Takeaways From Buffs Vs. Arizona State
BOULDER — When the season began, the Colorado Buffaloes knew they had one of the nation's tougher schedules ahead of them.
But not even the experts could have predicted what awaited the Buffs.
Already, Colorado has faced two teams currently ranked in the nation's top 10 (TCU and UCLA) and another in the top 25 (Oregon State).
But the slate only becomes more difficult over the final four weeks. Still ahead are three games against top 25 teams, beginning with next Saturday's home matchup against No. 8 Oregon, followed by a Nov. 11 trip (Friday night) to No. 9 USC. Then comes a trip to Washington before the season finale against No. 12 Utah.
"We know the challenges get even more significant," CU coach Mike Sanford said after Saturday night's 42-34 loss to Arizona State. "But we're up for the challenge."
Saturday's loss — the seventh time in eight games the Buffs have yielded at least 38 points — dropped Colorado to 1-7 overall and 1-4 in Pac-12 play. While CU's offense put together its best game of the season, the Buffs' defense couldn't come up with enough stops to keep Colorado in the game.
1. Buffs haven't quit. Give interim head coach Sanford and the CU staff credit for keeping this team motivated in the face of very difficult circumstances.
This bunch could have checked it in after the fifth week, when their head coach and defensive coordinator were shown the door.
Instead, they've continued to play hard, as evidenced by Saturday night's fourth quarter performance. Instead of tossing in the towel when they fell behind by 22, the Buffs managed to throw a scare into the Sun Devils by cutting the deficit to eight with three minutes left to play.
Not that they took any solace in coming close.
"We're close but it's not good enough at the end of the day," said sophomore receiver Montana Lemonious-Craig. "There's no moral victories in losses."
That fight and resolve will no doubt be tested over the next four weeks. But the guess here is that Colorado's players aren't yet ready to check it in. They will compete until the end.
2. Player development. Lemonious-Craig and fellow wideout Jordyn Tyson — a true freshman — have become quality playmakers.
Tyson had a breakout game Saturday, hauling in five catches for 115 yards, both career highs, with a 58-yard touchdown reception and an 88-yard punt return for a score. Lemonious-Craig — who hit the highlight reels with his game-winning touchdown reception in overtime against Cal — had two catches for 45 yards, including a 7-yard touchdown catch.
There are other youngsters who have taken significant strides in the last few weeks. True freshman DB Simeon Harris made his starting debut a solid one, finishing with six tackles. Sophomore safety Trevor Woods had eight tackles and an interception, sophomore running back Jayle Stacks continued to show an ability to pick up tough yards, and a young offensive line with three sophomores — Gerad Christian-Lichtenhan, Jake Wiley and Austin Johnson — is also making strides.
There is at least the beginning of a solid foundation for the future. But keeping that foundation in place — and then building on it — will be a critical task for whoever takes the reins as CU's next head coach.
3. Complementary football still missing. On a night when Colorado's offense at least found a second gear, the Buffs still couldn't build constant momentum from one side of the ball to the other.
The offense kept CU in the game in the first half with 17 points but the defense couldn't come up with a key stop late in the first half to keep the Buffs' deficit at just four.
In the second half, the defense opened with a stop but the offense couldn't move the ball and ASU responded with another touchdown to build a three-score lead.
CU then managed just three points off a Woods interception, and late in the game — when the Buffs needed a stop to get one more chance with the ball — the Sun Devils managed two first downs to run out the clock.
Those complementary opportunities are critical. Taking advantage of those moments is the next step for the Buffs.
4. Defensive fundamentals took a step back. ASU's receivers finished the game with 230 yards after the catch — more than half of the Sun Devils' total yardage in the air.
That's an area that needs to be addressed in a hurry, particularly with Oregon and USC on the immediate horizon.
5. Did we mention the schedule? What's ahead over the last four weeks is undoubtedly a monumental challenge. The Buffs can look at the remaining games two ways:
One, an insurmountable task.
Two, a great opportunity to squeeze some confidence out of what has thus far been an incredibly difficult year.
There's still a chance for Colorado to write a positive ending. It will be interesting to see how the Buffs respond.