Quarterback Sefo Liufau had a record-breaking season last year under center for the Colorado Buffaloes. The sophomore captain set school records for total offensive yards (3,336), passing yards in a season (3,200), touchdown passes in a season (28) and TD’s in a game (7). By these numbers, the Buffs should have much to look forward to on offense in Liufau’s upcoming junior season. Another year of experience along with maturity helps the Buffs towards their quest to be contenders in the Pac-12 Conference. After suffering through the days of former coach Jon Embree to now rebuilding under Mike MacIntyre, the Buffs have an agonizing 4-32 record since joining the conference in 2011.
Despite finishing 2-10 in 2014 and 0-9 in conference games, the Buffs have the potential of an historic turnaround from the worst season in school history. Last year was the first time CU had a winless conference schedule in the football program’s 99-year history. Liufau knows better days are ahead for the Buffs in the 2015 season and the effort starts with him. He was 4th in pass completions (325) and 7th in pass attempts (498) among FBS quarterbacks last season but was haunted by 15 interceptions- the most by any QB in the Pac-12 and tied for 10th in FBS. On multiple occasions, poor execution, over-thrown passes and misread plays in coverage all accounted for the critical mistakes made by Liufau. He knows some could have been avoided, "Obviously, I set every record last season but it came with the interceptions. I just want to work on the turnovers and be on the same page as the receivers with better timing. It’s not my fault but personally it’s always my fault, because I’m the one with the ball all the time making the decisions."
Some of those poor decisions were costly for the Buffs on offense. Only one interception Liufau committed was thrown on the opponent’s side of the field and two of them were returned for touchdowns. One-third of those turnovers came in the fourth quarter and three times during game-deciding drives against Cal, UCLA and Utah. The short field position given up to opponents resulted in a total of 69 points on ensuing possessions by the Buffs defense, who gave up the 10th most points in FBS in 2014 (468). A total team effort on both sides of the ball can help Liufau become a more efficient quarterback. Buffs radio host for flagship 850 KOA, Justin Adams, believes better defensive play is necessary for Liufau’s success. "One of the best ways to protect your QB and assist his growth is to have a solid defense. Sefo doesn’t have to go into the game having to score 35-40 points to win."
The defense has shown significant progress in spring ball under newly hired defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt but will face difficult games during the season against Pac-12 foes. The entire conference became tougher with the other five teams in the Pac-12 South finishing last season being ranked in the Top 25. Leavitt gives the Buffs a better outlook this season and is on board with rebuilding process for Macintyre. CU was ranked 122nd on defense in FBS and dead last in conference. On the other side, Liufau and the Buffs offense were ranked 59th overall in FBS and 8th in the Pac-12. The Buffs could become multi-dimensional with advancements in their running game. Having a balanced attack would take pressure away from committing turnovers and help control the battle for time of possession.
The best running back in CU history knows the value of having a proficient game out of the backfield. Heisman Trophy winning rusher Rashaan Salaam has observed the Buffs through the rebuilding process and says patience is the answer. "I’ve watched this team and they’ve became more competitive until the end of games. Be patient with Coach MacIntyre and the system that is in place. To have an outstanding running game, it takes pressure off Sefo and keeps the defense honest. He needs to work through the mistakes and being young. The team needs to become a family and have each other’s backs on the field. It starts with everyone but especially Sefo, who’s the true leader and face of the team."
CU currently has six running backs on the roster including returning players Christian Powell, Phillip Lindsey and Michael Adkins, who all had an impact last year with a combined 1,237 yards and 7 touchdowns. If the Buffs can become more reliant on their running game and keep the defense off the field, the close games that were lost last season will become manageable in this season. Coach MacIntyre had the same assessment of the Buffs and the direction he sees the offense going. "One of things is for our defense to play better and not put Sefo under so much pressure to keep moving the ball down field and to keep scoring. When you get up and you score as many points as we’ve had, he gets the chance to hand it off for a while. We don’t have to put as much pressure on him and that will cut down on the interceptions alone."
Two things specifically that Liufau plans to improve on in this offseason are "Making better decisions in the deep pass game when the first or second read isn’t open and carrying out fakes in the run game to impact the defense."
The main receiving threat that will help Sefo this season is returning senior Nelson Spruce. After setting or tying 20 school records last season, Spruce want to try and break those records again this season with Liufau. "We want to build on last year and there’s no reason why we can’t. We’ve built a really good chemistry with each other."
It’s going to take more than a deep core of wide receivers for the Buffs offense to be effective going forward. The lack of production from the tight end position has been a struggle for many years and junior Sean Irwin is the only player currently on the Buffs’ roster with any game experience. Two-time Super Bowl champion and former Colorado tight end, Daniel Graham, knows the Buffs could find success by utilizing their tight ends at a greater capacity. "The tight end has become a real dominant force on the offensive side of the ball. You see a lot of the good teams now in the NFL, have a dominant tight end and with that it opens up the rest of your offense. You have to account for that person and it opens up the receivers to get one-on-one coverage, the backs come out of the backfield to get single coverage or mismatches. It’s a struggle when you don’t have a tight end to create mismatches for your offense."
An offense complete with well-rounded weapons gives the Buffs options and something that Graham thinks Liufau will gain confidence from. "The whole unit on offense needs to get more confidence in themselves when they’re going out there running their plays. As a quarterback, he has to understand that he’s a leader with his reads and progressions."
One thing that helped Liufau become a better quarterback was attending the Manning Passing Academy last year. He said it "Prepared him for the season and he learned a lot from the Manning’s style." Academy coach and NFL great, Archie Manning was impressed by Liufau. "Sefo mixed well with other college quarterbacks. He's a great kid. Our campers really liked him and he was a delight to have."
Sefo hopes to be a participant in the academy again this year but is extremely excited to be competing against the best quarterbacks in the nation. It’s not unimaginable to see the Buffs gaining momentum in their rebuilding process. The goal of returning to a bowl game and ending the nearly decade-long drought is very possible. Another season with Liufau as starter gives the Buffs a great shot towards that goal but the team must come together as one to make it happen.