When Baylor's offense is on the field, there are two Griffins playing: QB Robert Griffin III and right guard R.T. Griffin. There were times last Saturday at Folsom Field when there seemed to be a third Griffin playing, including a fast-as-lightning RB named Finley who ran like a Griffin and thus complemented the lightning-fast QB who was the actual Griffin and who often ran like a running back. And yet one got the feeling after the first half lead and during the course of the contest that Colorado was the better team, and could win if they would avoid mistakes and engage in inspired play. Instead, CU's offense not only ended their first drives in each half with a turnover, but seemed totally unimpressed and uninspired by the three turnovers produced by the Buff defense. The two fumbles and one interception resulted in a total of only 6 points for Colorado.
None of that would have mattered if the Men in Black & White hadn't botched a call on perhaps the key play of the game. Will Jefferson's great slash up the middle in the 3rd quarter ended at the Baylor 1 where he hit the ground, then the ball came loose. In person, it looked obvious that he was down before the ball came out, but an official ruled it a fumble into the end zone. This crew never reversed a call all night, so the poor call on the field wasn't going to be reversed even if there was a perfect angle available on replay, which there wasn't. The replays available never showed the ball away from Jefferson until after he had hit the ground with one side of his body and then rolled onto his other side, yet no reversal came. Baylor started at their own 20 and marched 80 yards in five plays for a TD that gave them their first lead of the game. The 14-point swing changed the game.
After losing a very winnable game at home, the Buffs still find themselves halfway to a bowl game halfway through the season. Though the Buffs are still looking for their first road win in Big XII North territory since 2005, they have three quite winnable games at home, including this week's game against a Texas Tech team that has never won in Boulder and is a below-average version this year, plus a road game against their weakest opponent of the year(Kansas). CU also has two road games against teams in OU & NU that a week ago seemed unstoppable. While the former still seems that way today, the latter not only was stopped by Texas on Saturday, but now has to question which quarterback can lead them to the division title after the Longhorns chased Taylor Martinez out of the game. Nebraska seems to be playing better on the road than at home this year, and the Buffs in the past decade have played most of their best games against the Huskers in Lincoln. With a lead up of two good wins, two terrible losses, and a split on two games that were each a tale of two halves, the second half of the season is so wide open that fans could get a surprise every week, though not every surprise may be a pleasant one. Whether or not the Buffs' second half of the 2010 season is a success, the die has been cast for a happy ending in more than one way, as Colorado will head into the new PAC12 a changed team and a South Division member.
Hits, Myths(incl. "The season is over, we're doomed!" & "Now is the time to let Hawkins go.") and Fixes after the jump.
1. Wide Receivers in the Running Game. I and half of the fan base have been clamoring for the Transfer Trio of Clemons, Patterson and Richardson to get more touches, as two of them are big, physical threats and all three of them are fast and talented. It took halfway through the season, but the threesome got 14 touches. Throw in the pre-arranged participation of Jefferson, and the Buffs got 237 all-purpose yards out of their four most talented receivers not named Scotty McKnight. Of those yards, 76 were rushing yards that came from 10 touches, or 7.6 yards per carry for the Fab Four. It would have been good to see more of that later in the game, especially more carries for Jefferson, who had a 9-yard average, but his supposed fumble apparently put off the coaches, who only gave him one more carry the rest of the second half.
2. Special Teams was the right kind of special. Perhaps there was finally a wake-up call for the coaches, or maybe it was a newfound focus by the players, but the Special Teams were excellent on Saturday. While we're still waiting for a return specialist to take one to the house, Grossnickle had a 44.7-yard punt average, the shortest kickoff return(29 yds) for Colorado was longer than the longest kickoff return(28 yds) for Baylor, there were no turnovers, and Aric Goodman made both of his field goals, including a 45-yarder. With the glaring exception of the two-point attempt on the first score of the game (who does that?), special teams played perhaps their best game of the season.
3. Effort there every play. Even when the offense couldn't capitalize on Baylor's mistakes, and even when the defense couldn't figure out how to stop the 80th bubble screen of the game, there was never a lack of effort. On every play, CU football players were making an effort. There have been a number of games in the past, even this season, where that hasn't been true. I attribute much of that to maturity and to leadership both from within and without the team. Many from CU's football past have made an impact this year when the team has needed it most; let's hope that continues the rest of this season and, hopefully on a much grander scale, on into the future.
1. The season is over, we're doomed! It's always tough to lose to Baylor, no (alright, a little) disrespect intended. Perhaps the idea of losing to Baylor at home after defeating an SEC team at home seems too absurd, especially when coupled to a "blowshut" (a word I made up for a blowout shutout - I like that it sounds like "bullsh*t", because it is) loss to Missouri the week before. Now nobody can bear to watch anymore, every game seems bleak, the season is over, blah, blah, blah. Come on, CU fans! Halfway in, CU is 3-3. A show of virtual hands, how many of you really thought it would be better than that after Colorado played Cal, Georgia and Missouri? October was always going to be a tough month this year, and November just the opposite. Looking ahead, remember that Kansas, Iowa State and Kansas State all beckon like weak and willing women of the night that is November. The season ends with the chance to pay back Nebraska one more time for all the decades of abuse. Now, without a drop of drank, how many of you really think we can't find three victories in the Big XII North this year? I'm not guaranteeing it by any stretch, but doesn't it look like a real possibility? Whatever happens, I believe it will be worth the ride that is college football.
