Monday, 2 September 2013

The Roundup: September 2

About Last Night:

Colorado 41, Colorado State 27. Colorado still is not a great team and they will not be a bowl team this year. But the sun is finally starting to rise in Boulder to wash away the darkness and misery that has stained the Buffs for over a decade. The Mike MacIntyre era could not have started any better as the Buffs dominated their hated in-state rivals in a game that wasn't nearly as close as the finally score indicates.

Buffs WR Paul Richardson was the star of the game and quickly reminded everyone what the Buffs were missing last year while Richardson recovered from a torn ACL as he scored an 82 yard TD on the first play of the game and finished with 10 catches for 208 yards and two TDs. QB Connor Wood, a former Texas transfer making his Colorado debut, was also very impressive as he finished with 33 completions for 400 yards and three touchdowns and more importantly committed no turnovers. Wood made really smart decisions with the ball, looked poised and confident in the pocket, took what the defense gave him, and did a really nice job extending plays with his feet and creating big plays out of nothing. Coach Mike MacIntyre choose to install a no-huddle spread offense in an effort to keep up with the rest of the Pac-12 and for at least one day it looks like a great decision. The Buffs were not particularly dynamic with the run game but they got decent yards on early downs. Wood was very efficient and Richardson, Nelson Spruce, and D.D. Goodson got open at will.

I loved Colorado's game plan and philosophy on offense. The Buffs showed a pass-based offense and mixed in the run well to maintain balance and keep the defense honest. They also played to their strengths, understanding that Richardson, Spruce, and Goodson are their best players and called a lot of short passes designed to get those guys the ball and let them make plays. There were some questions with all three of those receivers but they all delivered. Richardson is definitely 100% recovered from his injury, and D.D. Goodson has certainly picked up the receiver position well after transitioning from running back. Spruce showed flashes last year but he simply couldn't get enough room or accurate throws sent his way to really show what he can do. With Richardson on the other side of the field, Spruce finally had a chance to get open and caught eight passes for 99 yards including several key third down conversions. Teams are going to put their best corner on Richardson and roll a safety to his side of the field all season so Spruce will have many more opportunities to get open and fill the stat sheet.

Defensively, it seems MacIntyre has focused a lot on reteaching fundamentals and getting his team back to the basics. the Buffs still aren't very athletic or deep and struggle to create a pass rush even against a mediocre O-line like that of CSU. However, the Buffs have really improved on the little things since last year. They took better angles and maintained assignments much better and tackled really well in space. I was particularly impressed with Colorado's linebackers, namely true freshman Addison Gillam. Gillam had a game-high 14 tackles and made a number of key stops including a tackle on a wide receiver in space to stop a conversion on 4th down late in the game. Gillam speaks to Coach MacIntyre's greatest strength and that is his ability to scout and find great players that no one else notices. QB David Fales and CB Ben Benwikere at San Jose State are both projected top 100 picks in next spring's NFL Draft yet neither had any Division I offers outside of the one MacIntyre gave them at SJSU. Gillam is a similar story as he committed to MacIntyre at SJSU without any other scholarship offers. When MacIntyre jumped to CU, Gillam asked if the Buffs had a scholarship available for him and MacIntyre obliged. Gillam has ideal size at 6'3" and has room to add another 10-15 pounds to his 225 pound frame without sacrificing athleticism. he showed great tackling ability, sideline to sideline speed, and football IQ well beyond his years. Gillam is going to be a player to watch for many yeas to come.

As good of a performance as this was, the Buffs do have a lot to work on. They need to bolster their pass rush somehow and need a massive improvement on special teams. The kicking game was great as Punter Darragh O'Neill flipped field position with every kick and even hit one perfect punt out of bounds at the two yard line. Kicker Will Oliver also looked sublime, hitting all four of his field goal attempts including an NFL caliber 52 yard kick from the right hashmark that would have been good from as long as 58 yards. But, the Buffs kick coverage was terrible as the Buffs missed a couple tackles en route to a 74 yard punt return touchdown that got CSU back in the game early in the second half. The next time CSU touched the ball after that, the Buffs got out of their lanes on a kickoff, messed up coverage responsibilities, and allowed the Rams to bust an 87 yard return to set up a short touchdown drive that gave the Rams a lead at 24-23. The Buffs also need to clean up their mistakes as they were penalized eight times for 68 yards. All four of CU's field goal attempts came on promising drives deep into CSU territory that were derailed by penalties. The Buffs out gained the Rams 513 to 295 but the penalties and poor special teams coverage kept the Rams in the game. Colorado needs to improve on those things soon because the other teams on its schedule are too good to let them get away with it.

Nevertheless, after everything Buff fans have been put through recently, it was very satisfying to see them all get at least one special day in the sun. They will play a lot of teams better than Colorado State and they certainly do not yet have the horses to win more than four games in the Pac-12. However, the difference in the attitude and fundamentals of this team versus last year is night and day. Colorado has gone from pathetic to legitimately competent and although they are still lacking depth and Pac-12 caliber athletes, they are going to give teams all they can handle. At the very least, playing CU is no longer equivalent to a bye week. These Buffs are going to make you work.

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