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Opinion: Deion Sanders’ game management needs some work

Coach Prime could run his sideline a little bit better.

Colorado v Arizona State Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Deion Sanders has done one hell of a job reviving a Colorado football program that was in complete disarray. About a year ago, the Buffs had just fired head coach Karl Dorrell after getting completely embarrassed in a 23 point loss to Arizona. Coach Prime has managed to completely flip the program on its head and right the ship.

The Buffs have quadrupled their win total from last year, sitting at a record of 4-3. The Buffaloes’ newfound success is all thanks to the work Deion has put in. Despite all the good that Prime had brought to the table at CU, one glaring issue has stood out these last three weeks: Deion Sanders’ sideline decision making hasn't been the greatest.

Against the Trojans three weeks ago, the Buffs were surging back into the game. Colorado was two scores down with around six minutes left in the game. They desperately needed a fast touchdown to try to cut the deficit, while still leaving enough time on the clock to get the ball back. Instead, the Buffs decided to take their sweet time. Colorado came out on the field and ran the ball, taking a ton of time off the game clock. By the time CU finally scored, they had chewed 4:15 off the clock. If the Buffs had just a little bit more time on the clock, it could have allowed them an opportunity to get the ball back and tie the game.

Colorado’s coaching staff seem to have a strange affinity for running the ball in situations when they really need to preserve time and stop the clock. The Buffs ran the ball seven times on their last two drives against USC. It looked as if there was little to no urgency or concern shown by CU based off their play calling.

In situations like the fourth quarter of the USC game, the Buffaloes should be more careful with their playcalling. In my opinion, running the ball when down a couple scores with a handful of minutes left in the game is just too reckless and isn’t smart football. I think that what the Buffs’ coaches should be doing in these situations is calling as many out routes as possible to stop the clock. Preserving as much game clock is absolutely integral in these positions.

Coach Prime truthfully isn’t the one to blame for the Buffs questionable play calling decisions though, as he isn’t the one calling them. Offensive coordinator Sean Lewis is the one calling plays on the Colorado sideline, not Deion. Lewis is the true mastermind behind the offense and deserves more blame than Coach Prime for the Buffs’ play calling woes. Quarterback Shedeur Sanders also took responsibility for Colorado running the ball too much against USC, saying he kept checking into run plays after seeing the defense’s formation.

“I would rather take our time rather than having a negative play,” said Shedeur. “That goes on me for not controlling the offense.”

While Coach Prime isn’t to blame for the play calling, I think that he isn’t completely off the hook. Deion is the ring leader on Colorado’s sideline. If something is being mismanaged, he should step in to correct the problem. Coach Prime should have noticed that Shedeur and Lewis were chewing too much game clock and told them to shift their game plan.

If the Buffs REALLY want to run the ball late into the game, all of the negative consequences could be negated if they were smart with the usage of their time outs. Unfortunately, that’s not something we’ve seen. Deion has been calling a lot of timeouts early into the half this season. In week six against Arizona State, Coach Prime called all three of his timeouts in the first quarter alone. Thankfully, calling all those early time outs against the Sun Devils didn’t really hurt the Buffs in the long run. The only negative consequence that could have come from that is losing their first half challenge, which they didn’t end up needing.

The use of timeouts by the Buffaloes in Tempe may not have been their worst offense either. Against the Trojans, Prime had used all of CU’s timeouts with 6:44 left to play in the fourth quarter. If Colorado had been smarter and more conservative with their timeouts, they could have stopped the clock on USC’s last possession and gotten a chance to send the game to overtime.

Let’s break down why Colorado called each of their timeouts during the second half of the USC game. Deion called Colorado’s first timeout with 9:00 left in the third quarter while the Buffs were on defense. USC quarterback Caleb Williams hurried up the Buffs and they weren’t ready for a play yet, so Deion called a timeout. This scenario is definitely not ideal, but it is understandable. Deion doesn’t want his team to let up a big play because his team was caught slacking, which I get.

The second timeout came with 9:09 left in the fourth quarter while the Buffs actually had the ball. Shedeur was trying to use his cadence to draw the Trojans offside on 4th and 5 and it wasn’t working, so Deion called a timeout to try and game-plan another way to pick up the yards. CU waited until nineteen seconds were burned off the game clock before calling that timeout, which I’m sure they want back in retrospect.

The Buffs’ called their third timeout with 6:44 left in the game and was especially bad. It was so bad in fact that former Buffaloes quarterback Joel Klatt, who was the television commentator for that game, actually thought USC called the timeout instead of CU. Colorado called this timeout to try and gameplay on 3rd and 9 while on defense. The worst part is that the clock was already stopped when CU called this timeout because Williams had thrown an incomplete pass the play before.

In all three of these scenarios, the Buffs probably could have avoided calling a timeout if their communication and organization was better. Colorado should have gameplans and scripts ready for these sort of situations, but it appears Deion and his staff don’t. Preserving those timeouts could have given Colorado another possession at the end of the game to try and tie it.

Coach Prime’s logic for calling all these early timeouts is sound at least: he wants to minimize mistakes. Deion said he had to call all of those timeouts because his players were too exhausted.

“I’d rather take a timeout than risk six points and having ten people on the field,” said Sanders after the USC game. “In those moments, the now is more important than the future. If you don’t take care of the now, you aren’t going to make it to the future.”

I would also like to note that in all three of Colorado’s timeouts, the Buffs had eleven men on the field. Deion’s excuse of having to call a timeout because the Buffs only had ten men on doesn’t hold up because of this.

Now let’s talk about that dreaded Stanford game. In the second half against the Cardinal, Deion didn't use a single timeout. In situations where your team is up big but falling apart, you should be liberal with your use of timeouts in order to correct mistakes. Instead, we saw Deion be weirdly conservative with his timeouts and just let his team collapse without taking a break to address any issues. Perhaps Coach Prime got burned from the previous two weeks of using timeouts too frequently, but he should have used one in that second half to halt Stanford’s momentum nonetheless.

It seems to me that Deion could use some improvement on knowing when to be liberal or conservative with his timeouts. When your team is down but not out (like the USC game), coaches should try to preserve as many timeouts as possible in the scenario that their team gets a chance to come back and tie the game. In games where your team is winning but the other team has all the momentum (like the Stanford game), coaches should be calling plenty of timeouts to try to address mistakes and slow the other team down. Deion has used the exact opposite approach and the Buffs have gotten burned twice for it now.

If Deion and his staff can’t clean up their management of the game clock, they could find themselves in some serious trouble down the line. A situation where the Buffs lose a game because they didn’t save a timeout to stop the clock in a pivotal moment seems like a real possibility at this point, which isn’t good. Hopefully, the Colorado coaches have taken note of their mistakes these last three weeks and correct them going forward.