Driving a Stick

You know you’re growing old when idioms which reflect the world you grew up in no longer have any practical application.

I still put “cc” at the bottom of my letters, even though “carbon copies” have been gone for generations. Coach Prime, in a press conference a few weeks ago, said that his phone was “ringing off the hook” with all of the recruits who were interested in playing at Colorado. Think any of those same recruits have any idea what Coach Prime is talking about with that phrase?

With the advent of the Coach Prime era at Colorado, there have been so many changes, and they have come about so quickly, that it’s hard for some of us old timers to adjust quickly.

But, after the Buffs fell to Stanford, 46-43, in double-overtime, it’s clear that nothing is for certain with this team. No obstacle is insurmountable … and apparently no lead is safe. The old saying that there is nothing certain in life but death and taxes needs an addendum:

Nothing is certain in life except for death, taxes … and that you don’t know what new and scary roller coaster ride Coach Prime’s Buffs will take us on next.

So I guess it’s time for me to “roll up the windows” and “shift gears”. The trip to the mountain top apparently includes some very steep descents along the way.

With few exceptions, almost every new vehicle today comes with an automatic transmission. Learning to “drive a stick” – a manual transmission – has “gone the way of the dodo” for most drivers.

I learned to drive with a stick when I was 15. I learned on a Chevy pickup which was almost as old as I was, and, to put it mildly, it was a frustrating experience. Despite being tall for my age, I still had to practically stand on my left leg to get the clutch all the way to the floor, and the shift from second to third gear was hand-to-hand combat. (It wasn’t until a year or so later, when I got to drive a Honda Accord, that I learned that it was probably the old Chevy pickup which was the problem in my mastering the clutch, not me).

When it comes to watching the Buffs play in 2023, though, I’m still driving the Chevy.

The Buffs have given us new ways to enjoy football, ways we thought no longer were options for CU fans …

— Watching the TCU game, I was actually enjoying watching the fourth quarter, as the teams traded touchdowns. I remained calm – Not because I was certain that the Buffs would win, but because I was ecstatic that the Buffs were going to cover the spread and make a positive statement on national television. The swing pass on fourth-and-two from Shedeur Sanders to Dylan Edwards which turned out to be a 46-yard touchdown was icing on the cake. The score gave the Buffs a 45-42 lead, but over four minutes remained on the clock. TCU had scored touchdowns on its previous three possessions, and there was little reason to believe that the Horned Frogs couldn’t score again. So … when Myles Slusher tackled Jared Wiley two yards short of a first down on fourth-and-nine to effectively end the game … I didn’t know how to react. CU … my CU … had won! It was not only a win against a ranked team, it was CU’s first win over a Top 20 team on the road since 2002!

These things just didn’t happen at Colorado!

— Against Nebraska, my belief system took another jolt. Yes, the Buffs took a 13-0 lead into halftime, but the lead could have been – should have been – much greater. Any Buff fan who lived through the five year gauntlet of torture against the Cornhuskers from 1996-2000 can relate (five losses … but a total of 15 points) … CU was not allowed to have nice things, and the 2023 game was going to be yet another example. This game was a great opportunity to take down the Corn, but it was being squandered.

It certainly looked that would be the case when Nebraska quarterback Jeff Sims took off on a 58-yard touchdown run on the Cornhuskers’ first possession of the third quarter, making it a 13-7 game. Instead of folding, though, Coach Prime’s Buffs took care of business, grinding the Corn into the ground for a 36-14 win before my disbelieving eyes.

— Against Colorado State, the Buffs appeared to be returning to their habit of disappointing the fan base. A 20.5-point favorites themselves this time, the Buffs found themselves down 11 to the Rams in the fourth quarter. A field goal made it a one-score game, but the Buffs were still down eight when they took over with just over two minutes to play and 98 yards of Folsom Field turf to cover. Even when Shedeur started leading the team downfield, I remained a disbeliever. Hadn’t this same team failed to punch it in for a touchdown despite having a first-and-goal at the four yard line just two drives earlier? If CU had a good goal line play to run, they would have used it … but then the Buffs scored … and got the two-point conversion to tie the game. The double-overtime celebration was muted, partially because it was 1:30 in the morning, and we were exhausted, and partially because I hadn’t been able to shift gears from we-have-no-chance-of-winning to we-just-won!

