OK, so Octobertest started out about like we thought it would. The Buffs stayed close to the Mountaineers on the scoreboard for three quarters, but as the clock was winding down near the end of the final quarter, the Buffs found themselves down by three scores. So are we encouraged, discouraged, a little of both, or something else by the 35-24 loss to a good team? I think I'm ready for a beer already. (I'll tell you what kind at the end of this
column story slightly organized series of meanderings.)
Before we address the potential horror of facing the #2 team in the country next Saturday (the horror is potential; the game in Austin is definite), let's take a look at what was good and bad about a matchup that was close for three quarters but which seemed, even after the first quarter-and-a-half, that it would inevitably result in a loss. We can take some small solace in the fact that CU at least beat the spread. Next Saturday, not so much. Until then...
1) Tight Ends - In a game where only two wide receivers caught the ball, and one of those caught only two passes, it was good to see our two most experienced tight ends, Riar Geer and Patrick Devenny, get their share of passes, too. And they did well with them. Geer caught 7 passes for a 12.7-yd average, while Devenny caught 4 for a 14.3-yd average, both higher than the yard-per-pass averages of Scotty McKnight and Markques Simas. And Geer's average would have gone way up if Cody Hawkins had been able to connect with him on a certain long TD pass in the first half. Their efforts were largely resposible for keeping the game within reach.
2) Staying Close - Despite the 11-point spread at the end of the game, the Buffs were barely outscored in only two quarters. Granted, the last CU touchdown was scored with 3 seconds left in the game when Simas caught his first collegiate TD pass, and the Buffs were 18 points behind before that catch. Nevertheless, CU never stopped fighting, and that is always a good sign.
3) The Buffs Are Healthy - Going in to the West Virginia game, the Buffs had three previously-injured players who were probables for the game: Max Tuioti-Mariner, Nick Kasa and Darrell Scott. Kasa and Scott played, albeit sparingly, and it sounds like Max could have played if they needed him. From what I've heard, there were no serious injuries coming out of the West Virginia game. While a few injuries are bound to occur, the fact that everybody is available may eventually produce an advantage over some less-fortunate Big XII teams(too bad they don't have a chance to upset an injury-plagued Oklahoma team again). Having Kasa back in the mix has come just in time, with the D-Line's loss of Lagrone Shields. Kasa is a stud with strength and speed, and will prove so in a game any minute now. Which leads to...
1) The Buffs Don't Have the Team Speed - It is believed to be common knowledge, judging by the number of times the subject comes up in posts and articles, that the Buffs as a team are too slow. Watching Noel Devine zoom through holes down the field and into the end zone made commentators everywhere shake their heads at how much faster he was than the defenders. Folks, Mr. Devine makes most of the football world look slow; he came out of high school with a 4.3 time in the 40. Both he and a Mr. Pat White looked awfully fast against all of their opposition in 2008, yet the Buffs figured out a way to beat them then, and I don't recall hearing a lot of noise about the Buffs team speed after that win. Defensive end Kasa was able to run a 4.6 40 out of high school while weighing upwards of 250 lbs. That's just one example; CU has plenty of team speed. What the Buffs stlll struggle with at times is being out of position too often and not making the plays when they are in position. And they need to be coached into playing fast.
2) The Game Was Not As Close As It Looked - Too many times, one reads or hears that phrase in reference to a relatively close football game. The fact of the matter is that a game can turn on just a handful of plays. When I said at the outset that the game "seemed, even after the first quarter-and-a-half, that it would inevitably result in a loss...", I didn't mean it was over by then. The first quarter-and-a-half was when the team squandered too many opportunities to put the game away. If Aric Goodman goes 3-for-4 on FGs, as he did up until the W Va game, instead of 1-for-4, the Buffs have 6 more points. If Hawkins and Geer connect on the long pass in the first quarter, the Buffs have 7 more points. And if the CU defense, or, in one case, offense, picks up one of those four Mountaineer fumbles and returns it for a TD, OR if the offense capitalizes on just one of the four recoveries with a touchdown, the Buffs have another 7 points. If the Buffs had not left 20 points on the field in the first half and had walked back out onto Mountaineer Field to start the second half with a lead of 30-14, do you think the game might have turned out differently? That's the difference two kicks, one pass and one defensive play can make in a game. No, the game was not as close as it looked; it was closer. It reminded me a lot of the 2007 game against Arizona State, only the Buffs made it closer in this one with a TD in the last 3 seconds.
3) This was the Buffs best effort, by far - You probably recognize that the last half of that is from a quote made after the game. There is no doubt he was talking only about the '09 team, and little question that West Virginia is the most talented team CU has faced so far. I'm just not sure how that opinion makes sense when one looks closely at each phase of the game. On offense, Colorado barely managed 100 yards rushing, had to pass 54 times and ended up with a 50% completion rate and 3 interceptions. On defense, the Buffs only managed 2 pass break-ups and no interceptions against an inexperienced and mistake-prone QB, while allowing West Virginia 5 TDs, 3 of which came on long plays. And outside a good kickoff return team and good kick coverage, the special teams play was poor. Goodman missed 2 FGs from inside the 50 and was unable to boot any of his kickoffs into the end zone for a touchback. DiLallo had one of his worst days with a 31-yd punt average. The punt return team continues to run into each other instead of gaining any significant yards. I'll take the Wyoming game as the best effort so far - while the offense produced the same points in each game, it was more balanced, and the defense & special teams played much better. And then there's that somewhat important W that came at the end of that game.
