stanford … Montez: “Thank you for believing in me” … Tucker: “I believe in you. I never stopped“.

“Thank you for believing in me” is a phrase you might expect to come from a kicker who makes a game-winning field goal after shanking an earlier attempt, or from a player who fought through off-the-field issues to make a name for himself on the field.

But from a player who has 43 (and counting) school records?

Doesn’t sound right.

“What if’s?” are a part of a college football fan’s DNA:

  • What if the Buffs had shown up for the first half of the Air Force game, or if James Stefanou hadn’t had an extra point blocked, leading the Buffs to go for a tie and overtime with their last minute touchdown, instead of the extra point being a game-winner?;
  • What if about a half dozen different drives had played out differently in the Arizona game?;
  • What if the Buffs had been able to put together any sort of a fourth quarter drive while holding the lead against USC?

The last “What if” is especially poignant, as the finish to the Washington game played differently, despite similar scenarios.

Against USC, the Buffs had the ball in the fourth quarter, nursing a 31-28 lead, but went three-and-out. The Buff defense forced a Trojan punt, but the Buff offense again failed to produce, giving the ball back to USC, which then went on to post the winning score.

Against Washington, the Buffs had the ball in the fourth quarter, nursing a 20-14 lead, but punted the ball away after four plays. The Buff defense then forced a Husky punt … but this time the Buff offense came through, producing an 11-play, 81-yard drive to run out the final 5:09 of the game clock.

The final drive of the Washington game was the “good Steven”. Backed up to the one yard line, Montez bought the Buffs some room by drawing the Huskies into an offsides penalty. Montez then went on a quarterback sneak … which went for 12 yards. Injured on the play, Montez came back the following play, and then faced a third-and-16 at the CU 12.

There was still plenty of time on the game clock. A CU punt – and a Washington comeback victory – seemed imminent.

Instead, on that third-and-16 play Montez scrambled, then found Dimitri Stanley for a 27-yard gain. Another completion to Stanley, this one going for 18 yards, set the Buffs up in Washington territory. Five consecutive runs by Alex Fontenot chewed up the Huskies’ time outs, and the Buffs were able to run out the remaining clock.

What “woulda, coulda shoulda” been against USC – the first-ever win against the Trojans – came to fruition against Washington – the first-ever win against the Huskies as a member of the Pac-12.

The Washington win was huge for the program, and an excellent home sendoff for the CU Senior Class. As with many Senior Classes in the past decade-plus, they will go down in history as under-achievers in the won/loss column.

But the victories that they gave us in 2019 – the fifth-straight win over CSU; the back-to-back wins over Nebraska; the first road victory over a ranked opponent (Arizona State) since 2002; then gritty wins over Stanford and Washington – will not soon be forgotten.

Can the 2019 Senior Class produce one last surprise, and take out a heavily favored top-ten Utah team on the road?

Unlikely, but, then again, much of what this team – and this Senior Class – has produced in the past two games was considered unlikely.

Does Steven Montez – and his fellow seniors – have a few more “Senior Moments” left in them?

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2 Replies to “Senior Moments”

  1. If I were to tell you that our wins would’ve come from csu Nebraska Arizona state Washington and Stanford at the beginning of the season, I would’ve been laughed at. Wins in November are not cheap and the fact that the defense has come along these past three weeks have been a sure sign of genuine progress.

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