— Against Arizona State, the Buffs got off to yet another slow start. The Buffs were able to tie the game at 7-7 and 14-14 in the first half, but were never able to take the lead, with the 17-14 halftime score on the board heading into the fourth quarter. The Buffs seemed to be the Buffs again after taking a 21-17 lead, then setting up camp deep in ASU territory after a 51-yard punt by Xavier Weaver. Instead, the CU offense went three-and-out, settling for a field goal. What could have been a two-score game was now only 24-17, and, sure enough, the Sun Devils quickly marched down the field to tie the game. It seemed all but certain that the Buffs, who had only one win in Tempe against Arizona State, was destined for another meltdown in the desert. Instead, the Shedeur Sanders was able to find an inexplicably wide open Javon Antonio for a 43-yard gain, setting up Alejandro Mata’s game-winning 43-yard field goal. Once again, the Buffs were able to pull out a victory from the jaws of defeat … and I was again left dumbfounded as to how to deal with another emotional victory.

And now, the Buffs have brought us right back down to earth. The race to a 29-0 lead over Stanford was a thing of beauty. Coach Prime had said he was looking for a game in which the Buffs clicked on all three cylinders, and against the Cardinal in the first half, he got what he wanted. Offense, defense, and special teams were all in sync, and Colorado looked like a team, with Travis Hunter back in the fold, which could go places in the second half of the 2023 season.

Instead, disaster struck. Not only did the Buffs find a way to allow the Cardinal back into the game, but did so in morbidly frustrating ways. CU took the opening kickoff of the third quarter, and the offense resumed its fine play. Facing a fourth-and-two at the Stanford 45, though, the Buffs engaged in a bit of hubris. Rather than pinning an ineffective Stanford offense deep back into its own territory, the Buffs went for a first down. Not only was the attempt unsuccessful, but the sack of Shedeur Sanders gave Stanford the ball in CU territory.

Armed with fresh momentum, the Cardinal struck quickly, and the snowball began to roll downhill. CU’s next eight plays: 24 yards and two punts. Stanford’s next three plays: 157 yards and two touchdowns. In less than four minutes of game clock, the score had gone from 29-0 to 29-19.

The opportunities in the final 20 minutes of the contest for the Buffs to put the game away for good are too numerous – and too painful – to go over in detail.

What should have been a celebration of the program – 5-2 with a bye week ahead to relish the successes of the first half of the season – has quickly turned into a wake. You don’t have to be a long-standing Buff fan to remember the meltdown of the 2018 season … the Buffs were 5-2, and were ahead of Oregon State, 31-3, early in the third quarter. A sixth win and a bowl bid were all but assured, and CU fans were dreaming of loftier goals.

Instead, the Beavers rallied to beat the Buffs, 41-34 in overtime. The loss sent the team into a death spiral from which it didn’t recover. A 5-2 record turned into a 5-7 bowl-less finish, and Mike MacIntyre was shown the door.

With four ranked opponents in the final five games, a similar fate for the 2023 Buffs is not out of the question.

Can Coach Prime and the coaching staff right the ship over the bye week? Will the players somehow, someway, regain the swagger of the first half of the Stanford game – and the first half of the season?

Learning to drive a stick is not an easy proposition, especially when you have a vehicle which is unpredictable and stubborn.

