Brooks: Buffs’ 1-0 Weekly Mantra Is Vital In Week 1
BOULDER – OK, so season openers don’t dictate a season’s success.
For proof, look no further than Fort Collins and Colorado State, which lost the 2013 Rocky Mountain Showdown 41-27 to Colorado but regrouped nicely and won eight games – including an unlikely New Mexico Bowl victory against Washington State.
CU, meanwhile, won only three more games – two of them against lower division opponents – and plodded through its eighth consecutive losing season.
The moral of these first three paragraphs?
Losing in week one isn’t a ticket to three months of failure, but we’ll inch out on a limb here and propose that winning the first one is a highly desirable first step – particularly for the 2014 Buffaloes.
Mike MacIntyre and his second CU team are approaching things a little differently this season, taking a weekly approach of going 1-0 and then by late November hopefully needing both hands to calculate the win total. The goal is always 12 ‘W’s, but half that would send the Buffs into the postseason – foreign soil to the CU program since 2007.
That doesn’t make getting the first one Friday night against CSU (7 p.m., Sports Authority Field at Mile High) mandatory. But let’s be honest, it’s about as close to mandatory as Labor Day weekend is to a change of the seasons in the Rockies.
Postseason projections and conjecture aside, winning an opener underscores and validates the laborious hours of winter and summer conditioning. It keeps alums, season-ticket holders and donors smiling (and giving). It sends coaches and players into week two a bit more buoyant – but they’ll reach that level regardless.
News flash: Winning is better than losing, although coaches are hesitant to attach any more importance to one game over the next.
“I think every game is a tone setter to be honest with you,” MacIntyre said at his weekly news conference. “The thing that’s exciting about the opening game is, everybody has so much anticipation no matter who you’re playing because it’s the opening game.”
But, he continued, opening with a rival that also happens to be a “very good football team” adds a level of excitement and energy. “But, I think it’s an opening game . . . and you go from there. You still have 11 more games after that and then hopefully another one.”
The Buffs won in the fourth quarter of last season’s Rocky Mountain Showdown, scoring 18 points on a 52-yard Will Oliver field goal, a 53-yard fumble return by Greg Henderson, and a 75-yard Connor Wood-to-Paul Richardson pass. Wood then hit D.D. Goodson with a two-point conversion pass.
The Rams, who led 24-23 entering the final quarter, skulked away vowing vengeance in 2014.
Both teams return starters at quarterback, although CSU’s Garrett Grayson is a fifth-year senior while CU’s Sefo Liufau is a true sophomore. MacIntyre knows something about Grayson, having seen him direct the Rams during his previous stop at San Jose State as well as in last season’s CU opener.
“I’ve watched Garrett probably more than any quarterback in the country,” MacIntyre said. “We have had more time to watch all the tape. I do think that he has improved every year. I think Dave Baldwin (CSU) is an excellent offensive coordinator. I’ve known him for a long time. He used to be the head coach at San Jose State. I think he does a great job with the quarterbacks.”
MacIntyre said Grayson, who passed for a school-record 3,696 yards last season, is strong in every area – getting the Rams aligned correctly, reading defenses, making his throws and running when required. He completed 22 of his 39 passing attempts for 201 yards (no TDs, no interceptions) against CU last season.
Liufau, meanwhile, was a four-quarter spectator in the 2013 Rocky Mountain Showdown, which means Friday night will be his first on-field taste of CSU. Liufau replaced Wood in week five and remained CU’s starter for the rest of the season, and MacIntyre believes his second-year QB’s arm strength and accuracy have improved.
“He was accurate last year (59.4 percent) but he’s more accurate consistently now, which is what we need,” MacIntyre said. “He’s also moving a lot better and I think you’ll see that, too.”
The Buffs are hoping that any movement involving Liufau is straight ahead and not fleeing the Rams pass rush. CU’s offensive line features a pair of new starters – left tackle Jeromy Irwin and center Alex Kelley. Liufau says their August camp performances bolstered his confidence for the opener, especially in Irwin.
“I trust Jeromy a lot,” he said. “I’ve gotten to know him over spring and summer . . . he’s a big guy; I trust him to cover my blind side. It looks like he has been playing for a couple of years now and that’s exciting to see. He’s good in the run and the pass games, so I have no worries with him over there.”
MacIntyre thinks his second O-line is more physical but also more athletic than his first. Liufau also foresees the 2014 O-line as being better at adjusting to defensive twists and turns and in short-yardage situations. “I am really excited to see what they can do on Friday in this game,” he said.
MacIntyre told a Boulder Buff Club luncheon on Wednesday that he expected his second CU team to be in many more close games than his first. In Pac-12 Conference play in 2013, the Buffs were outscored on the average by nearly two touchdowns per contest. Thus, MacIntyre believes getting defensive stops and making plays offensively will become imperative this season in a game’s final 4 minutes.
Defensively, CU is expected to start five sophomores and one redshirt freshman. Projected starters Jered Bell (safety) and Tyler Henington (end) are out for the season with knee injuries and the players replacing them sophomores. The Buffs hope to see a significant increase in last season’s 21 turnovers (10 interceptions, 11 recovered fumbles) and a considerably improved pass rush on Grayson (CU’s 17 sacks last season was the Pac-12’s lowest number).
Defensive tackle Juda Parker, one of three seniors expected to be in CU’s starting lineup, said he has faith in his younger teammates and expects their effort to match their preparation. “Something that I’ve always harped on is proper preparation prevents poor performance, the five P’s,” Parker said.
“The one thing you can’t coach and be with them out of the field with is effort. They have to run to the ball. You just say, ‘If you make a mistake, run, run and try to make plays.’ We were all there as freshmen. We played and we made mistakes, but you can constantly correct that with effort.”
Offensively, CU wants a game-by-game improvement on 2013’s 120.8-yard rushing average. The more physical, more athletic O-line that MacIntyre touts will be key in that area, as will be a quartet of capable running backs – Michael Adkins, Christian Powell, Tony Jones, Phillip Lindsay.
And everyone who follows the Buffs has the same question about the receiving corps: How productive will it be minus Paul Richardson, who caught 10 passes for 208 yards and two long TDs (82, 75 yards) last season against the Rams? The short answer: CU hopes two or three players step up in Richardson’s absence and more depth at the WR spot will make the position harder to defend overall.
Beyond the X’s and O’s, the Buffs say Year 2 of the MacIntyre brings more familiarity and focus than Year 1. “I think at times last year we kind of lost focus or weren’t really all bought in compared to this year,” said Liufau. Added Adkins: “The team has bought in. I think we’re ready to turn some heads this year.”
They can start on Friday night in a game that Liufau contends the Buffs will “treat like a Super Bowl. This is the biggest game of our lives coming up and we just want to go 1-0 each week.”
But the Buffs – and everyone who follows them – know that going 1-0 in week one carries a little more significance. Better make that a lot more.
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