Football season has come and gone. The University of Colorado Buffaloes finished 4-9. Football writers Justin Guerriero and Jake Mauff assign offensive and defensive final grades in this edition of Report Card.
The offense had its struggles throughout the season. None is more obvious than red zone scoring. Out of all the Division I College Football programs in the nation, Colorado finished 120 out of 127, scoring on only 70.4 percent of all drives that reached the end zone. The red zone is closer than where the NFL extra point is. A field goal shouldn’t be out of the question when the team reaches this end of the field. The only thing that matters in football games are points and the Buffs were giving away easy points this season. This is especially damning considering how close some of CU’s games were.
Overall, Colorado’s offense seemed to click against the easier opponents on the Buffs’ schedule. A run-first attack was seen against UMass and Nicholls in September, each working to great success. Against tougher opponents, CU couldn’t generate as much of a rushing game and the offense suffered.
The offense began to click when runs by junior quarterback Sefo Liufau were added. It gave the offense longer drives and confused opposing defenses. When Liufau went down, the offense seemed to go down with him. There were moments against USC, the game that caused Liufau to be lost for the season with a broken foot, that saw the offense do good things. Against Washington State, those flashes of potential were nonexistent. Senior wide receiver Nelson Spruce’s best stretch of the season came in these three games. The back-up quarterbacks knew he was a go-to-guy and he continued to make plays. It’ll be tough to replace him next season.
Overall grade: C
It was a strange year offensively for this Buffs team. Quite a bit of talent, that’s for sure, yet lacking in execution. And what is talent without proper execution?
I think the Buffs are among the leaders of the Pac-12 in terms of talent. Yet, here the program sits, with a 4-9 season.
The biggest issue this year for the Buffs was that the offense failed repeatedly to put points on the board. Again and again offensive ineptitude killed the Buffs. Bad play calling, lack of execution — whatever we choose to attribute the struggles to, the offense was cursed with the inability to grab the bull by its horns, if you will. It’s like having a Lamborghini but lacking the car keys. They were so close at times, but could never find the ways to win the games. And here we sit, mulling another classic Buffs season, clinging to whatever shreds of dignity and hope we have left.
And Jake has a point. The Buffs did play well against their non-Pac-12 opponents. That’s a start, I guess. So it’s unfair to call the offense a complete disaster. But I’m not happy about the end result of it.
If there’s one primary reason for this team not preparing for a bowl game right now, it’s the offense’s inability to score. If I were any one of the Buffs’ offensive eleven, I’d have a real tough time looking guys like Chidobe Awuzie and Rick Gamboa in the eyes in the locker room. The defense played their hearts out this year. They certainly weren’t perfect, but I recall many times where the defense fought desperately to keep the team in the game, only to see the offense fumble things up and give the ball right back to the enemy.
It’s no secret that the defense spent an absurd amount of time on the field this season. If that isn’t valiant, it’s certainly commendable.
The offense had the talent, but couldn’t finish the job. Congratulations to senior wide receiver Nelson Spruce, who’s going to go down as the one of the best players in CU history. It’s been so much fun watching him. I’d probably offer congratulations to a few other individuals on the offense, but individual accolades aren’t to be given the same weight as games won. The offense, despite impressive individual contributions, was not a success.
So I’m giving the offense a C-. They just could not execute. If I’m a professor handing out final grades, the Colorado offense is the slacker in my class who just managed to get a somewhat decent grade. Needs improvement.
The defense seems to be an oxymoron of big plays with big yards given up. Case in point, Stanford’s sophomore running back Christian McCaffrey was considered a Heisman candidate going into the match-up against CU. He was named a Heisman finalist, but the talk around him quieted after this game. He had some big plays, but he was fairly well contained other than that. That was the difference that the Buffs made. McCaffrey was a consistent player in every other game, but this game saw him only do good or bad things.
This shows improvement over last season. The defense’s turnaround came with the help of a lot of players. Junior defensive back Chidobe Awuzie was used all around the defense. He was second on the team in tackles, with 84, while also sacking the quarterback four times. Kenneth Olugbode helped win the Rocky Mountain Showdown against CSU with a pick six. His performance in that game earned him Pac-12 player of the week. He finished the season with 67 tackles, good for fourth on the team. This is particularly impressive considering he missed two games and half of a third due to a leg injury.
The defense also caused a fair amount of turnovers. In 13 games, the team came down with 13 interceptions. Colorado also had a fumble recovered, good for 14 turnovers on the season. This sole recovery was returned for a touchdown. This is after having only three turnovers the season before.
Overall grade: B+
Can we really complain about the defense that much? I’m certainly not going to. I have a very sincere respect for the Buffaloes’ defense. Despite injuries and facing tough opposition from their Pac-12 colleagues, overall, the defense did pretty well. Yeah, the defense wasn’t good against the run. The secondary got burned fairly regularly. But let’s not kid ourselves. The Colorado defense hasn’t looked this solid in years.
Last year, the Buffs lost 56-28 to USC. This year they lost 27-24. In 2014, Oregon beat on the Buffs and won 44-10. This year, the game was tied 17-17 at halftime. The defense proved that it could compete with the powerhouse offenses that make up the Pac-12 Conference. And although I’m sure no players would admit it, I think fatigue crippled the defense this year. I’m not doubting the physical condition of these players, but the defense undoubtedly got worn down toward the ends of games.
There were a lot of individual guys that stepped up this season. Freshman linebacker Rick Gamboa is first and foremost among them. When talented starting inside linebacker Addison Gillam had a season-ending surgery on his knee before the game against Oregon State back in October, Gamboa was tasked with a very large role. But he held his own, and like Jake said, led the team in tackles this season.
Derek McCartney was great too. The defensive end was tied for the team lead with five sacks. I’m sure head coach Mike MacIntyre has high hopes of the sophomore after his impressive first collegiate season. I think that ultimately the secondary played well this year, too. They collectively did a good job most of the time at containing the talented receiving core that makes up the Pac-12. Again, it certainly was not perfect or blameless, but give credit where credit is due. It could have been a lot worse. Check the scores from the last five seasons if you don’t believe me.
I’m with Jake on this one, I’m saying B+. Good job, defense. But please, football gods, no injuries in 2016. On both sides of the ball, for that matter.
Contact CU Independent football beat writer Justin Guerriero at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @TheHungry_Hippo.
Contact CU Independent football beat writer Jake Mauff at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @Jama4737CMCI.