And so it is with the 2023 Colorado football team …


13 Replies to “Driving a Stick”

  1. Interesting season so far and overall record better than expected which is a welcome change from last year. Lots of radical changes and also a lot of growing pains. Worst come from ahead loss in CU history is inexcusable though. Since Deion has never experienced an epic collapse of this type, perhaps he should get some advice from change management experts. Maybe Deion should reach out to someone like Saban, who he respects? How about Shedeur spending his halftime posting about merchandise sales? What message does this send to other players on the team? That they are all awesome and just by going out in the second half, they are going to automatically win? This fosters the mistaken attitude that CU has “arrived”. Instead, CU loses to the worst team in the Pac12 with Shedeur throwing a terrible interception at the end of the game. Feels like in game karma there. Can the Buffs find 2 more wins? It appears doubtful given where this team is currently with both tangibles and intangibles and the strength of the forthcoming opponents. It is time after 7 games and almost a year after Coach Prime was hired, to show an improving, focused, fundamentally sound team.

  2. Five games left. Season already a great start to the new era, despite the crazy, historic let down Friday night. Pac 12 is tough.

    Osu seems least likely to win.

    Then Utah, at least if rising plays, which it seems he wi by then.

    I think we can beat UCLA. They finally have a defense, but also a freshman qb.

    Wazzu and az are both winnable as well.

    Go Buffs

  3. Anyone else hear Shedeur say that he really doesn’t remember what was said at half in his presser? Then, find out his account is posting mech for sale? Too busy to pay attention and NOT ONE coach stopped him! Maybe the ones who “only like the game ” saw it too and are saying F it!

    1. I obviously don’t know, not being in the locker room, meetings etc. but I would be pretty surprised if anyone on this team or staff questions shedeur’s focus, preparation, work ethic and determination. He likely has a team pushing his merch etc. as well, vs him doing it all himself.

      One thing I did notice, however, but didn’t make much of it, was how Hunter interacted with the team while injured and on the sidelines, relative to viska, the last athletic freak CU had.

      Go Buffs

  4. Stuart,

    Great article and game summaries. I feel the same way. 6 exciting games already sort of makes the season a win in my book, bowl or no bowl. We have seen some awesome spans of play for this team–2nd half of USC too. Also, we have seen bad spans, and many fans know the deficient areas–trenches, running the ball, and the new defense.

    Rightfully, there is definitely some could-a, should-a, would-a reflections on Friday’s Stanford debacle. I think that the coaches will be kicking themselves for this game in particular. It has not been close to a perfect season but nobody thought that it would be either. I’m a glass half full guy, so my main take away from Stanford is that there will be some tough practices during the bye-week. We need to learn from the game, and flush it.

    No question, this is a much more talented team, however in many respects young and certainly inexperienced in playing together. Also, playing new systems. The Oline and lack of a blocking TE has really hurt CU. However, I do not think we are here (4-3), unless Prime blew up the prior team. Would it be nice to have Jake Wiley, Kaylin Moore, Nikko Reed, Na’im Rodman, Sami, and Casey Roddick (transfer before Prime announced) here absolutely, however the team and each player had to make the best decision for each, at the time it was made. Perhaps, some could be starting/playing significant snaps–however that is no guarantee either. Over the past 7 games, a ton of new players have stepped up– some showing us a lot, others showing glimpses, and all making mistakes.

    As the games progressed, after Oregon our opponents obtained enough film to figure out the specific areas to adjust and exploit. That is game-preparation football in a nutshell. CU has to address areas where they can and re-tool for the final five games. I do think we have a chance to beat any of those teams. @Utah will be toughest. One large difference in the ASU and Stanford games is the lack of turnovers enjoyed in previous games–IMO those will come back.

    The defense has taken a ton of heat, and rightfully so given the statistics. However, we have 11 guys on the field at any given time who have played precious little football together. Generally, a D install takes a year+. IMO, running the extreme up-tempo offense, requires the defense to be deep and play tons of guys even past the 2-deep, like 26-30 guys; unless the offense posts longer drives. However, that is our future offense and we have to build to do that.

