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The Coin Toss is CUIndependent.com’s weekly sports debate column. This week, CUI Sports Editor Jordyn Siemens and Staff Writer Tommy Wood talk about CU’s loss to rival CSU in the opening game of the 2014 football season.
Jordyn Siemens: Never to fear, our coaching staff is here
Yes, the University of Colorado disappointed over 30,000 fans at Mile High on Friday night. Every post-game tweet and Facebook status about Buffalo football seemed to predict doom for the rest of the fall, but I am hesitant to already be that pessimistic.
Head coach Mike MacIntyre, on top of his “uncommon” mantra, urges players to look at each weekend as a season in itself. This may be the best approach and attitude for CU right now. With a significant amount of freshmen playing, the hunger for a win needs to be in their minds, not a disappointing rivalry loss.
MacIntyre also fully understands what went wrong. In Tuesday’s press luncheon, he referenced a “great start to this week” in practices, which have focused on stopping the run and tackling.
Redshirt freshman defensive lineman Derek McCartney backed up MacIntyre’s emphasis on watching film, noting that the University of Massachusetts “run some similar stuff to CSU” and that the team will be ready for it come Saturday.
When the fans decide to stop cheering, the coaching staff maintains player morale, and Coach Mac’s one-week-at-a-time attitude may be the only thing keeping Colorado hopeful going into the UMass matchup and Pac-12 play.
Wood: It’s not that the Buffs lost, it’s how they lost
I hate calling the first game of the year “season-defining,” because precedent shows that early-season performance has little bearing on how a team plays down the stretch. Look at Oregon State last year — the Beavers started the season 6-1, lost their last five games, then won their bowl game. The 2009 Denver Broncos started 6-0, finished 8-8, and missed the playoffs.
Losing the first game of the season doesn’t doom it. But to be so physically outmatched by an opponent you should have beaten is demoralizing. The Rams dominated both lines of scrimmage. Their defensive line stifled Colorado’s running game and battered Sefo Liufau, who inexplicably played long after it became obvious he was hurting.
Even before that, Liufau didn’t look great. He completed a high percentage of his passes, but threw only 6.8 yards per attempt. He checked down frequently and didn’t allow his receivers much time to run after the catch. His best throw, the first touchdown to Nelson Spruce, was another tantalizing glimpse of the downfield passing game that the Buffs showcased last year. But for most of the game, CSU’s pass rush didn’t give those routes time to develop.
CSU’s offensive line bent the Buffs’ front four to its will. The Rams’ running backs were rarely touched before they reached Colorado’s linebackers. Dee Hart was great, but so was Treyous Jarrells — you and I could have run for 100 yards on the Buffs on Friday.
Those film sessions MacIntyre and McCartney talked about must have been rough. And if players have to give reassurance that the team will be ready for UMass, things are worse than we thought.
Siemens: We couldn’t stop Dee Hart, but let’s not forget the positives
Colorado’s defense left much to be desired, but let’s focus elsewhere for a second.
1) We won the passing game! Sophomore quarterback Sefo Liufau completed 24 of 39 passing attempts, and out-threw CSU’s Garrett Grayson by 107 yards. It is also worth mentioning that junior Nelson Spruce’s defender was only a step behind him for both touchdown catches; looks like MacIntyre wasn’t kidding when he said that this summer’s Manning camp improved Liufau’s accuracy. And the Buffs out-performed Colorado State in another way – Derek McCartney recorded a four-yard sack as a redshirt freshman, whereas CSU’s defense had no looks at Sefo.
2. We did have a lead to begin with, and it lasted through the third quarter. Before the lead change, CSU’s Dee Hart had accumulated 98 of his 139 rushing yards. All that running, and CU’s offense still kept enough points on the board to breed hope. Of course, his final 41 yards served as the straw that broke the Buffalo’s back, but the demographic of CU’s defensive line includes six freshmen, two sophomores and six upperclassmen. Four of the six inside linebackers on the roster are underclassmen as well, including co-captain Addison Gillam. We have a young defense. Young means room to improve.
Hart, on the other hand, already has an undergraduate degree from the University of Alabama. Yes, he is eligible to play this season due to redshirting his freshman year, but he is on his way out. Hart will be remembered as a temporary highlight on CSU’s offensive stat sheet, and our boys can only learn and progress from seeing a player like him early in the season.
Wood: If Colorado couldn’t stop CSU, can they stop anyone in the Pac-12?
Yes, playing against Hart could be a good learning experience, but problem with that thought is that the Buffs will see players like him, and better than him, throughout the season. Colorado allowed the Rams 266 rushing yards, and CSU is probably the sixth-best running game the Buffs will play this year.
In the past four seasons, Colorado has allowed 50 points to all of the conference opponents on its 2014 schedule except for Utah, Oregon State and UCLA. In three years, the Buffs have had three Pac-12 wins. They have allowed 45 points and 214 rushing yards per conference game since they joined the Pac-12.
This year, the conference is the toughest in the nation. It is uncommonly top-heavy and deep. Three teams — Oregon, Stanford and UCLA — could contend for the playoff. Colorado, the only Pac-12 team not to win its opener other than Washington State, cannot expect to stop, or even barely delay, Marcus Mariota or Brett Hundley if it couldn’t contain CSU. Young defenses can improve, but the Buffs can’t grow quickly enough to compete when conference play starts in two weeks.
Contact CU Independent Sports Editor Jordyn Siemens at email@example.com and Staff Writer Tommy Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally identified Colorado wide receiver Nelson Spruce as a sophomore. He is a junior.