Shoulda-coulda-woulda has been the theme of University of Colorado football over the past years. So far this season, I’m sure the Buffs themselves could say the same.
Hawaii and Oregon were winnable games. The Buffs weren’t expected to win the Oregon game, but they played the Ducks close and — with the absence of a few key plays — that game could have easily swung in the Buffs’ favor.
Turnovers, special teams and play calling in key situations have been the downfall for Colorado in its two losses this season.
In those losses, the Buffs had six turnovers — three in each game. In its three wins this season, Colorado forced seven total turnovers and only gave the ball up once.
The key seems to be limiting turnovers, and limiting points off of turnovers. Oregon had 14 points off of turnovers in last Saturday’s game. It’s one thing to give the ball away, but a whole new problem if the other team is taking those turnovers and turning them into points.
Penalties are a huge factor in terms of losing yards and, more importantly, momentum. Five penalties for 70 yards at Hawaii and six for 41 vs. Oregon had the Buffs moving in the wrong direction and caused momentum swings in the opponent’s favor.
Mike MacIntryre was furious at safeties coach Joe Tumpkin for drawing a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty — and deservedly so. The penalty gave the Ducks a jolt as they went on to score a touchdown to go up 24-17 in the second half.
CU also got torched on the return game against Oregon, giving up an average of 31 yards per kickoff return for a total of 124 yards. The Buffs’ offensive line allowed five sacks for a loss of 38 yards. Against Hawaii it was more of the same – four sacks for 22 yards.
The Buffs hurt themselves with self-inflicted mistakes in both losses. Then, add in lackluster offensive performances in the second half and some poor play calling, and you have a recipe for a loss. A lot of the time in sports, games are lost by the loser — not won by the victor.
Let’s look at the results for the second-half drives for Colorado. Against Hawaii: field goal, downs, punt, punt, punt, punt, field goal, end of game (we’ll get to this later). Against Oregon: punt, fumble, punt, touchdown, punt, downs. That brings the grand total to a whopping 13 points compared to the 34 allowed to opponents in those two second halves.
The final play against Hawaii and the fourth quarter punt against Oregon jump out to me as examples of questionable play calling.
CU got the ball with just over two minutes left in the Hawaii game, down 28-20. They drove down the field to Hawaii’s eight yard line, but time expired. Say what you want about the refs dropping the ball and not allowing Colorado a final play, but the call on the previous play was what got them there. With 17 seconds left, CU called a short pass to running back Phillip Lindsay who was tackled just shy of the first down. If you haven’t seen it, check it out here.
In that situation with no timeouts, the play call has to be a sure first down or a play toward the sideline so the clock doesn’t run out.
Now jump to the Oregon game. Facing a fourth down and four, down by 14 with 7:10 left in the game, Colorado punted the ball. Why? First, there is absolutely nothing to lose at this point. You have seven minutes and two timeouts to score 14 points. Unlikely, but not impossible. Second, it’s a very manageable fourth down, requiring just four yards to move ahead.
A punt in that situation shows a team that is satisfied with losing a close game to Oregon — a team that is content to compete, not to win.
This is a result of conservative play calling that has hurt the Buffs. They go into a game against a struggling Oregon secondary and barely take any deep shots in the passing game. A big game like that is no time to get conservative. It’s a time to call gutsy plays and leave everything on the field.
If you want to be a Pac-12 contender, it’s not enough to just compete. The conference doesn’t hand out participation ribbons.
I’ll say it again — Colorado football is beating itself. Beating itself with turnovers, beating itself with special teams, beating itself with play calling.
Once the Buffs correct those mistakes, they can turn these shoulda-woulda-couldas into results.
Contact CU Independent Copy Editor Cannon Casey at Cannon.email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @cannon_casey.