Brooks: ‘Climb The Mountain’ Is Buffs’ Goal Saturday
BOULDER – Hoping to further an upwardly mobile performance by his football team last weekend, Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre this week laid out a three-word mantra for the Buffaloes: “Climb The Mountain.”
Considering the disheartening valleys of the past eight seasons and last Saturday night’s glimpses of progress in a 38-24 loss to now-No. 15 Arizona State, MacIntyre’s approach is reasonable. It’s challenging, too, because this week poses a slip-from-the-cliff scenario for the Buffs – if they’re unfocused.
CU closes out non-conference play Saturday at Folsom Field against Hawai’i (noon, Pac-12 Networks), and a four-quarter effort that mirrors the final three against ASU likely will pull the Buffs back to .500 (2-2) and send them into Pac-12 road work next weekend with another shot of momentum.
Redshirt freshman running back/kick returner Phillip Lindsay called Saturday’s game “very big . . . it’s a statement that can say we’re here now, we’re climbing that mountain. As ‘Coach Mac’ says we’re climbing it now and we’re in the clouds. We need to keep climbing, climbing, climbing to get to the top. We’ve got to get past the clouds. This week, we’ll see. As long as we keep climbing and as a group stay together, we should be OK.”
After three home games to open the season, the Rainbow Warriors visit the mainland for two consecutive games. Historically, Hawai’i is more difficult to defeat in Honolulu than when it travels. Since 1998, the Rainbow Warriors are 1-10 on the road against Power 5 conferenced opponents.
CU owns one of those wins, rallying to defeat the visitors 31-13 in 2010. In Hawai’i, the Buffs are 0-2, having lost 13-0 in 1925 and 34-17 in 2011. CU went into the last meeting concerned about quarterback Bryant Moniz’s arm strength and accuracy. The Buffs’ focus should have been about 5 ½ feet lower; surprising them with the read option, Moniz’s strength were his feet. He ran for 121 yards and three touchdowns.
Since that game, Hawai’i has changed quarterbacks (Ikaika Woolsey) and coaches (Norm Chow). Three games into his third season, Chow – regarded as an offensive guru at his other coaching stops – is 5-22 overall (1-15 Mountain West). Islanders are grumping over Chow’s lack of success, but a coaching change might be the least of Hawai’i’s concerns. Athletic director Ben Jay hinted to the school’s regents in August that the NCAA granting autonomy to the Power 5 conferences could run the Rainbow Warriors out of the football business.
CU is scheduled to open the 2015 season in Honolulu, but that trip is not on the Buffs’ minds now. It’s understandable if the Rainbow Warriors view their visit to Boulder as highly winnable. CU is Hawai’i’s third Pac-12 opponent in four games and the only one of the three that didn’t appear in 2013 postseason play. The Rainbow Warriors lost their 2014 opener 17-16 to Washington, then were defeated 38-30 by Oregon State.
Hawai’i believed both games were winnable – and they were. UW rallied from a 10-0 deficit with 17 unanswered points to win the opener. In the second game, the Rainbow Warriors rallied from a 38-7 fourth-quarter deficit before time ran out on them against Oregon State. Hawai’i defeated Northern Iowa 27-24 last weekend.
“I think they’re a very good football team,” MacIntyre said of the Rainbow Warriors. “I think they’re very physical. Their quarterback is extremely athletic. They’ve got big, big wide receivers, kind of like the wide receivers that we saw last week. Defensively, they bring a lot of different types of blitzes and a lot of man coverage. They’re going to be a strong test for us.”
Woolsey has completed 57 of his 122 pass attempts for 631 yards and one touchdown, with one interception. Midway through last weekend’s third quarter, he was replaced by backup Jeremy Higgins, who didn’t have glitzy stats (3-of-6 passing for 37 yards) but directed a pair of scoring drives.
Woolsey might not run as effectively as Moniz in 2011, but he runs well enough to concern a defense. He’s carried 27 times for 62 yards (100 not counting sacks) and a TD. Woolsey is still listed as the starter on this week’s depth chart.
Hawai’i’s ground game was built on tailback Joey Iosefa, a 245-pound senior who averaged 98.5 yards a game and had scored four TDs before being sidelined with an ankle injury. Iosefa, who is expected to be out four to six weeks, ran for 143 yards against UW, but gained only 54 against OSU before his injury. He was replaced by Steven Lakalaka, who ran for a career-best 124 yards and one TD against Northern Iowa.
The Rainbow Warriors’ top receivers are 6-2 Quinton Pedroza (20 catches, 187 yards) and 6-4 Marcus Kemp (13-202). Hawai’i averages 222.7 passing yards a game, but allows 242.3 and has been out-rushed 155.0-131.0.
CU turned in its best total offense performance of the season – 545 yards – against ASU. The Buffs outgained the Sun Devils 523-204 in the last three quarters, but three turnovers proved costly. Two were interceptions thrown by Sefo Liufau, who is 81-of-127 passing for 837 yards (eight TDs, three interceptions) in his three 2014 starts.
Despite his miscues and a costly first-half fumble by Michael Adkins II, Liufau said the Buffs “did a lot of tremendous things on both sides of the ball: offense, defense and special teams. We just have to be able to capitalize. It’s all in the details (and) I’m mainly speaking about offense. It’s just the details and focusing on the little things. If we do that then, it’s a whole different ball game.”
MacIntyre said while the Buffs were defeated by a “really good” ASU team, they were coming to the realization that “they think they can beat anyone but they also realize that anybody can beat us. I do see them thinking that. It’s easy to say that but to actually put it into practice, compete at it, push at it, fight at it, work at it, you have to put those words into motion, so to speak.”
After Saturday, CU is into its Pac-12 schedule, with two of its next three games on the road. The Buffs close out September with a trip to California (Sept. 27), host Oregon State the first weekend in October (Oct. 4), then have a bye week before traveling to USC (Oct. 18).
By then, the Buffs will see where “climbing the mountain” has taken them. Senior running back Tony Jones believes the journey is underway.
“You go and play the game; you might win, you might not but with us we’re thinking we’re going to win every game,” he said. “We’re going to compete with everybody no matter who it is . . . we didn’t get the result we wanted (against ASU) but we competed. We can feed off of that.”