Hits & Myths: CU vs KSU - an Ugly Loss is still a loss...right, NU?

A true sign of the apocalypse: Iowa State and Kansas State both won on the same Big XII Saturday, and they beat Nebraska and Colorado.  I'm guessing it's very cold and icy in hell right now.  Things are topsy-turvy in the Big XII North, and the Buffs missed a perfect chance to take advantage of it.  Another lackluster loss on the road leaves many of us to wonder whether these Buffs will ever find the corner, much less turn it as Coach Hawkins keeps promising.  Hardly anybody really minds "ugly wins", but everybody detests ugly losses, and CU's 20-6 loss to a mediocre Kansas State team is yet another flashback to nearly all of the other ugly road losses in the last four years to teams the Buffs had the talent to beat.

Next up is Missouri, a team that has embarrassed Colorado in the last two years to the tune of a combined score of 113-10.  The Tigers ended one of the longest scoring streaks in NCAA history last year when they shut out the Buffs 58-0 in Columbia.  Fortunately for the Buffs, these are not the same Tigers this year, as MU is already 0-3 in the Big XII.  There has never been a better opportunity to jump all over the Tigers, as this time it's a home game.  The Buffs CAN do it, but WILL they. 

THE HITS

1.  Defense steps up again.  -  The CU defense continued its trend of holding Big XII opponents well below their season average in points and yards.  On top of that, the staggering difference in field position between the two teams makes it remarkable that the Wildcats didn't score more than 20 points.  CU's average starting field position was their own 19-yard line, while K.State's average field position was their own 47-yard line.  In fact, in the first half, KSU's AFP was the 50-yard line. Considering that the Wildcats had the ball for eight offensive series in the first half; the Buffs' halftime deficit could have been much bigger if it were not for excellent play by their defense.

2.  Nebraska loses at home to Iowa State for first time in 32 years.  -  Misery loves company, especially when that company is the Huskers.  As disappointing as the Buffs were, consider how miserable Nebraska fans must be after watching their team lose to Iowa State on their home turf, where the number of Nebraska turnovers(8) was greater than the number of points the Huskers were able to score(7).  Admittedly, it's a sad state of affairs when NU losing is the only other "hit" that can be pointed to in looking for the positives in a Buff football weekend.  (By the way, we can also take delight that the football team from Miami U., the one in Ohio that jumped out of their scheduled game with the Buffs at the last minute, which led CU to have to play Toledo on a Thursday night, is 0-8 and ranked 118 out of 120 teams). 

THE MYTHS

1.  CU lost to a much-improved Kansas State team.  -  It would be easy to explain away the disappointing loss to KSU by claiming that the Wildcats are a much better team than people thought.  The truth is that KSU is still not a very good team.  Their wins were over U.Mass., Tennessee Tech, and the two predicted cellar teams of each Big XII division, Texas A&M & Iowa State; they also lost to 101st-ranked La.-Lafayette and a struggling UCLA.  Against Colorado, KSU had 80 yards in passing, a 33.4 yds/kick punting avg, 9 penalties, and a knack for squandering amazing field position. They had a full 7-minute advantage over CU in time of possession in the second half and couldn't do anything with it, going just as scoreless as the Buffs.  Perhaps both teams had their defenses playing at a higher level than their offenses, but that doesn't mean either team was playing at anything more than a mediocre level over all. 

2.  The season is over for the Buffs.  -  The race for the North title is not over for Colorado, as unlikely as that now seems.  While the Big XII may be up at the very top in basketball this year, it is notedly down in football.  OU & Texas Tech were shoving each other around in the Top Ten last year; this year they both already have three losses with 4-5 games still left.  And the North is by far the weakest division of the two.  Even with two Big XII losses already, CU still has the schedule-edge over its North rivals.  Three of the Buffs' five remaining games are at home, and one of the two away games is against Iowa State.  Only one future opponent is in the Top 40, though that team is #12 Okla.St.  If CU can beat all but OSU, Kansas St. must beat at least two out of their four remaining foes: OU, KU, MU & NU.  As favorable and possible as this scenario may seem, so far, there is little evidence to indicate that the Buffs can hold up their end of it.  If they can't find a way to eliminate sputtering performances from offense and special  teams, and can't find the glee in silencing fans in at least one visiting stadium, the Buffs will suffer yet another disappointing end to a football season, something that seems to exemplify the Hawkins era in Boulder.  The fact is that right now, Colorado is very much in the hunt, and, for the most part, only they can take themselves out of it.

3.  It's best for a college football player to stay even-keeled and keep emotion out of the game.  -  In theory, a philosophy of never getting too high from wins or too low from losses is a good way to stay focused and steady while a participant in the sporting life.  It can work well in a team sport like football when a team is playing well and winning most of their games.  It is a philosophy doomed to failure at some point when applied to college football players, and is a just plain bad idea whose time has passed when a team has largely forgotten how to win when they should.  18-22 year olds are full of emotion and passion, which can be channelled but not suppressed.  Every team has some players who are mostly even-keeled, some who are highly emotional, and those few who are reserved most of the time but who become beasts on the football field.  Among all of those sorts are leaders who can take charge in their own way on gameday.  Trying to make all of them act like the even-keeled group by stifling the more expressive players destroys the natural chemistry of your team.  When things aren't going well, that is the time, regardless of one's general philosophy, to seek out that emotion, to use each player's raw passion for the game of football to raise the level of play.  We can only pray that Coach Hawkins and his assistants will come to realize this before it's too late. 

