CU’s 2019 Spring Game Ten Questions – What to Watch For Saturday

Related … “Woelk: What To Watch In Saturday’s Buffs Spring Finale”

From CUBuffs.com… When the Colorado Buffaloes opened spring ball, they weren’t sure what to expect from new head coach Mel Tucker and his staff.

Now they know.

With 14 practices in the books and one to go, Tucker has left no doubt what he expects — maximum effort, no wasted time and physical football. In his words, “meat and potatoes.” Nothing fancy, just football the way it is meant to be played.

Saturday, Colorado fans will get their first glimpse of the Buffs under Tucker’s guidance when the Buffs play the Spring Game Presented by UC Health at Folsom Field (noon start).

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After several years of “Spring Showcases” in mid-March, non-events which sparked little interest or enthusiasm, Colorado fans are being invited to an actual Spring Game (noon, MT, Pac-12 Networks … but there is a problem if you don’t have Pac-12 Mountain*).

New head coach Mel Tucker is saying all the right things in advance of CU’s final spring practice:

— “I told them we’ve got the spring game coming up but really, it’s just practice 15. It’s not going to be anything different. We’re going out there and we’re going to work to get better. It’s going to be all meat and potatoes and no French pastry” …

— “I expect to see great focus. I don’t want to see guys looking up in the stands. I told them there’s not going to be any dancing, we’re not going to have towels and streamers and guys thinking about what color socks they’re going to wear, and what they’re going to write on their wristbands and all that type of stuff. We’re not doing that. We’re going out there to work and to practice” …

— “There’s hardly ever opportunities where you can create a game-like situation in college. In pro ball, you get four preseason games and you can get that atmosphere. In college, you normally don’t get a chance to get that. A spring game is an opportunity to put them in a game-like situation, especially in our home stadium, and get some of that anxiety out. Then see if we can get better from there.”

So, if there will actually be game-like conditions, what should CU fans be looking for?

1. How are the defensive lines working out?

The development and success of the defensive line will play a significant role in determining whether or not Colorado will go bowling in 2019, but that’s not the main issue for the Spring Game.

It’s a pure numbers problem.

Colorado only has five scholarship defensive lineman on the roster for the spring as it is, and several of those have been banged up. Coach Tucker has indicated that there will be a number of players who will be playing for both sides this weekend, and several defensive linemen will be forced to pull double duty.

No one wants to see a defensive lineman suffer an injury from being on the field too much, so monitoring the number of plays for each lineman will be a factor on Saturday … and will likely influence how the game is conducted (Coach Tucker indicated that a running clock may be used for much of the game).

2.  Does Steven Montez have a clear command of the Jay Johnson offense?

Steven Montez is on his third quarterbacks coach in as many years. While there is something to be said from learning from different coaches, it also prevents Montez from mastering a system.

So far, Montez likes what he sees.

Montez said he and the other quarterbacks are still learning the nuances of the offense being installed by coordinator Jay Johnson, but that they are getting better at “running the show” and connecting with receivers.

“It’s really just running the show and understanding of the offense, and we’re still not there yet, but we’re getting close,” he said.

It will interesting to see just how close Montez is getting.

3. Is there a clear choice for backup quarterback?

If you go by stats, neither junior Sam Noyer nor sophomore Tyler Lytle have distinguished themselves during the two spring scrimmages (red-shirt freshman Blake Stenstrom is injured, and sitting out the spring).

Sam Noyer’s numbers – 9-for-17 for 68 yards, no touchdowns, no interceptions, three sacks;

Tyler Lytle’s numbers – 13-for-23 for 186 yards, no touchdowns, no interceptions, six sacks.

Both will get plenty of snaps during the spring game. It will be worth watching to see if either player makes a statement.

4. Is there a leader for the starting running back position?

If Coach Tucker and running backs coach Darian Hagan are trying to keep CU’s next starting running back a secret … they’re doing a good job.

In the first two scrimmages, the candidates – sophomore Alex Fontenot, red-shirt freshmen Deion Smith and Jerek Broussard, and true freshmen Jaren Mangham and Joe Davis – are all doing “fine”.

“They’re going to be fine,” Hagan said. “They love to compete, they love what they’re doing. They’ll be just fine.”

In the first two scrimmages, no back has more than 19 carries, and no back has more than 58 total yards rushing.

With the candidates divided between the two teams, there will be plenty of opportunities for these underclassmen to show why they should be the primary back come August.

5. Who are No. 10, No. 13, No. 14, and No. 22?

The Buff wearing the No. 2 jersey, Laviska Shenault, is out for the spring (though he has been participating in some drills, and should be a “full go” for fall camp).