2. We're finally getting Clemons & 'Sons all of the touches CU needs. It was really good to see all of those receivers getting more touches through the air and on the ground last Saturday, but was it enough? Obviously not if we didn't get the W. Clemons, the vocal and natural leader of the group, needs to get a lot more than the five touches he got against Baylor. Every time he touches the ball, he looks like he... could... go... all... the... way. Same story with Richardson, whose own five touches began to reveal just how much talent is about to bubble over and into the limelight. Four touches is not enough for Patterson and his blazing speed, and Jefferson's quick bursts upfield ought to earn him more than four carries. The real travesty is that Clemons & 'sons are not getting the receptions in open space that would give them an advantage over nearly every defensive backfield in the Big XII. CU needs these guys to double their touches, and some of that is up to them to make the most of their opportunities. A lot of it is up to Tyler Hansen and the coaches to make sure the Fab Four get those opportunities.
3. Now is the time to let Hawkins go. When it comes to writing about the Hawkins era coming to a close, I am resolute in my belief that such discussion is most appropriate at the end of the season. I have my opinion just as anyone else does, and a little reading between the lines clearly reveals that opinion. I have simply chosen to make the tone of this column optimistic, and to seek to have the majority of the content constructive. Not only is enough already being said on the subject elsewhere, but dwelling on the question of whether the head coach should be fired seems to me to be destructive to the team as a whole in the middle of the season.
Nevertheless, there has been a huge amount of commentary not only in comments on websites and blogs but in print and broadcast media, about taking immediate actions. Along those lines, whether or not it is a foregone conclusion that Hawkins will be leaving soon, I think it would be a mistake to fire him or any coach in the middle of the season. It would be throwing away a season that young men have worked hard to prepare for since last November, a season which might still bring pride, attention and revenues to the University and its alumni and supporters. It would also disrupt and betray the players, some of whom are among the very best student-athletes in the country, to the point that we might lose many more of them, as well as lose recruits who have already committed to the university. (Yes, some of that happens anytime you change coaches, but timing is everything in establishing trust with players and recruits.) It would also mean trying to recruit a new coach in the middle of a season many are already involved in, eliminating the best candidates from consideration. (What is the point of doing the deed early if you aren't trying to get a jump on filling the position?) If a coaching change is to happen, it should occur at the conclusion of the regular season(barring a championship game). This gives closure to the players, especially the seniors, opens up the position to virtually every coach out there, and, assuming a relatively quick search and hire, gives the new coach a good amount of time to do some recruiting but mainly to hold on to those who have already made a committment. It's how it's usually done, and there are reasons it is usually done that way.
1. Have the same confidence in the passing game that you (mostly) do in the running game. With the exception of a big hiccup in Columbia, the coaches and players seemed to have committed to a strong running game as a necessity since the second half of the Hawaii game. Now that there seems to have been success with the rushing attack, it's time to establish the same commitment to the passing game to create a truly balanced offense. This means giving Hansen the green light on throwing downfield. Now I've heard the excuses about protection problems, but Hansen seems perfectly capable of escaping from most every predicament. He has the talent at wide receiver to throw to, and the team needs that talent to get into open space. Colorado is still in the bottom half of the Big XII in yards per pass at 6.2; with Clemons and 'Sons on the roster we should be much better. Calling for the vertical game more often will give Hansen and his receivers confidence, experience and success.
2. Accentuate the Positive and Learn from your Successes. It's always a good idea when trying to improve to learn from your challenges and failures. Sometimes, coaches and players dwell so much on the mistakes made that they fail to learn from the successes. A perfect example is keeping the ball away from Jefferson after his supposed fumble, forgetting that he was rushing at a 9.0 yard per carry clip. Also, now that Grossnickle's punts are booming and aren't being returned as often, let him keep that up and consider abamdoning the rugby kick that has allowed longer returns. Don't take so long to use the plays that the set-up plays are designed to set up, including the option plays and end-arounds, that keep the defense off-balance. This does not mean to try two-pointers anytime you feel like it just because it worked once.
3. Come up with Special Teams trickery (except for 2-point tries on 1st half TDs). When is the last time we tried to run a fake punt or field goal? What are we saving them for, or do we not have any such plays? There has never been a better time to run a fake field goal than now, when we have three potential kickers who might trot out there to kick one, and little confidence in any of them. Yes, the opposition might be a little more guarded when they know we know our kickers have trouble, but without a true and absolute regular, we could send almost anybody out there and the'd assume it was a kicker. As for punts, Grossnickle(6'2") and Castor(6'3") are pretty big kids who look like they could take off and make some yards. Anytime we're thinking of kicking on the opposition's side of the field, we should at least consider a fake. We need some special teams magic. It's time we're the ones keeping the other team off balance(except for 2-point tries on 1st half TDs). GO BUFFS! PLAY SMART, PLAY TOUGH AND ALWAYS PLAY TO WIN!! BEAT TEXAS TECH LIKE A RED RAIDER STEPCHILD!!!