Or, as I responded Saturday morning when all of my co-workers were giving me trouble and asking about the game: Wasn't that a great 9th-inning victory by those Rockies? or: What Game? All I want to do is change the subject, rather than talk (or write) about the Buffs. However, I'm loyal to CU, and I made a promise to some people, so here goes.
When the team you live and die with lets a MAC team put 54 points on them and loses by 16 points, it makes it difficult to start talking about positives. However, we Buff followers, having lived through the start of this season with the help of the nationally-renowned Ralphie Report Suicide Hotline, will move on, approaching the rest of the season with revamped expectations. And so...
1) Darrell Scott - While Demetrius Sumler was still the starter and carried the ball four times, #2 was the featured back with 12 carries and 85 yards in the first half. Sumler was no slouch with a 5-yard avg, but Scott's 7.1-yard avg showed that he needs to start and stay for a while. He also tallied 204 yards in kickoff returns, though unfortunately that came as the result of 8 kickoffs after Toledo scores. Here's hoping Darrell gets more carries as a running back and fewer opportunities to return kickoffs.
2) SPECIAL Teams - Perhaps the biggest weakness on CU's 2008 team has become the strength of the 2009 Buffs. Aric Goodman made 1 of 2 FGs and 5 of 5 PATs, and continued to boom his kickoffs. He also "converted" on an onside kick, bouncing the ball around well enough for Jeff Smart to make a recovery which led to a late CU TD. Matt DiLallo had two excellent punts out of his three with no touchbacks, and really shined on a 9-yard fake-punt run that gained a first down. On top of that, the punt team got its first turnover of the season, forcing a fumble which was recovered by Jimmy Smith. There was also Scott's 25.5-yard kickoff return average. With few exceptions, special teams were exceptional.
3) A budding offense? - While it remains to be seen whether it will be a match for any Big XII defenses this year, the offense gained valuable experience in what ended up as a game of two halves for them. The first half emphasized the rushing game with good results - 121 yards. Unfortunately, defensive breakdowns forced the offense into emphasizing the passing game in the second half. Besides showcasing the uncanny abilities of Scotty McKnight and Jason Espinoza to get open even when defenses know they're Cody Hawkins' favorite targets, it also allowed speedy 6-footer Anthony Wright the chance to gain valuable experience and a 42-yard reception. Another good sign is their red-zone efficiency: once they got there in the second half, the Buffs were a perfect 6 for 6 inside the Toledo 20.
1) CU once again gained too few rushing yards. - The statistics show only 95 net yards rushing for the game. Yet it's not just the inclusion of Cody's lost yardage from sacks that makes the stat misleading. When Toledo took the 2nd half opening kickoff and went 62 yards in six plays to make it 30-3, CU had no choice but to go with a passing offense the rest of the way. If things had gone better on the defensive side, the Buffs would have been able to stick with more of a ground game. Just by taking their first-half rushing results of 121 yards and matching them in the second half, CU ends up with a near-250-yard rushing effort. And who knows what Scott or Sumler could have done with twice the number of carries?
2) CU still doesn't have the athletes - Despite the reported surprise expressed by Toledo's coach about the disparity in talent between his Rockets and our Buffs, the Buffs are stacked with excellent athletes at most positions. I would put such athletes as Scott, Stewart, Pericak, Deehan, Miller, Givens, Bonsu, West, Rippy, Wright, Polk and Adkins(not to mention the soon-to-be-back Simas, Kasa and Tuioti-Mariner) up against the athletes on any team in America. The problem is two-fold: they are woefully inexperienced, and there are some positions where they are not so stacked. Notice that every name mentioned above is a sophomore or freshman, and all of them have litlle or NO experience playing college football. CU has some great athletes that could have been included above in the junior and senior classes, and some brilliant and feisty overachievers in every class, but they are relying on rookies or near-rookies to a huge degree.
3) There are just a few things that need fixing on defense - I'm sure you can figure out who I'm paraphrasing here. When a defense allows 54 points to Toledo and makes Aaron Opelt look like Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford all wrapped up in one Heisman-like package, there are more things that need to be fixed than plugging a few gaps and mending some broken coverages. Apparently, this is what can happen with a new Defensive Coordinator and 8 new starters on defense. Which leads me to...
There are a lot of possibilities here, but it's late and we're both tired of talking about this game, so I'll make this relatively brief.
1) Figure out a way to start fast - Whether it's playing the recorded pre-game/half-time speeches of Bill McCartney, smearing jockstraps with a combination of IcyHot and habanero sauce, or filling bellies with caffeine or other legal stimulants, do something that gets everybody firing on all cylinders from the get-go. For two weeks in a row, CU has come out like Rip Van Winkle and ended up all but out of the game by halftime. They've won the second half of both games; it's time to win the first half, too.
2) Apply pressure on defense - One sack and no interceptions isn't going to get it done. With inexperience on the line and at the safety position, the answer in my book is a lot of nickel and dime defenses using every cornerback on the team. These packages are not only the best to use when you are giving up too many long passing plays and bursts up the middle, but they can be the best ones to use when you want to surprise-blitz a team to death. Alternate your fastest/quickest guys on the team to crash the offense's party. The risk is great, but look at what's already happening.
3) Embrace lowered expectations - After the first two losses, everybody's expectations obviously are lowered, so why not save your sanity and lower your blood pressure by embracing them. This goes for the team, too. It's clear that the Buffs wont be winning 10 games, so they should go into every game with a chip on their shoulders, mad at the world. Circling the wagons and proclaiming its US vs THEM(including the media and the fans) has worked for many teams over the years, including Buff teams who have produced some of CU's best seasons. Without the heightened expectations they had at the beginning of the season, the CU Football team has everything to gain and nothing to lose.
4) Make some changes - The one change that first comes to mind already has been well-expressed by many and is bound to happen sooner rather than later. Since I have no ability to effect that change, I'll recommend other ones. Give Tyler Hansen a try. Cody Hawkins performance Friday night was nothing short of courageous. He is as tough a football player as I have seen. But if for no other reason than for Cody's health and safety, play Tyler this week and just see what he can do. His feet alone are a perfect supplement to establishing a running game, and many believe he now has the capability to be one of CU's real playmakers. Try trips or quads every now and then with Simas, Simmons and Wright in there every time. Make a concerted effort to get the ball to Brian Lockridge at least once every offensive series. On defense, see 2) above, and try sending everybody a couple of times. Start putting buff stickers on helmets for every TD, turnover, sack, tackle for loss or blow-up play. Let your assistant coaches call plays on both sides once in a great while. Remember, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT, BECAUSE MOST OF WHAT YOU'RE DOING ISN'T WORKING! GO BUFFS!!!