Brooks: Efficient Starts High On Buffs’ To-Do List
BOULDER – It’s true that a first-rate finish can sometimes trump a slovenly start, but Colorado’s young Buffaloes are discovering (the hard way) that a football game’s beginning and end and everything in between are all of equal value.
If that sounds overly simple, five games/losses into its 2014 Pac-12 Conference schedule, CU is still searching for a complete game that might lead to its first league win.
True, the Buffs haven’t finished well enough to win a pair of double overtime games (Cal, UCLA) and another (a five-point loss to Oregon State) that could have swung their way in the fourth quarter. But in their last two losses (USC, UCLA) they’ve also been reminded of the energy lost when trying to transform a weak start into a strong finish. Or, they’ve been reminded that some early holes are inescapable.
In Los Angeles two weekends ago, a strong finish was rendered nearly impossible by falling behind the Trojans 28-0 in the first quarter. At Folsom Field last weekend, the Buffs’ first quarter against the Bruins wasn’t that horrid – UCLA led 17-0 – but it was bad enough to drop CU into comeback mode for the rest of the afternoon.
The simple truth: The Buffs are improving but they’re not yet capable of fully digging themselves out of first-quarter graves with fourth-quarter heroics. Those anemic starts over the past two weekends have helped put CU behind 93-45 in first-quarter scoring margin. Playing catchup doesn’t play into most offensive game plans.
Asked on Tuesday what’s needed for the Buffs to improve on finishing games, quarterback Sefo Liufau answered, “I think it’s kind of funny that you say ‘finish games.’ I think it’s more of a starting fast (thing).”
He cited USC’s and UCLA’s large early leads and said CU must “go in thinking that we can play with each team in the Pac-12 because after we spot the points to those teams, we either match their level as far as execution or we play above them.
“Against UCLA, we started slow and we fought our way back. But if we don’t have that mistake on me at the end of the half (clock mismanagement caused the Buffs to run out of time at the Bruins’ 4-yard line) and if we get something going offensively at the end of the game, then we’re put in a better position not to fight back and fight for a tie to go into overtime but to try and sustain a lead. So, I think obviously you want to finish the game well, but it’s also a matter of starting fast for us.”
Coach Mike MacIntyre agreed, saying the Buffs “do need to start out better, no doubt about that . . . but we have learned how to just keep playing though. I think that’s probably the biggest key for our football team.”
The Buffs remain winless (0-5) in Pac-12 play and at 2-6 overall need to sweep their final four games to become bowl eligible (6-6) for the first time since 2007. Washington visits Folsom Field Saturday (11 a.m., Pac-12 Networks) and is probably as glad as CU to put October in the rearview mirror.
While the Buffs were oh-for-October (0-3) the Huskies won once in three games. UW (5-3, 1-3) comes to Boulder on a two-game skid, having lost at No. 9 Oregon (45-20) and to No. 14 Arizona State (24-10).
CU’s best hope for its first Pac-12 win, said Liufau, is to finally put together a complete game: “It goes back to the other question of being able to finish or being able to start fast. I don’t think we’ve honestly played a complete game yet in any of our games. I think there’s been times where we’ve been up and down. I think we need to be more consistent throughout a game and play at a high level. I think we’re getting closer to doing that, but at the start of games, especially offensively, we haven’t been able to sustain drives. We’ve had a lot of three and outs, so we just have to be able to be consistent and be able to execute on offense.”
KOUGH COMING ON STRONG
He has one of those names that require parentheses to pronounce correctly. It’s Gerrad (Jair-ed) Kough (Koh). Not Gerard, not Cough with a K. But we digress.
Talk about your baptisms by fire . . .
Kough, a redshirt freshman guard who put on nearly 30 pounds since signing, saw his first college duty two weekends ago at USC. The guy staring into his facemask on a number of plays was Trojans defensive lineman Leonard Williams – an All-America candidate. Williams looks the part – 6-5, 300 – and plays it, too.
