The Buffs did it.
They salvaged the season. The bare minimum expectations have been met. Fly the banners, a PAC-12 win is here. They doubled the win total, defeated CSU, and didn't sacrifice future success for this year (keep that red shirt on, Montez). Halfway through, and Coach Mac knows he can keep his job and has done enough to satisfy most of the fan base. The hard parts are done. Now comes the fun part.
The Buffs opened up as 19 point underdogs to UCLA for the game this weekend, a number we are all too accustomed to seeing. This is the biggest spread so far for Colorado, and the feeling is the Bruins can (should) cover that easily, based on what we all saw against Oregon State. In short, the expectations for the Buffs are very low for the next five games, as they run a gauntlet (UCLA, Stanford, USC, Wazzu, Utah). That doesn't mean the coaches' work is done, however. They still have to prepare for these teams each week and they still have to go in with the mindset that a loss in unacceptable. BUT the weight is off their shoulders, and this team needs to play like it. They can stop playing not to lose, like the entire second half in Corvallis, and Sefo can stop throwing it like Alex Smith rather than Brett Favre. While most of my problems lie on offense, the defense is not innocent. The rotation up front has been questionable at best (Jeffcoat), the cornerbacks hit-and-miss, and Jim Leavitt has his work cut out for him with the middle linebackers. But this isn't meant to be a critical review of what went wrong the first eight games. This is meant to be a guide to make the next five more fun and winnable.
Open The Playbook on Offense
Don't want to go into it too much here, but when your QB has more rushing attempts acting as a glorified fullback than the top two running backs combined, you have pretty unimaginative play-calling. I don't know if he was injured, but after Phillip Lindsay was rolling in the first half, and mysteriously disappeared in the second. Long story short, the scheming on offense made me scratch my head, and I know I wasn't the only fan. This game, more than anything, lacked the creativity we have seen from Lindgren. I mentioned on Twitter a while back that the first half of the UMass game was an offensive masterpiece. CU was using their best pieces, moving the offensive line around, keeping the defensive line on their heels, and scoring at will. Aaaaaaaaaand then the Buffs went away from it. It might have been due to injuries (Jeromey Irwin), but with these types of games coming up, you might as well try. Give George Frazier 5-10 touches and see what the big fella can do. Scrape Dylan Keeney across the line, move the whole play left, then throw it right to a wide open TE who can shake and move. I don't know, I'm not paid to do this job. But it seems like everything that other teams have done successfully against CU could be smash cut into a 30 minute video for the players and coaches to learn. There's no reason to be afraid to fail now, which seemed to hold Lindgren (and Sefo, to an extent) back. In my opinion, from this point on, there are no bad plays, just scared ones, and the Buffs shouldn't be in the business of being scared.
Play the Young Guns
This is a biggie for me. I love athleticism and potential, and I love when they flash on the field. I am the kid that traded for Javale McGee every year in NBA 2K just because he could jump high and was tall. The Buffs may have more impactful players to play than N.J. Falo and Grant Watanabe, but none are more exciting or more important to the team going forward. And that's just the linebacking corps. Isaiah Oliver has flashed on the boundary corner spot (maybe more so than Ahkello Witherspoon) and Nick Fisher looks to be the next Chidobe at the nickel back spot (fair warning- I love Nick Fisher). On the D-line, the JuCo products have paid off big time, with Jordan Carrell and Leo Jackson playing a lot of snaps. Blake Robbins hasn't gotten a lot of play, and I'd like to see what we have with him going forward. He has a great frame and seemed to show out well for Arizona State. There's no reason for Eddy Lopez's absence other than injury, so hopefully he gets that cleared up and gets up there. In general, I would like to see the D-line rotate a lot more bodies, as I think there's a lot of good young pieces. Of course, I can't forget about my boi, Michael Matthews. His frame and motor could make a difference.
And that's just the defense. On offense, there are some exciting pieces that I'd like to see more of. The most obvious name to mention is Patrick Carr, the super speedy freshman running back. He can truly be a game-breaker, and many fans have been frustrated with his lack of inclusion. His redshirt is burned, but he lines up on probably 10 snaps. The first play against Oregon State, Carr takes it 20 yards, but it's called back on an ineffective holding penalty and we essentially don't hear from him again. Use him much like Donovan Lee, put him out in space any way you can and watch him work. It's baffling to me. If I had my way, I would have at least 20 snaps with Cara and Frazier in the backfield. Both can catch and run, setting up the play action, and Frazier bulldozing a path for the roadrunner to burst through gets me entirely too excited. But I digress. The only other big suggestion I have about the personnel going forward is the use of tight end, specifically Dylan Keeney. The Gazelle (start using it, people) has been criminally underutilized. They targeted him in the contest against the Sun Devils, but after he dropped a ball that was poor but catchable in the end zone, it seems like Lindgren lost faith. He's big and he's fast and I'm impatient, dammit! Let him loose!
Bet the House Money
I think Leavitt's already ahead of me on this one. I don't know if you made it to the end of the Oregon State game (first off, congrats, that was tough), but after the offense hung the defense out to dry to stop the Beavers for 10 straight minutes, the mad man started sending six about every play. And guess what? It worked. Mitchell's completion percentage dropped like a rock and he got rattled. Jim Leavitt sold out to stop something, behavior we haven't seen from CU coaches in quite some time. While it's not ideal to go through the whole season like that, as it usually signals a lack of personnel or a lack of faith in personnel, the Buffs are facing five of the best teams in the country, and it does them no good to get beat slowly. Onside kicks, fake punts, jumping every ball in coverage, creating every opportunity to make a play. Sure, they might get burned, but CU is not in a position to win most of these games right now (Wazzu might be the exception). If any of these teams actually start losing to CU, we can't revisit the subject, but for now, pedal to the medal. We should run so many reverses that a draw up the middle seems like the trick play. Not really, but you get the point. I guess it's the point of the whole article. The Buffs have nothing to lose. Basically, what I laid out may lead to some terrible losses, probably to Stanford and Utah. But man, it would be fun to see an open, fast offense and a defense that attack the ball. This team can't be afraid to lose to close out the season. Which means they can't be afraid to win. Play loose, have fun, and I think we'd all be surprised at what might happen.