Colorado Buffaloes senior strong safety Ben Burney looked like a battered warrior as his bruised right shoulder was wrapped. But his shoulder doesn’t hurt as much as his pride.
“This is my last season, I’m done after this,” Burney said. “I love you guys and I’m trying to play my heart out. I don’t care about my body. I don’t care about anybody but this team. It’s my family. We just got to come out and act that way, sacrifice everything for the season.”
After CU’s 36-17 loss Saturday to the Missouri Tigers, the Buffs’ season is on the line. They are 2-6, which means they are one defeat away from missing a bowl game for the third time in head coach Dan Hawkins’ four-year tenure.
The culprit to this season’s downfall is simple: The team failed to show up when the game started – again.
For the fourth time this season, all losses, the Buffs trailed by double-digits at halftime. Against Mizzou, CU handed the Tigers a 33-point cushion in the first half.
“When you look at the scoreboard, we’re losing by 30 points,” junior wide receiver Scotty McKnight said. “I’m about to blow a gasket on the sidelines.”
Getting angry might be a solution, but the reality is no one really knows why they stumble of the chute. And as Burney said, time is running out.
Many on the team have their theories about why they have slow starts.
For example, Hawkins said he thinks players need to gain momentum by making a couple of big plays. Meanwhile, junior linebacker B.J. Beatty said maybe guys haven’t woken up because of the early start times of the last two games.
Both are valid reasons. After all, it’s hard to make game-changing plays or wake up when Mizzou sophomore quarterback Blaine Gabbert had all day to find every receiving option available. Gabbert was sacked just once and had so much time, he could’ve had his morning coffee and read a newspaper before deciding who to throw to.
If Mizzou’s 26-0 lead in the second quarter didn’t wake up the sleeping Buffs, then maybe some Halloween trickery will. The Tigers went trick-or-treating on the Buffs when holder Forrest Shock faked a 41-yard field goal attempt and threw a shovel pass to Gahn McGaffie for a 24-yard touchdown.
Another possible theory came from McKnight, who said he felt some players were waiting for someone else to make a play instead of grabbing the situation by its horns.
“As an offense, you got to take pride and go out there and make plays in the first snap of the game and not wait for someone else to make something happen to kind of fuel you with energy,” McKnight said. “You just have to take pride in that.”
Of course, the simplest theory could be the team lacks the will to want to succeed until they are in a ditch the size of the Grand Canyon. It isn’t out of the question, as one player alluded.
“They weren’t doing anything different,” sophomore quarterback Tyler Hansen said. “We weren’t doing anything different. I think we just came out too lackadaisical, too relaxed. I think we need a little fire to us and we didn’t have the fire in the first half. In the second half, we kind of wanted it more.”
The most puzzling part about this situation is both the coaching staff and the players said they had great practices leading up to the game. But when the lights are the brightest, CU seems to lack the concentration to shine.
“I thought we had our best practice we’ve had in a long time on Tuesday,” Hawkins said. “I think they were ready. Meetings were good, the prep was good, all of that I thought was really good. It’s hard to tell with guys what their mentality is going to be.”
McKnight added, “We’re practicing great and that’s what make this so frustrating. I don’t feel like guys are losing focus, but when we get into the game, we need to make plays and we need to do a better job focusing in general.”
The only thing for certain is the Buffs have trapped themselves into a corner and they are looking for ways to escape. If the Buffs don’t find an exit strategy and get off to quicker starts by 11:30 a.m. next Saturday against Texas A&M, then you can stick a fork in them.
“We are a trapped animal and we have to get out,” Burney said. “If we play to our full potential, we can win games.”
Contact CU Independent Sports Editor Cheng Sio at Cheng.firstname.lastname@example.org.