Brooks: It’s ‘All Hands On Deck’ For Buffs Receivers
BOULDER – After two games, the Colorado Buffaloes’ plan to replace Paul Richardson with six or eight hands rather than two is coming into focus.
Clearly, Nelson Spruce is CU’s “go-to” pass grabber, but freshman Shay Fields is playing as advertised – maybe even a bit beyond his prestigious billing. And after an “oh-fer” receiving start in the Buffs’ opening loss to Colorado State, redshirt freshman Bryce Bobo introduced himself to the stat sheet in last weekend’s 41-38 win against Massachusetts.
Fields has caught 14 passes in his first two college games, gaining 139 yards (9.9 average) and scoring his first college touchdown on a 19-yard catch-and-run against the Minutemen. That reception was one of six Fields made for 93 yards, while Bobo caught five passes for 54 yards.
Spruce, meanwhile, stayed on the pace that has made him the Pac-12 Conference’s leading receiver in yards per game (124.5). He caught a career-best 10 passes for 145 yards – also a career high – and two touchdowns against UMass. For the season, he’s made 17 receptions for 249 yards and four TDs.
Fields, of Bellflower, Calif., initially committed to Southern California, but had changes of heart and mind. The Buffs took an interest in him and that was reciprocated. In February, he became CU’s lone four-star signee, sending him into August carrying high expectations from the Buffs coaching staff.
He’s disappointed no one. His 14 receptions are the second most by any freshman in the country and ties former CU receiver Scotty McKnight for the most by a freshman at the school after two games.
The 5-11, 170-pound Fields said he’s experienced the kind of start and impact he wanted to make: “Yeah, every freshman expects that, but my mindset was to come in and work as hard as I could and earn a spot.”
In August camp, it didn’t take long for Fields’ feet and hands to begin turning heads.
“I think about halfway through camp he started coming on,” coach Mike MacIntyre said. “Then, I thought he played well our first game and I thought the second game he played better. We had a couple plays out there where he might have had an even bigger game where he got behind the guys because he can run. He can make plays. I’m excited about what Shay brings to the table. I think he’s a good player.”
Fields played in Snoop Dog’s youth football league and still counts the rapper among his friends. Snoop has congratulated Fields – via Twitter – on his two-game accomplishments, which Fields says were set up for him by the coaching he received and the work habits he developed at St. John Bosco High School.
“That got me physically and mentally prepared for where I need to be right now,” said Fields, who as a senior caught 82 passes for 1,617 yards and 18 touchdowns. He averaged 19.7 yards per catch with a long reception of 95 yards and had seven 100-yard receiving games.
Fields is fast, but the college game’s speed is “a little more” than he expected. “Coming from a no-huddle offense (in high school) we were fast but this is a faster level,” he said. “But I try to get off the line and get into my routes as fast as I can and read the defense.”
CU sophomore quarterback Sefo Liufau began developing chemistry with Spruce last season and Bobo in spring drills. That process started with Fields during summer conditioning work and the Buffs’ “PRPs” – player run practices.
“It didn’t take long, especially since I came out here for PRPs and we kind of clicked right away,” Fields said. “Me, Sefo and Jordan (Gehrke, No. 2 QB) stayed after practice a little bit more and I took notes in the film room.”
Fields lists “hard work” among his strong suits, and that has been obvious to Liufau through camp and the first two games. Liufau called Fields “a really good player” and “a playmaker . . . he’s a special talent. Hopefully, he keeps progressing through the years because he’s still young. As of right now, yes, we try to get him the ball.”
Bobo presents Liufau with one of the receiving roster’s bigger targets; he’s 6-2, 190 and at least in practice has demonstrated the ability to outduel defensive backs for the ball. MacIntyre said Bobo “always plays hard (but) the hard thing about being a receiver is the ball doesn’t always come your way . . . he can run and stretch the field. And he blocks well. A couple of those screens (vs. UMass), he blocked well on the edge and helped us.”
If Fields remains a constant in the passing game and Bobo builds on last weekend’s performance, opponents won’t be able to put Spruce in their crosshairs. “I think the good thing with our team is that we saw, Shay has been having a big year and Bobo stepped up last game,” Spruce said. “Tyler (McCulloch) and D.D. (Goodson) are always going to be making plays. I don’t think we’re a team that you can really double cover. Other guys are always going to hurt you.”
CU begins Pac-12 play on Saturday night (8 p.m., ESPNU) in its 2014 home opener at Folsom Field against No. 16 Arizona State. The Sun Devils rolled the Buffs 54-13 last season in Tempe. Fields called the Pac-12 “the hardest conference in America. The level of competition is going to step up this week.”
LOPEZ A STAND-UP TEXAN
After defensive tackle Eddy Lopez committed to CU, he began drawing attention from other schools. One of the calls came from Texas, which for a Texan – Lopez is from El Paso – is a hard call to ignore. But, said Lopez, “I’m a man of my word.”
He signed with CU and last weekend made his college debut (13 plays) against UMass. He called it “a huge transition,” but all in all, “It went well . . . it was an honor for my coaches to put me in.” Lopez, a 6-4, 300-pounder, said practices helped prepare him for the game’s speed: “I think I caught up to the speed, thanks to practice. I was able to adjust pretty well.”
Spruce (8.5 catches) and Fields (7.0) are among the Pac-12’s top 10 in receptions per game. Spruce is second, Fields sixth . . . . The Pac-12 has nine 2-0 teams. Only CU (1-1), Stanford (1-1) and Washington State (0-2) have suffered losses . . . . Six Pac-12 teams are averaging more than 200 yards rushing per game, topped by ASU’s 345 and 10 rushing TDs. CU is averaging 145 ground yards a game . . . . The Sun Devils are 5-0 against the Buffs and have outscored them 206-61. In three meetings since CU joined the Pac-12, ASU owns a 153-44 scoring advantage, winning 48-14 (2011), 51-17 (2012) and 54-13 (2013) . . . . ASU has had 16 scoring drives – 14 TDs, 2 field goals – this season; all have required less than 3 minutes.