    I could not imagine coaching a team with expectations and under a microscope/media storm that has so many newcomers. To put it mildly, the games have been a circus atmosphere. The bye will provide a good opportunity for some reconsideration, re-tooling, and revamping by the coaching staff working together in CU’s drive for 6+ wins. The coaches need to use the bye week to reevaluate, refine, and work on playing complementary football. This in addition to re-booting/re-energizing the players–get back to basics, intense practices, build more cohesion, more install, and completely re-focus. Some may need the time to get healthy too.

    A couple things that I noticed about TH in the Stanford game: TH looked like he was kicking the rust off on the defensive side; however on offense it looked like he completely mastered finding the soft-spot in zone coverage play-after-play. It sucks the Stanford game ended the way it did for TH, however those weeks away can be productive, as I think it showed on offense. Now healthy, he can use the bye to make him the #1 SD corner in the league.

    I do think Prime and CO. will recruit/transfer portal well in the off-season and the team will be much improved next season. I cannot wait to see offense 2.5-3.0; and defense 2.0-3.0; as the entire D and O installs are completed. Right now, I see some offense 2.0-2.5 in stretches, but 1.0 in other stretches–CU’s Oline is exposed.

    The defense is still very raw and some games the O totally sputtered early, so it is tough to decide what level they play on. I will say this, I have seen many guys step up on defense and make some strides; all the while making mistakes too. We have seen the D try many different combo’s to see what works. There are some new wrinkles each week. This is not a great defense by any means this year, however it is far more advanced than the Chris Wilson vanilla scheme that was just shredded the same way week-after-week. IMO, the defense will be much better next year, and may surprise us at times over the next 5 games too.

  5. The next five games will be a litmus test of Coach Prime’s ability to motivate…. can the Buffs become bowl eligible? It’ll certainly be interesting to watch (and the world will be watching).

  6. Better bring a bigger stick on defense.
    UCLA looks like they can be beat. After their non con tomato cans they are1-2.
    Buffs have proven they can win on the road so the game at AU is critical as well.
    Lose either one and the odds are pretty steep for a bowl.
    I dont think the waning Prime effect will have any effect there.
    The D and Kelly are going to have to figure out how to play for 60 minutes. Maybe he should play that old lewd blues tune “I’m a 60 minute man.”
    I know it would go against the hype but I would keep Travis on D and make him focus there.
    And puleeeeze put a little razzle into the run game. It doesnt have to be a bevy of reverses. Blocking schemes, ball fakes etc. You got a few more days now to practice it. Its not like some guys say its brain surgery and that its impossible to introduce new things during the season. The old ones aint worth moldy bread anyway.
    OK dont listen to me. Just do something!!! Right now all the opposing coaches have to do is look at the film of one game.

    1. UoA is a home game. Ore State too. UCLA and WSU are games CU might steal on the road. With WSU having two losses and facing @OR and @ASU, they may drop a few more games and perhaps we can catch them looking forward to the Apple Cup. This is another late game…

  7. Our defense is just as poor today as it was on opening day. The same thing can be said for the special teams, for lack of a pass rush, for poor kickers, for the inability to keep the QB on his feet ( I think he leads the country in getting sacked ) and the endless penalties including 12 men on the field.
    A bye week will not produce any significant improvement, I’m afraid. We have a great QB and wonderful pass receivers. We can score points. But we can not overcome the shortcomings of the rest of the team. If we are lucky, we may be able to steal 1 more win. We need lots of luck.

  8. Big time reality check for Hunter…lots of big bodied WR in the league, and he struggled (based on Saturday, he looks like a slot CB in the league, not outside). Terrible, terrible PF penalty too (leaders can’t do that PERIOD). Where is the Discipline?? I’m guessing that’s what coach is talking about re. love for the game.

    1. Pure hubris from sanders to leave him covering the same guy without help to get burned on ten quick slants in a row.

      Awful awful coaching

  9. Well put Stuart, couldn’t agree more. With that said, still 5 games remaining, rife with opportunities to sink, swim, fly or drown…it’s all on the table. All the hype and expectations aside…things have become real. Coach Prime time has come full circle in year one. Smart, fast, tough, disciplined with character? Well now’s the time Coach Prime.

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