1) Special Teams Need to be Special - There needs to be a re-emphasis by the coaches in this area. The good news is that there's a solid foundation. They have made few mistakes and no turnovers. We need to get better blocking or better return schemes, especially on kickoffs, where both Scott and Brian Lockridge have shown that thay are quite capable of taking one to the house. We need to surprise some teams by blocking some punts, and rock their returners while forcing some fumbles.
2) Get More Wide Receivers Involved - Hawkins-to-McKnight is a great connection, but when that connection has 9 of the 11 completions to a wide receiver, something is wrong. (Admittedly, one of the things that was wrong was that Andre Simmons and Anthony Wright were both apparently recovering from injuries.) Simas is now initiated into the TD Club, and there should be some privileges, as in more passes thrown his way. It's time to have a now-healthy Simmons & Wright inducted into the Club as well. And while we're at it, let's get Lockridge more than 2 touches in a game(he had no catches last Thursday). The passing game can no longer be anemic now that we're in the "regular season". Most importantly, find a way for the ball to actually get to where the receivers are, even if it means changing QBs.
3) Again, Don't Give Up On The Running Game - Watching Rodney Stewart anxiously waiting on the sidelines for several plays after he had rushed for almost 100 yards in the first half alone was almost as frustrating to me as it seemed to be for Stewart. And it was eerily similar to watching Scott doing the same in the Toledo game after gaining almost 80 yards in the first quarter of that game. We all understand that a player has to rest, but they're in good enough shape that a play or two ought to do it, especially in the first half of the game. And where does the rushing game go in the second half? Even if we're behind, it can't go away completely. Remember, Coach Kiesau, balance is still the key, and you need to play to your strengths.
4) Get That Aggressive Swagger, Defense - We glimpsed that aggression against Wyoming, and the fumble recoveries against W Va began to introduce some swagger. It's time to start batting some balls and grabbing some interceptions, and we're going to need some "Pick Sixes" and other defensive touchdowns if we're going to pull any upsets this season. As much as I hate to say it, we're going to need to pull upsets plural to have even a .500 season, considering that five of our remaining eight games are against teams now ranked in the Top 25. It's obviously not enough to snatch a turnover and hand it over to your offense; you're going to have to do some of the scoring yourself. The best teams do that.
5) Start the Trickery - When the line is showing your team to be the biggest underdog of the weekend at 31 1/2 points, it's time to break out the trick bag. Besides playing sound and near-perfect football against Texas, CU has got to do what the Longhorns don't expect. Almost everybody will be outmatched against Texas this year, but that doesn't mean they can't be beat. CU needs to use more misdirection in their running game AND on defense. They also need to be organized and skilled enough to go with quick counts to catch Texas offguard and trick counts to pull then offsides. The Buffs also need to use actual trick plays. Don't save all of them for Nebraska. It's not every day that you get a shot at the #2 team in the country. Let's see some of that Boise trickery.
6) (I know... a 6th point? Really?) GET MAD! - The other big thing that should happen when your 31 1/2-point underdogs is that it should piss you off, Buffs! I know it pisses me off! Now, your coach has said that learned sport psychologists don't believe it helps to use "extrinsic motivation" as a tool with football players. On this point, Buffs, it's time to ignore your coach. I wonder if these learned people have been involved as a player in team sports before. Disrespect is a HUGE motivator. Why, in this age of internet, Powerpoint and LEDs, do you think there are still bulletin boards in every locker room in every team sport at every level? For "bulletin board material", of course.
***THE FOLLOWING IS A BULLETIN DIRECTED TO ALL COLORADO BUFFALOES FOOTBALL PLAYERS*** Do you younger Buffs know that in 2005, Texas beat us 70-3? And that, while the Longhorn coaches were running up the score in the 4th quarter, a Longhorn defender cheap-shotted our QB, Senior Joel Klatt, injuring him so badly that he couldn't play in his last game as a Buff in the bowl game? And that Longhorn coaches and fans disrespected one of your teammates, Darrell Scott, when Scott chose CU over Texas? Did you know that we fans hate the Longhorns more than any team except the Huskers? And did you know that the Longhorns are favored by 31.5 points over you, and they will therefore be overlooking you because they don't really respect you, and because their very next game is against their least favorite team, Oklahoma? Doesn't that make you mad, Buffaloes?
GO BUFFS!!! STAMPEDE THE STEERS!!! AND SOMEBODY HAND ME A SIX-PACK OF BUFFALO GOLD!!!