Buffs wearing jersey No. 3 (K.D. Nixon) and No. 18 (Tony Brown), are also familiar to the CU Nation.

Quick quiz: Who wears No. 10? No. 13? No. 14? No. 22?

That would be sophomore Jaylon Jackson (No. 10); sophomore Maurice Bell (No. 13), redshirt freshman Dimitri Stanley (No. 14) and sophomore Daniel Arias (No. 22).

In last year’s spring game, sophomore Laviska Shenault – after having posted all of seven catches his red-shirt freshman season – made a name for himself in posting two touchdown catches.

We all know that Shenault used the spring game as a springboard to an All-Pac-12 season last fall.

Who will be the surprise star of this year’s spring game?

6. Can either offensive lines dominate?

There’s no point in trying to figure out who will be the starting five along the offensive line based upon the spring lineups. The teams are to be evenly divided up, which would mean that the likely starters against Colorado State will be on opposite sides of the field on Saturday.

What Buff fans can look for, however is how the offensive lines perform, especially in the second half.

As noted, the CU defensive line is short-handed, and fatigue should begin to play a role as the afternoon progresses.

If the offensive lines are surrendering sacks and having runs stuffed deep into the second half, that would show the offensive line as being a weakness as much as it would show the defensive line being a strength.

7. A star at the “star” position?

A year ago, linebacker Davion Taylor shined in the “Buff back” position that was featured in previous head coach Mike MacIntyre’s defense. Now, he’s playing in the “Star” position that is featured in the defense employed by first-year head coach Mel Tucker and defensive coordinator Tyson Summers, who both came to CU from Georgia.

“I like it better than Buff backer because last year I feel like I was more in run fits and this year I’m more in coverage, which I need,” Taylor said. “I’ll love to have that film trying to go the NFL next year.”

The Star position will often require Taylor to line up on a slot receiver and play more against the pass.

“It’s giving me a chance to show that I can play in different positions,” Taylor said. “By me being a bigger (defensive back), I can be able to rush off the edge, I can be in the box sometimes, so I can do it all. Being so versatile has really helped me a lot.”

We’ll see if Taylor’s star shines in his new position ..

8. An interception?

An interception! An interception! My kingdom for an interception!

Okay, that’s not really the line from Richard III, but new defensive coordinator (and safeties coach) Tyson Summers probably wouldn’t mind a pick or two during the spring game.

In the first two scrimmages, the CU defensive backfield, which is looking to replace two long-time starters at safety, and trying to figure out the right mix at cornerback, has generated exactly zero interceptions (and forced exactly one fumble).

While any positive for the defense is a negative for the offense, it wouldn’t be a bad thing if the CU secondary went into summer conditioning with at least one or two turnovers on their collective resume.

9. Special teams – will they be special in 2019?

You may have missed the news this past week, but Utah, which perennially seems to have the best kicking game in the Pac-12, is down to a walk-on freshman at kicker.

So, will this be the year that CU’s kickers assert themselves as a dominant force in the conference?

Buff fans were pretty confident that special teams were in good hands heading into the 2018 season. James Stefanou was doing well as the kicker, and Alex Kinney was set for a great senior season.

Then Kinney got hurt in the Nebraska game. Then Stefanou got hurt, and then Stefanou’s backups got hurt.

In all, four different kickers attempted field goals for the Buffs last fall, a feat which hadn’t occurred in decades.

Now, Stefanou and Kinney are back, and once again Buff fans are pretty confident that their special teams are in good hands … er, feet.

Let’s hope so.

10. Attendance … hoping for a Tucker bounce? 

Between 2008 and 2013, Colorado averaged almost 12,000 warm bodies at its Spring Game.

At last season’s Spring Showcase, the scrimmage attendance was announced as being 4,500.

No one is expecting a sell-out at Folsom Field Saturday (though attendance might tick up slightly when fans realize only half of the game will be televised on the Pac-12 Networks – see note below). CU is not Alabama, Ohio State, or Nebraska, and won’t have 80,000 on hand to watch a glorified practice.

But, this is the first opportunity to see Mel Tucker’s team in action, and the weather (mostly sunny, high in the 60’s at noon for kickoff) will be ideal.

Here’s hoping that Mel Tucker and his coaching staff are treated to some black-and-gold in the stands this weekend.

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* Fair warning … Unless you get Pac-12 Mountain, you will only get one hour of coverage of the CU Spring Game, as the national feed from the Pac-12 Networks will switch over to the Washington Spring Game at 1:00 p.m., MT. If you receive the Pac-12 Networks, but not Pac-12 Mountain, you can watch (record) the full replay of the CU Spring Game, which will air on the Pac-12 Networks at 2:00 a.m., MT, on Sunday, April 28th.

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