THE FIXES

1.  KEEP HANSEN IN!  -  It looks like Tyler Hansen will start his third game in a row at quarterback, a position that requires supreme confidence and utmost leadership.  Pulling a quarterback out when it's two-minute drill time undermines his ability to retain those qualities.  It's like telling the lead actor they have the starring role in a TV show, then substituting the understudy when it's time to go on the air because the lead is not ready for prime time.  All one had to do is look at Hansen's face towards the end of the first half to see the combination of anger, sadness and frustration residing within because he was replaced perhaps when the offense needed him most.  Did the coaches forget what happened in CU's last two drives just the week before?  After sputtering for most of the second half against KU, the offense came alive in time to score the winning touchdown and then gain an important first down and use up 3 1/2 of the remaining few minutes to preserve a victory.  Those drives were led by and starred Tyler Hansen.  Knock off the indecision, work with Hansen on the two-minute drill like you're supposed to, and leave him in for all of the plays.  And for heaven's sake, use his God-given abilities by designing plays that allow him to "express himself" athletically.  He's the best option(hint! hint!) Colorado has.

2.  Players, Take It On Yourselves to Win!  -  There is a point that every team reaches in a season where the coaches have done almost all they can or are going to do to prepare the team for their games.  If things are working, the players can continue almost on their own like a well-oiled machine.  If things are not working, players have to decide for themselves that they are sick to death of losing and assert their will over their opponents.  For things to truly change, there must be a point at which a leader or group of leaders get everyone away from the coaches, stand up, and say "Enough!  We are better than this.  We must play better than this.  Nobody in this room leaves until each and every one of us commits to play their position to their utmost ability, to have each other's backs, and to never give up."  Colorado has the talent to beat Missouri this week.  The question is, do they have the will, the desire, the absolute determination to stop losing and start winning. 

3.  Stop Quitting on the Running Game!  -  At first glance, the 31 rushing attempts made by CU in the KSU game seem like a reasonable attempt at the running game.  However, 11 of those were by Hansen in plays that I'm betting were not designed running plays.  There were 16 handoffs to Rodney Stewart and 2 to Demetrius Sumler.  18 carries does not qualify as anything but quitting yet again on the running game.  I'm sure many are tired of hearing this same old mantra.  The facts from this season are these:  In three losses to teams CU could have expected to beat(CSU, Toledo, K.State), the Buffs running backs were handed the ball 16, 17 & 18 times respectively.  In the two victories, CU RBs carried the ball 42 and 31 times.  In two well-contested losses to Top 20 teams(W.Va & Texas), Buff backs ran the ball 28 times each game.  (Rushing attempts by Stewart tell the same story: 6, 0 & 16 in the losses; 32 & 24 in the Ws, & 21 against each of the Top 20 opponents.)  While there were more to the outcomes of those games than just rushing attempts, it seems that there is a correlation between well-played games and significant rushing attempts.  Handoff to a running back, preferably Stewart, 28+ times in a game and you give your team a chance to win.  Continue to give up on the rushers after a dozen and a half tries instead of fixing things, and you're giving up on your offense.

4.   Man Up!  -  Many posts this week have gone back and forth on whether it's CU's coaching or the playing that needs to improve for the results on the field to improve.  It's a lot of both.  One thing's for certain, it aint the fans, who came 51,000+ strong to watch a team with 1 win against 4 defeats play Kansas.  It will help the Buffs to be playing in the friendly confines of Folsom Field for the next two weeks.  But this problem with losing almost every away game is a symptom of a bigger problem.  Too often, the Buffs act tentative, which looks a lot like fear and insecurity.  It shows on the field and on the sidelines.  Coaches and team leaders need to start calling out the team as a whole, and even get on some individuals when it's clear that the fire isn't there.  Enough of the pats on the helmet and the nonchalance on the sidelines.  We need to see the coaches, esp. Riddle, Kiesau and Hawkins, get as fired up about stupid mistakes and lack of effort as Hawkins gets about bad calls by the refs.  Players, hold your teammates accountable!  Demand the best and you'll get the best.  Stop playing or allowing your team to play tentatively and have an attack attitude in everything you do.  Start your own revenge tour right now, because for the next five weeks you are playing teams you lost to last year, except for Iowa State, who you still owe for the last two losses in Ames.  And for crying out loud, man up against a Missouri team that has been beating the s**t out of you for two years.  While you're at it, punish Mizzou for wearing your team colors.  If CU wants to end 3 years of frustrating, humiliating losses, it is time to show Missouri, by deeds if not words, that IT IS ON!  GO BUFFS!!!   TEAR UP THE TIGERS!!!

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