Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Monday, September 24, 2012

Monday Grab Bag: "Let's come back and sing that song"

What a difference a week makes.  The Buffs returned to Boulder Saturday night winners in their first conference game, leaving them tied atop the Pac-12 South standings.  It took an incredible fourth quarter comeback, but the win eased blood pressures across the state, and obviously lifted a huge weight from the shoulders of the coaching staff.  The Fresno St game isn't entirely forgotten, but it's at least a secondary memory now.

Today in the bag, I'll be looking back on the win, noting improvement across the board, and taking a run around the nation of football.

Click below for the bag...

Upset in Pullman - 

CU came into the game three touchdown underdogs, but used a 21 point 4th quarter comeback to steal a 35-34 win from the Washington State Cougars.  It quickly brought to mind the WSU game from last season, where the Cougars overcame a 10-point deficit in the final minutes to steal victory in Folsom.  Turnabout is fair play as Saturday's stunning result ruined WSU's homecoming, and breathed life back into BuffNation.
Improvement was evident almost from the opening kickoff.  While WSU marched down to score on their opening drive, the Buffs answered with their own methodical touchdown drive.  In fact, while The Cougars held a 21-7 lead at halftime, CU could reasonably point to only a few mistakes which kept them from having a lead.

WSU had extended the lead to 31-14 after the start of the 4th quarter, but the Buffs refused to quit.  A Jon Major interception, followed by a 70-yard touchdown completion to Nick Kasa, got the momentum rolling in the Buffs direction.  WSU proved incapable of running clock, which got Colorado the ball back down 10 points with just under five minutes left in the game.  A lightning strike 84-yard run from backup tailback Tony Jones cut the Cougar lead to three points, leaving the home WSU crowd in panic mode.
Tony''s run made the comeback a real possibility.
Despite botched kickoff coverage, which allowed a 56-yard return deep into Buffs territory, the CU defense held, only allowing a field goal.  This kept the game within reach of a last second touchdown.  It was now up to much maligned QB Jordan Webb to engineer a season salvaging drive.

Over the course of 11 plays, the Buffs marched down the field, eating up almost all of the remaining 3:11 on the clock, and leaving the team with a desperate 4th and goal play from the four yard line.  CU spread the field with the game on the line, using an empty backfield shotgun set to complicate things for the Cougar defense.  As he approached the line, Webb keyed in on a drop look from WSU defense, and audibled to a QB draw.  The 12th play of the drive started, the Cougar defense cleared, the audible worked, and Webb easily waltzed into the endzone.
Wait, what?  Buffs won?!?!?!
Buffs win!  Light the fires, alert the media!

Improvement across the board -

In isolation, the trip to Pullman was always a winnable proposition.  The Cougars are not a good team, possessing a woeful defense, a still-learning offense, and a program culture unaccustomed to winning (Saturday was only the 3rd time in five years that they've been favored in a Pac-12 game at home.  They're now 0-3 in those games).  The only reason I thought CU had no chance was that I was viewing things through the lens of the Fresno St debacle.  Apparently, the team that failed to show up in Fresno also failed to continue the journey with the real Buffaloes.
The team circled the wagons, just like Coach Mac said they would.
After a full week of getting beaten up and down the virtual and practical pages of CU's media, the Buffs got up off the mat, and set about proving everyone outside of the program wrong.  They answered every question holding over from last weekend.  They played with urgency, energy, and passion.  They showed improvement on both sides of the ball, flexing adjustments at almost every area.  Was it perfect? No, but it was winning football.  That's right, winning football.

Even before the 4th quarter comeback, I was ready to hit today touting improvement.  The offense played extremely well, racking up over 531 yards of offense (6.6 per play), and creating 26 first downs (most on the season).  Everything from the running game (186, 5 yards per carry, and three scores) to the passing game (345 yards, 8.2 yards per attempt, and two scores) was working, and most were giving the praise to the move of offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy to the sideline.  Even understanding how poor the WSU defense is, it proved to be a good fix that lead to a good result.  By far the best offensive performance of the season.
Stretching the field with the tight end?  Who are these guys?
The defense, while horrific in the first half, improved as the game went along, allowing nearly 100 fewer yards in the second half than they had in the first.  A series of halftime adjustments proved essential in paving the way for the offense to win it at the end. In the second 30 minutes, outside of busted coverage on WSU's last touchdown, the Buffs' defense bent for 128 yards, but didn't break under the pressure. Additionally, when WSU tried to go to the run to salt away the game, CU didn't budge.  By my count, they only allowed 16 net rushing yards in the second half.  Not a dominating overall performance, but one you can build on.

There were also plenty of strong individual performances worth noting.
  • Jordan Webb played his best game in a Buffs uniform, shrugging off injury concerns to throw for 345 yards and two scores on 70% passing.  
  • Tony Jones came off the bench to rush for 105 yards, buoyed by his 84 yard run to put the win within reach.  
  • Nelson Spruce notched his first 100+ yard performance of his career, hauling in eight catches in the process.
  • Paul Vigo ran all over the field, causing havoc, notching two tackles-for-loss, and forcing a fumble which lead directly to a score.
  • Chidera Uzo-Diribe and Will Pericak combined for three sacks and 33 yards of loss while often being the only designated pass rushers as CU repeatedly dropped nine in coverage.
  • Parker Orms lead the team in tackles, while picking up a huge pass break-up in the 4th quarter.
The sun always shines brighter in the wake of victory, but it was already a solid bounce back effort before the comeback.  The win only highlights the strong effort from the entire team.

I also have to congratulate Coach Embree and staff.  I didn't hear a single good thing said about them all week, yet still they busted ass to put the team is position to win.  You could see the relief and unadulterated joy on Coach Embree's face during postgame interviews.  I couldn't be happier for the guy, he deserved a day like Saturday.

You've earned it, guys.  Sing the fight song with pride, make the walls shake.  Let freedom ring!

Around the nation of football - 

College Football

Oregon St @ UCLA

Before the game, it seemed like UCLA would be a strong Pac-12 contender.  After the Beaver's 27-20 upset, being held to only 72 yards of offense in the process, the Bruins head to Boulder unsure of what kind of team they are.

Clemson @ Florida State - 

The Big primetime matchup lived up to the hype for a change, as both teams looked strong in the Seminole's 49-37 win.  The 'Noles notched 34 in the second half en route to the win, mostly on the back of QB EJ Manuel and his 380 yards of passing.

Kansas St @ Oklahoma - 

I'm not a big fan of KSU coach Bill Snyder, but I approve of anyone who can go into Norman, and pop Bob Stoops and his Sooners in the nose.  The 24-19 KSU win puts them in the Big XII drivers seat.


Detroit @ Tennessee - 

Sunday's best game saw a onside kick lead to a successful Hail Mary with time expiring.  Despite nearly coughing up a game they had in hand, the Titans escaped overtime with a 44-41 win.  Seriously, if you get a chance, catch the replay on NFL Network this week, it's worth it.

Kansas City @ New Orleans - 

Yet another OT thriller from Sunday, the Chiefs escaped the Big Easy with a big bounceback win on the back of 288 yards of total offense from Jamaal Charles.  The Saints, a 13-3 team from last season, have now started 2012 0-3.  

Happy Monday!

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