Brooks: Buffs Seek Bold Start To Season’s 2nd Half

LOS ANGELES – The Colorado Buffaloes open the second half of their 2014 football season chasing the same goal that eluded them three times in the season’s first half: a breakthrough Pac-12 Conference win.

If CU accomplishes it here on Saturday (4 p.m. MDT, Pac-12 Networks) in the cavernous Los Angeles Coliseum, it will be a breakthrough times two, not to mention a bold signature ‘W’ for second-year coach Mike MacIntyre.

Here’s the challenge: The Buffs must win their first Pac-12 game of the season against an opponent – No. 22 Southern California – that they’ve never beaten. What’s more, in eight consecutive Trojans wins the Buffs have been outscored by 201 points (277-76). The closest CU has come in this era was a three-point loss (17-14) in 2000. Last season the Trojans led 23-0 at halftime, 37-7 entering the fourth quarter, and left Boulder a 47-29 winner.

“There are probably a lot of people that haven’t beaten USC that haven’t played them a ton,” MacIntyre said. “They’re just that type of program. But our kids are excited about going there and there would be nothing better than to get them, for sure.”

CU’s roster features 55 Californians, with almost half (31) of the traveling squad returning to its home state. It’s territory that hasn’t been kind to the Buffs; they are 2-17-1 in California, with their most recent win coming at UCLA (31-17) in 2002 and their most recent loss a double-overtime heartbreaker at Cal (59-56).

MacIntyre’s message to his team this week hasn’t changed: Keep battling and a breakthrough will happen. “I think we keep improving, we’ve just got to keep fighting, which we’re doing,” he said. “Our coaching staff is fighting and working hard, and our players are. They’re in tune to it. There wasn’t any practice where I felt like I had to pull teeth to get them going.

“They came out there ready to go in meetings, which shows they’re really focused and realizing that they are getting better. There’s talented teams all throughout our schedule but, if you look at the Top 25, you’ll see that there’s more Top 25 teams in the last six (games) right now. That’s why you play in the Pac-12 . . . that’s why our kids are in it. We’ll keep growing up and we’ll keep competing and end up getting it done.”

THE BUFFS (2-4, 0-3) BELIEVE HIM; they haven’t rolled over in any of their four losses and can legitimately claim that with a stronger finish or three they would have a perfect Pac-12 record.

“If you look at our record, it doesn’t reflect how much work we’ve put in,” said sophomore left tackle Jeromy Irwin. “We’ve been playing well but we just need to finish. That’s what we’re planning on doing this week.”

Added senior guard Daniel Munyer: “Sometimes it hurts thinking about how close we are, just seeing where we’ve come. Sometimes it gets repetitive with everyone saying, ‘You guys are so close.’ We hear it from everyone. We’ve got to take that on ourselves. It’s not enough to say you’re close; you’ve got to finish.

“So what are you going to do about it? I think we’re there. We’ve just got to have that extra urge to not lose basically, and not accept losing. We’re buying into that. That’s where this team’s going.”

If the Buffs are indeed on the track that Munyer suggests, their timing is exceptional. Counting Saturday’s game, in which they are three touchdown underdogs, the season’s second half matches them against four Top 25 opponents – No. 22 USC, No. 20 Utah, No. 16 Arizona and No. 9 Oregon. The Buffs’ other two opponents are UCLA, which recently dropped out of the national rankings, and Washington, who visit Folsom Field (in that order) over the next two weekends.

The Buffs are coming off a bye week, which historically has played in their favor – sort of. Since 1948, they are 25-19 after open dates, but in Pac-12 play they are 0-2. Those numbers mean little to MacIntyre, who says his team’s week off allowed it to improve on special teams and in playing faster and more confidently in run defense.

“We’ll have to do that to stay up with ‘Buck’ Allen and (Justin) Davis, the other running back,” he said. “We’re going to have to swarm to that football.”

“That’s really a big emphasis this week – running, swarming to the ball,” said CU defensive tackle Justin Solis. “If we do that we can get people down and cause turnovers.”

It usually takes a swarm to bring down Javorius Allen, a strong and elusive 6-1, 220-pounder who is the conference’s leader in rushing (130.2 yards a game) and all-purpose yardage (176.5). Allen, who is coming off a 205-yard, three-touchdown performance last weekend, averages just under 23 carries a game. The 6-1, 195-pound Davis gets about half that many touches a game and is averaging 39.5 yards. They’ve combined for nine rushing TDs, with Allen scoring seven of them.

CU ALSO MUST COPE WITH quarterback Cody Kessler, who is completing nearly 70 percent (69.1) of his passes. He has thrown for 1,565 yards and 11 TDs, hitting 143 of his 207 attempts with only one interception.

While the Buffs appear due to catch a break, the Trojans (4-2, 3-1) caught a huge one last weekend at then-No. 10 Arizona. Nearly blowing a 15-point fourth-quarter lead, USC survived (28-26) on a missed last-second field goal. It was Wildcats kicker Casey Skowron’s third miss of the night.

But the Trojans also have landed on the sorrowful side of heartbreak. The previous weekend at the Coliseum, Arizona State scored three TDs in the final 3:53 – including a 46-yard Hail Mary on the final play – to stun USC 38-34.

USC’s up-and-down October is enough to keep CU buoyant. If the Buffs continue to compete as they have into the fourth quarter, they might not get a better chance to finish a Pac-12 road game with a breakthrough ‘W.’ And here’s a trend they should take to heart: In this season’s first half, the road teams went 14-4 in Pac-12 games.

USC has been strong early, outscoring opponents 59-13 in the first quarter, but has wilted late, owning a 45-43 fourth-quarter scoring advantage. CU has outscored its six opponents 114-92 in the first half, but has sagged in the fourth quarter, getting outscored 51-38. As Munyer points out, “We don’t put the nail in the coffin, so to speak. We got to do that this weekend and I think we will.”

MacIntyre has his team living and playing week to week, aiming at a 1-0 target for 12 weeks and tallying the wins in late November. In the backs of the Buffs minds, though, they know they’re four wins shy of being bowl eligible and staring at their six toughest games.

“Like ‘Coach Mac’ says, we’re trying to break through those clouds . . . and we’re real, real close,” Solis said. “These last six games are very important to us. Ultimately a bowl game is our goal and in these last six games we can prove that we belong there.”

Contact: BG.Brooks@Colorado.EDU 

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