Another football season kicked off in Boulder with the 2015 spring game for the Colorado Buffaloes. The biggest question coming into the game was how the Buffs' defense would look under new coordinator Jim Leavitt who's made significant progress since joining MacIntyre's staff a month ago. He brings energy and focus to a defense that has been lacking both for a long time. The revamped look is starting to show and the players are becoming more physical, especially in the secondary. Ken Crawley, Chidobe Awuzie and Ahkello Witherspoon looked stronger playing cornerback and that's a tremendous factor this season. Witherspoon made the play of the game by jumping in front of a pass from backup quarterback Jordan Gehrke and taking it 69 yards for a touchdown. Crawley has become a better man-to-man coverage defender by not allowing receivers to get behind him. They'll be backed up by Evan White and Tedric Thompson at safety, providing additional coverage spread throughout the field. Under Leavitt's defense, you can expect the defensive backs to be more active in pass coverage and more physical at the line. Giving the lineman and linebackers the freedom to rush the quarterback or drop back in coverage.
Even thought it's only the spring game and no more than a scrimmage, the entire defensive unit for the Buffs appeared to be in-sync with the play calling from Leavitt. In years past, the defense continuously struggled to be on the same page with each other and developed a lack of communication on the field. Leavitt will have the next five months to master his defensive philosophy before the season starts. He'll also have a couple contributing players to add in the mix, with captain linebacker Addison Gillam and senior defensive back Jered Bell being available in the fall. Gillam was healthy enough to play in the game but is still recovering from concussion related issues. There's no rush in having Addision return to the field and the coaches want him completely healthy. On the other hand, Bell is waiting for the NCAA to grant his 6th year of eligibility due to injury. MacIntyre firmly believes the NCAA will have no problem approving the extra year, considering Bell has excelled in the classroom and didn't play a down for two seasons while being injured. Both players will give the Buffs defense a huge boost of experience with senior leadership.
As for the offense, quarterback Sefo Liufau had a great showing for the game including a 70-yard touchdown pass to Devin Ross, on the first play of the second quarter. Ross was redshirted last season and looks to play in tandem with Nelson Spruce, Shay Fields and Bryce Bobo. There's depth at the receiver position for Liufau, with all four wideouts having the ability to make plays down the field. Bobo was sidelined for the game but has bulked up 20 pounds, from 185 to 205 in the offseason and wants to be a bigger target for defenses to cover.
"I see myself playing a much bigger role than last year. I've been sitting out this whole time and not getting any reps right now. I'm going to come back stronger in the summer than I started last season. They're going to put me in my role and I'm going to embrace it and make big plays."
Sefo has to trust his receivers to makes plays and spread the ball effectively around the field. Being able to cover all four receivers will be a struggle for opposing defenses and makes the Buffs a threat on offense. Coach Mac has faith in Liufau as the starter going into the season after a record-breaking 2014 campaign.
The running back position has depth as well with six active backs currently on the roster. A surprising name, however, was Kyle Evans, who had eight carries for 96 yards, including a 65-yard touchdown run for the Black team. The 5'6, 175 pound walk-on tailback from San Jose, California that should see some playing time this season. Evans along with Phillip Lindsay, Christian Powell and George Fraizer give depth to CU's backfield for the upcoming season. Lindsay finished the game with 12 carries for 78 yards and added a different dimension to his game during the off season by becoming stronger. After getting hit at the line of scrimmage, he often times would bounce off tacklers and occasionally drag them for extra yards. Lindsay has breakaway speed to burst through to the second level but strength will help shake off defenders in the open field and allow for game managing situations. Frazier played both ways last season as running back and linebacker but will focus his attention strictly on the offense this season. Powell picked up where he left off last season by rushing for 45 yards on just seven carries. He returns as a senior leader for the Buffs and sees the team coming together as a unit.
"It's been the same guys with me for the past two to three years. The more we grow together, the more chemistry we build off that and I feel that's going to help us."
Establishing a solid running game will put the Buffs' offense back on track and will help Sefo become confident in managing games.
Another element on offense that will help push the Buffs further is their kicking game. Buffs' kicker Diego Gonzalez, who redshirted as a sophomore will battle Chris Graham for the starting position. Gonzalez missed a 51-yard field goal attempt in the game but came back to hit a 38-yard attempt for the Black team. The Mexico native has a good enough leg with a range between 50-65 yards and has proven himself before in practice. Accuracy is something that Gonzalez is working on improving and hopes to become the starter for CU this season. At the very least, the expectation is for him to be a kickoff specialist.
The Buffs players are starting to show chemistry on the field with each other by trusting the decisions made from the coaches. It's clear the team isn't where they want to be on the field but the steps toward quality are becoming shorter. The players are developing trust with one another and helping to coach through mistakes that are made. During MacIntyre's first year at CU, there were hardly enough players to make up a roster and now there's a good amount of talent on both sides of the ball. Having the players buy into MacIntyre's system has been a key factor toward moving forward. The will and determination of this Buffs team is starting to show in a major way. Going through the summer and into the fall will prepare the Buffs' to become stronger and more detail oriented.
Overall, the spring game gave a brief look at the future for the Buffs this season. MacIntyre and the coaching staff were running Oklahoma drills with the players between quarters and showcasing the program as a whole. A unique look with the game being broadcast live on the Pac-12 network, exposing CU to the rest of the world. A great recruiting tool used by many schools but also showing the construction currently being added on to Folsom Field and the Del Ward Center. On many levels, this helps CU to show they're continuing to build great structure in Boulder. The foundation for winning under MacIntyre is being developed and the level of competition has gotten better. Positive results are starting to show up for the Buffs early in the season.