Brooks: CSU New To ‘Mac,’ But Rivalry Games Aren’t
BOULDER – Mike MacIntyre will be on unfamiliar turf in an unfamiliar setting in Sunday’s Rocky Mountain Showdown against Colorado State. But rest assured, Colorado’s first-year coach knows a little something about rivalry games.
MacIntyre grew up in a football family, with his father, George, working as the head coach at Vanderbilt from 1979-85. Mike played at Vandy during his father’s final two seasons.
Ask him about Vanderbilt’s bitter in-state rivalry with Tennessee and the memories – some good, some bad, all entertaining – flood forth.
MacIntyre recalls his father being “pegged in the head” with an orange during one Vandy-UT encounter, and he remembers the color orange being a taboo wardrobe choice in the MacIntyre household.
“No orange in our house, no way whatsoever,” he said.
When he was a Commodores safety, the younger MacIntyre didn’t successfully defend a Vols touchdown pass and was rewarded with a torrent of “about 300” sugar cubes in the UT end zone. The Vols were in contention that season for a Sugar Bowl berth and a win against Vandy secured it.
Now, fast forward to 2013 and CU’s run-up to MacIntyre’s debut against CSU. Having coached against the Rams at San Jose State and crossing paths elsewhere with a few of their assistants, MacIntyre has some familiarity with CSU – just not as an in-state rival.
But this much he’s certain of: “It’s a 365-day-a year game. That’s the difference. Everybody knows everybody, they talk about it. It’s always something that’s brought up; it’s in recruiting and everything else. When you go out to eat somewhere, that game’s brought up. It’s just one of those types of games that have extra special attention on both sides. Our kids will be ready and I know their kids will be ready.”
MacIntyre’s staffers will find themselves in the same situation Sunday – new to the CSU series but not new to rivalry games. Cornerbacks coach Andy LaRussa likens this rivalry to others he’s experienced at San Jose State (vs. Fresno State) and UNLV (vs. Nevada-Reno). Having grown up in Southern California, he also recalls the USC-UCLA in-town confrontations.
But early on after joining MacIntyre’s CU staff, LaRussa got a taste of the Rams’ distaste toward the Buffs.
“It was very evident to me early,” he said. “I recruit the northern part of the state, so I’ve gone into Fort Collins to recruit. Every time you go in there with the Black and Gold on, they look at you a little funny. I’m looking forward to Sunday and seeing it firsthand. Every rivalry game is special and a lot of fun. It’s usually whoever wants it more that day, and I think our guys are pretty hungry.”
CU’s out-of-state first-year players usually arrive in Boulder needing a primer on the Rams from older teammates. “I know it’s a big game, but that’s about it,” said freshman defensive back Chidobe Awuzie, who noted his only real experience with a rivalry game was his San Jose Oak Grove High School team annually playing Santa Teresa.
Awuzie’s older CU teammates have tried to brief him on the Rams, and he’s starting to get a hint about the game’s intensity from local media reports. Recalling the Santa Teresa game, he said, might help him generate some added passion and energy for the Rams – but veteran Buffs might be a little skeptical about that scheme.
Senior outside linebacker Paul Vigo, one of six Buffs captains, didn’t know much – if anything – about the CU-CSU series when landed in Boulder five seasons ago from New Brunswick, N.J. That changed quickly.
“It’s an important game,” he said. “It’s big for the university . . . big for the state of Colorado.”
After last season’s 22-17 opening loss to CSU, Vigo said he and his teammates “hear about it all the time” and that MacIntyre’s “365” assessment of the game was “absolutely” true.
Asked what stuck with him about last season’s loss, junior quarterback Connor Wood, who grew up in Houston, said, “That big ‘L’ looming over our heads for almost a year.”
MAC’S CSU CONCERNS: MacIntyre has “about a hundred,” but which of three quarterbacks CSU chooses to start isn’t among them.
Rams coach Jim McElwain will select his starter from among sophomore Conner Smith, junior Garrett Grayson or true freshman Nick Stevens. He said it could be a game-day decision, even suggesting that he might get his dog involved in the selection process.
McElwain’s plan: He would roll out three footballs, apparently each bearing the three QBs’ names/numbers, allow the pooch to proceed to one of the three, identify it with a sniff (or something else) and end the suspense.
MacIntyre wasn’t buying it: “I guarantee you he knows right now.”
The CU coach said his chief concern is with his own team: “The main one is making sure they’re ready to play.” Teams usually are ready for an opener, he added, with the real coaching challenges occurring at mid-season or thereabouts – depending on the state of the season.
As for preparing for an unnamed starter, MacIntyre said during the course of a game so many defensive adjustments are required that prepping for any of three QBs beforehand doesn’t pose a dilemma.
MAC ON HANDLING ADVERSITY: Early, late, whenever, it will happen. When it does, MacIntyre wants his team to not blink and move on. What he doesn’t want is a “here-we-go-again” mentality to set in – much as it did during most of CU’s 11 bad losses a year ago.
“When you have a good team, they don’t even notice (adversity),” MacIntyre said. “That’s what I hope, that they just keep playing. It’s true that if you don’t look at the scoreboard and just keep playing . . . the whole idea is to keep playing and the most important play is the next play.”
MacIntyre indicated that effective leadership among the players is paramount. “We’ve done everything we can (as coaches) and we’ll keep pushing,” he said. “We’ve got to keep it going in the right direction. We’ll always be firm and positive. We’ll keep pushing that. We try to put them under ultimate pressure in practice at a lot of times in a lot of different ways. We try to put pressure on them in the meeting rooms . . . hopefully they’re bonded enough with each other that they care about fighting through those things.”
QUOTE OF THE DAY: Asked if he would be nervous on Sunday running behind Ralphie for the first time, MacIntyre answered: “Not as nervous as I would be running in front of Ralphie.”
NOTABLE: True freshman Sefo Liufau is Wood’s backup at quarterback, and MacIntyre says even if Wood has to come out for an equipment-related issue or whatever, Liufau goes in. MacIntyre answered “no” to a questioner who asked if it was realistic to look at this as a possible redshirt season for Liufau. Said MacIntyre: “Sefo is really good . . . good enough to be second team. I wouldn’t hesitate to play him. Hopefully nothing happens to Connor, but if it does then Sefo is ready to go.” . . . . Junior guard Daniel Munyer missed a couple of weeks of August camp due to a spring leg injury, but he’s scheduled to start Sunday. MacIntyre said Munyer was eased back into practice work, with his reps increasing as Munyer was able. “He’s bright, he’s been able to be in meetings,” MacIntyre said, adding that Munyer’s return has had no adverse effect on O-line chemistry . . . . More will be revealed in September, but here’s what MacIntyre learned about his first CU team in August: “Every day they came to play. They came to meetings focused. They were on time to everything. They showed signs that this is very, very important to them.” . . . . The last CU head coach to win his debut? Rick Neuheisel in 1995. His Buffs waxed Wisconsin 43-7 in Madison.