Brooks: Long Trip Can’t Come Soon Enough For Buffs
BOULDER – In reality, the wait for the next game pales alongside the length of the road trip. But for Derek McCartney and his University of Colorado defensive teammates, both are agonizingly long.
In the wake of last Friday night’s 31-17 season-opening loss to Colorado State, the Buffaloes as a whole are eager for game two. But a big edge in the eagerness department might go to CU’s defense.
In Friday night’s second half, the Buffs gave up 185 of the Rams’ 266 total rushing yards and allowed 17 decisive fourth-quarter points. McCartney & Co. hope to put their week one disappointment behind them and move on – and it’s quite a move they’ll be making.
Taking its longest road trip ever in the continental U.S., CU plays Saturday afternoon (1 p.m. MDT, ESPN3) in Foxboro, Mass., against the University of Massachusetts. One way, the trip is 1,770 miles, and to acclimate after the roughly five-hour the Buffs traveling party is leaving DIA about noon on Thursday.
But the mileage isn’t on McCartney’s mind nearly as much as overall improvement in game two. “We’re just fired up the (CSU) loss . . . we’re excited to get going and play again,” the redshirt freshman defensive end said.
Starting his first college game, McCartney was in on 44 plays and made three unassisted tackles – one of them a quarterback sack that forced a fumble and snuffed a CSU drive. Nonetheless, he said the Buffs defense “missed a lot of plays up front” and he encountered “a lot of gap control problems . . . a lot of us need to work on technical things.”
UMass lost last weekend’s opener to Boston College 30-7 and managed only 202 yards in total offense (55 rushing, 147 passing). McCartney called the Minutemen schematically similar to the Rams, but CU won’t face the four-legged running attack (Dee Hart, Treyous Jarrells) it saw from CSU.
Hart ran for 139 yards and two touchdowns, while Jarrells had 121 and one TD. UMass’ leading rusher in its opening loss was J.T. Blyden, with 43 yards on nine carries.
RAMPING UP THE CU RUN GAME
Run defense hasn’t been UMass’ strong suit. After giving up 215.5 yards a game (106th in the FBS) and finishing 1-11 in 2013, the Minutemen allowed BC 338 rushing yards (511 in total offense) in their opener.
CU rushed for 134 yards against CSU, but coach Mike MacIntyre said the Buffs were “on track to get over 200” had his offense not been playing from behind in the fourth quarter and passing more. “I wish we could have run it a few more times. If we’d stayed in the game, we could have run it 20 more times.”
MacIntyre is hopeful the Buffs can exploit the Minutemen’s run defense for a second consecutive week, but he added a qualifier about the Eagles’ success on the ground. BC, he said, routinely used two and three tight ends and showed “a lot more run emphasis in that game . . . we have to have good balance (and) take some pressure off of Sefo (Liufau, quarterback).”
Liufau said CU’s running game “stalled a little bit” against CSU “and that goes on me, too . . . we should be able to run against any team. But I think (against UMass) we want to keep it pretty standard with run/pass, keep it balanced and hit the weak spots. There’s always room for improvement, and we’ll put some new wrinkles in that will help us this week.”
Among the Buffs’ most glaring ground game breakdowns against the Rams was a failure to score a TD on three running plays from the CSU 2-yard line. “It was a different thing (that went wrong) on every play,” Liufau said. “It comes down to heart and scheme . . . we didn’t execute like we should have.
CU’S (SHAY) FIELDS OF DREAMS
True freshman receiver Shay Fields, of Bellflower, Calif., debuted as a Buff by catching a team-best eight passes for 43 yards. Junior teammate had seven receptions for 104 yards and a pair of TDs.
Asked what the ceiling is for Fields in his freshman season, Liufau answered, “I don’t know if there is a ceiling . . . he doesn’t act like a freshman; he acts like been here three or four years. I’m excited to be playing with him for the rest of the season.”
MacIntyre’s hope for Fields is “to see him make more big plays – and he’ll have the opportunity to do that. He played well in his first game . . . he works hard, runs well and tracks the ball well in air. He can be an excellent player in the Pac-12.”
SHAVER CARVES OUT SPOT FOR HIMSELF
Another true freshman who found himself in an immediate impact role in the opener was defensive end Christian Shaver.
In a best-case scenario for the Buffs, the 6-3, 235-pound Shaver would have redshirted this season. But preseason injuries to Tyler Henington (torn ACL) and Markeis Reed (sports hernia surgery) reduced the DE depth. Plus, an excellent August camp pushed Shaver, of Sandy, Utah, to the forefront.
Shaver said although the game “didn’t go like we wanted it, I was excited to get my first start.” And that made him the first true freshman to ever open at defensive end for the Buffs – which he was unaware of until his mother appraised him of that fact on Monday.
“That was cool . . . I had no idea,” he said.
Shaver said the defensive coaches’ message to players this week has centered mainly on improving in technique. “I know I messed up in my footwork,” Shaver said. “I know I need to calm down a lot; I was nervous and messed up on a few plays.”
However, matching up physically with the Rams wasn’t a problem for Shaver. “Our O-line is good and I went against them all of fall camp,” he said. “It wasn’t a problem for me physicality wise.”
MacIntyre called Shaver, who saw action on 31 plays and assisted on two tackles, “a very athletic, tough young man . . . he’s also bright, has football sense and we can do different things with him.”
UMass’ head coach is Mark Whipple, who is in the first year of his second stint at the school. He also coached the Minutemen from 1998-2003, guiding them to an NCAA I-A National Championship in 1998 with a pair of postseason appearances in the following five years . . . . MacIntyre called Whipple “very experienced,” citing Whipple’s 31 years of coaching experience that includes stints with three NFL teams (Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Cleveland) and a two-year tour with the University of Miami as assistant head coach/offensive coordinator/QB coach. His 16-year record as a college head coach (New Haven, Brown, UMass) is 121-59 . . . . Apples falling close to the tree: MacIntyre’s son, Jay, is a freshman receiver for the Buffs and Whipple’s son, Austin, is a redshirt freshman quarterback for the Minutemen . . . . UMass’ opener against BC in Gillette Stadium – the home of the New England Patriots in Foxboro, Mass. – drew a school home game record of 30,479. The stadium seats 68,756 . . . . UMass began transitioning to the FBS in 2012 and began playing some games in Foxboro that season. The Minutemen play on campus at McGuirk Alumni Stadium, which has been under renovation for the past two years and seats 17,000. UMass plays three games at McGuirk this season . . . . MacIntyre said his offensive line, which featured first-time starters Jeromy Irwin at left tackle and Alex Kelley at center, “did OK” against CSU. “They let some pressure on the quarterback a couple of times, but they did a good job for the most part. They seemed athletic and moved around well. They just need to keep improving and be consistent.” . . . . The Buffs, said MacIntyre, were obviously down after losing their opener, but were focused and practiced well Monday and Tuesday . . . . Due to the length of the trip, the Buffs will leave Boulder on Thursday and practice Friday morning at Gillette Stadium. The team/traveling party will be headquartered in Providence, R.I., and is scheduled to depart for Colorado at 9 p.m. (EDT) on Saturday.