CU offensive line coach Gary Bernardi said the 6-4, 295-pound Kough “got thrown in there in a heated situation in the (L.A.) Coliseum and did a good job. He had that big No. 94 (Williams) in his face a couple of times, and he is a load.”
Bernardi said the Trojans had two sacks among their four that “we probably could have prevented. But we had a freshman (Kough) come in the game late and I can’t really get too worked up about that.”
Last Saturday against UCLA, Kough made his first college start, replacing Kaiwi Crabb after the senior suffered a concussion in the second half at USC. Kough, said his position coach, “did a good job. He had a couple of (QB) hurries (because) he got wrapped up with the man instead of the scheme. But he’s done a good job. I thought all our guys did a good job the other day. It’s not always pretty, but it works.”
Crabb is listed as day-to-day this week, meaning Kough might get his second start against UW. His to-do list from the UCLA game includes improving his footwork in pass protection. Otherwise, he said his first start went well.
Until CU made him a scholarship offer, Kough, of Pomona, Calif., wasn’t aware that his hometown had a strong Buffs connection. Other Buffs from Pomona include JoJo Collins (1984-88), J.J. Flannigan (1986-89) and Lamarr Gray (1986-90).
He said he chose CU “because I felt like they cared about me and were committed to me. It was a good school to commit to, plus it’s beautiful out here.”
11 PICKS, CHOOSING TO MOVE ON
Liufau’s 11 interceptions tops the Pac-12, one more than Washington State’s Connor Halliday. On the flip side, Liufau’s 23 touchdown passes are a single-season CU record and he’s got four games left this season. He’s thrown at least one TD pass in all 16 of his college games.
A true sophomore from Tacoma, Wash., Liufau is still learning his position. He’s also learning not to dwell on the dark side – such as the two interceptions he threw last weekend.
“I don’t think I’ve beaten myself up too much,” he said. “I think with another year under my belt, being a sophomore now, I’ve kind of matured a little bit in that sense. Obviously, you don’t want those interceptions, but you don’t want to beat yourself up about it.”
Since the Buffs’ 59-7 loss to Washington last season, MacIntyre said Liufau has “gotten a lot better. He’s done pretty well and we still have four games left in our regular season. I think that he is well on his way to being an excellent quarterback. He’s been playing his heart out, playing through everything and fighting through everything, ups, downs, good things, bad things, everything. He just keeps pushing. It’ll eventually happen.”
TWO-WAY FRAZIER BACK TO ONE-WAY?
No way, said running backs coach Klayton Adams of redshirt freshman George Frazier. He’s still being used as a fullback as well as a defensive end, although in the last two games he hasn’t had a carry or a reception.
“There hasn’t been any limitations on how much we (the offense) can use him,” Adams said of the 6-2, 260-pound Frazier. “We’re trying to be in the sets we need to be to try and win. We had a little more for him on Saturday (against UCLA) but when you fall behind you try and do what you can to win, so we were in a little lighter sets.”
In eight games, Frazier has five carries for 4 yards and a TD, and four receptions for 34 yards and two TDs. He’s played 101 snaps on defense, making eight tackles (six solo), with one tackle for loss, a pair of third-down stops and a couple of QB pressures.
The Pac-12 features the nation’s top two QB sacking defenses – Utah (35), UW (34). Huskies defensive end/linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha leads the FBS with 14.5 sacks. MacIntyre calls the Huskies’ front seven “excellent” and “the strength of the team.” . . . . The Buffs are allowing a conference-worst 6.4 yards per play. They’ve also allowed 39 TDs, two fewer than California, which is last in total defense (533.1 yards a game) . . . . A defensive bright from last weekend: MacIntyre said the Buffs stopped UCLA 11 times “and we’ve never done that against a top 25 team since we’ve been here. We’re growing up, but we’re not quite grown up enough yet.” . . . . Sophomore safety Tedric Thompson, who was injured in the first overtime last Saturday, “is doing really well,” MacIntyre said. Thompson was carried from the field on a cart and taken to a local hospital for a CT scan and other tests. Although Thompson suffered a concussion, MacIntyre said Thompson is “doing well and progressing.”