The Colorado Buffaloes are off to their best start in 20 years. They haven’t played any good teams — CU’s opponent’s have a combined 1-16 this season — but 4-0 is 4-0 and they deserve to ranked 21st in the nation. (OK, but seriously it’s really bad that those four teams have combined for one (1) win. CU really thought these teams would be decent when they released their schedule, but oh my goodness each has been a disaster.)
Much of Colorado’s success has been due to their dominance in the 2nd half in each game. Apart from their blowout of New Hampshire in which they put in backups in the third quarter, you could argue each game was decided by halftime adjustments. We can take a look at all three games.
Notable 1st half stats: 16 first downs on 35 total plays, 145 passing yards allowed
Notable 2nd half stats: 10.5 yards per play in 3rd quarter, 36 passing yards allowed in all of second half
The Rocky Mountain Showdown was 28-10 at halftime and likely already over, but considering the Rams had just come back from a 30-point third quarter deficit against Hawai’i, the Buffs still needed to finish. More so than they did in the first half, the Buffs came out of the break hellbent on capitalizing on the team’s sizable advantage in team speed. After having a more methodical approach in the first 30 minutes, Mike MacIntyre let Laviska Shenault and Travon McMillian run free. The 196 yards and two touchdowns they had in the third quarter alone turned this game into a blowout. And on the defensive side, the Rams were still dangerous with their superb trio of receivers, but the Buffs adjusted by playing a deep zone and letting Mustafa Johnson and company bust through a porous offensive line. Any chance CSU had at a comeback was sniffed out and batted down.
Notable 1st half stats: 4.1 yards per play (not good), 243 rushing yards allowed
Notable 2nd half stats: 13.8 yards per pass to Laviska Shenault, 86 rushing yards allowed
Colorado quickly went up 14-0 on the Nebraskans after two early turnovers were converted into scores. But after that, the first half belonged to Nebraskansa. Perhaps it was because CU didn’t have any game tape on them and didn’t know how freshman QB Adrian Martinez would play, but the Buffs couldn’t contain him at all. The Huskers’ o-line was also carving up space for Greg Bell to rumble for big gains. Compounded with the CU offensive line collapsing, this game wasn’t nearly as close as the 21-17 score appeared.
But with the Buffs’ halftime adjustments, being close was all that mattered. The CU’s o-line continued to get blown up, but Darrin Chiaverini called quick passes and let Montez pick apart the Nebraskansas secondary even whilst running for his life (Shenault makes things easy for him). The offense was finally able to get moving, and though they did stall and suffer from missed field goals, they were putting up points.
The defense, meanwhile, significantly altered their gameplan at the point of attack. Where the defensive line had been stunted and the linebackers swept up at the next level, the Buffs were much more aggressive at the line of scrimmage, and they got enough push for Nate Landman and others to stifle the Nebkansas rushing attack. The pace of play also picked up in the second half and the Buffs were better prepared to take away the passing game. After Shenault’s go-ahead score, CU just went into prevent defense and let Nkansas run out of time.
Notable 1st half stats: Buffs 44% possession, 191 yards allowed (CU had just 196)
Notable 2nd half stats: Buffs 71% possession, 42 passing yards allowed
Pegged as heavy favorites over an 0-3 opponent, Colorado struggled to a meager 14-13 lead going into halftime. The first half Buffs lacked explosiveness and flow. Steven Montez was solid and did find Laviska Shenault for a 57-yard touchdown, but aside from those two (and a ridiculous catch by Jay MacIntyre that didn’t count), the Buffs were mostly mediocre offensively. Colorado dominated the second half with a terrific run game and explosive plays from Montez and the boys. CU didn’t really alter their strategy, though, and it seems most of their success came from UCLA’s fatigue. But even that is part of the Buffs’ greater gameplan as they’re a deep offense that plays at a ridiculous pace. They know that they can rotate platoons of quality players and just wait for the defense to get tired. Once UCLA lost a step, the Buffs could roll through them however they wanted. The only reason the Buffs didn’t put up better numbers than they did was because as was the case against CSU and UNH, there was no need to do anything more than drain the clock.
On the defensive side, the Buffs fared alright in the first half, but they were still getting gashed by Joshua Kelley and Dorian Thompson-Not-Brett-Hundley-Robinson. It wasn’t like they were being dominated by UCLA as they had been by Nebraska, but they still let the worst offense in Pac-12 hang around. Once the Buffs’ offense was ignited and finally built a decent lead, the Bruins were easy to stop when they were forced to pass. Defensive coordinator DJ Eliot did well with his playcalling as he mixed up coverages and called in a few blitz to take advantage of the inexperienced UCLA QB. Fatigue may have also been there for UCLA, but it shouldn’t have made much of a difference of the litany of three-and-outs that resulted in next to nothing for DTR and the offense.
Hat tip to Sam Metivier for finding these statistics using Adam Munsterteiger’s halftime statistics screenshots.