Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Monday, October 3, 2016

Tuesday Grab Bag: Ranked

Even considering the early (12:30pm) kickoff on Saturday, I was a little stunned to see Folsom half-filled (I'm being generous) at kickoff.  While the fans eventually showed up by the start of the second quarter, I felt that the team, in acknowledgement of their success over the first third of the season, deserved to run out of the tunnel to full stands of applause.

Then, as the Buffs took full control headed into halftime, the late-arriving crowd began to leave early. I guess I understand, with the result well in-hand and the sun shining, that the lure of greater-Boulder would draw a number of those in attendance out of the stadium. Further, football games are unbearably long, especially if its a blowout.  Still, after years of painful slogs against conference opponents, horrors too numerous to list here, I felt bolted to my seat in appreciation, and was surprised to see my fellow Buffs didn't feel the same.

Look, #TheRise is real, and deserves a fanbase equal to the matter at hand.  My appeal is simple: show up on time, and stay in your damn seats for a full game.


Today in the bag, I'm talking the win over Oregon State, how the rest of the Conference of Champions fared this weekend, and the start of basketball season.

Beavers' dam is busted in Folsom - 

I said in my teaser that "as long as Colorado 'shows up' on Saturday with anything resembling focus and preparation, they should win handily."  In the latest chapter of '#TheRise Takes no Prisoners' they did and did, clobbering Oregon State throughout a 47-6 win at sun-drenched Folsom Field. It marks the program's largest margin of victory over a conference opponent since a 54-7 win over Kansas State in 1992 (let's not talk about what happened the following week...).
The score was rolled up, and it was mighty.  From: Ralphie Report.
Oregon State actually started out well.  Taking advantage of three straight incomplete passes on Colorado's first offensive possession, the Beavers marched deep into Colorado territory before settling for a field goal.  Just a few minutes into the action, we were seeing the downside of a blazingly-fast offensive scheme, as the 25-second possession hung the defense out to dry.  The effects were limited, however, as the Buffs took full control on the following series, running the ball on six-straight downs before QB Steven Montez (still in for the injured Sefo Liufau) fired a 51-yard touchdown strike to Shay Fields to claim a lead Colorado would never relinquish.

From there, it was a pretty perfunctory display.  Oregon State had nowhere near the talent or composure to compete with the speedy, veteran Buffs.  You could see that clearly on a play early in the 2nd quarter that put CU into overdrive.  A quick screen pass to Shay Fields on the right side turned into a 63-yard TD scamper, thanks both to the electric speed of Fields and the unparalleled blocking of fellow-wideout Devin Ross on the edge.  Ross blocked two would-be defenders on the play and impeded a third in springing his teammate for six.  It's performances like that which set the Buffs apart from the also-rans this season.
What you could also see was a killer instinct.  Leading just 20-6 midway through the second quarter, Colorado tightened the screws, churning out an 11-play, 66-yard touchdown drive, a three-and-out from the defense, another strong, 10-play scoring drive that ended in a field goal, and a pick-six on the verge of halftime.  In the blink of an eye, CU had extended out to a 37-6 advantage, and all but ended the contest.  It's the mark of a solid team: finishing halves strong.  They didn't allow the Beavers to get to half feeling good about themselves; they chopped the head off of the serpent before it could open its mouth in protest.

The focus now turns to next week's affair in Los Angeles, against the inconsistent USC Trojans. Since we now must consider things like 'division standings' and 'conference positioning' as important, it's a road game against a struggling team that they Buffs need to have.  With a tough schedule still in front of Colorado, winnable opportunities, especially away from home, are a valuable commodity. This is no time to see a let-up.

The Bulle(i)t points -
  • At 2-0 in Pac-12 play, the Buffs stand alone at the top of the South division standings.  I present this fact without comment.
  • Steven Montez continued his run of brilliant play in relief of Sefo Liufau.  19-27, 293 passing yards, three touchdown passes, and no interceptions.  You can't ask much more from a freshman backup.  I still maintain that this team's future resides in the hands of Sefo, however. As good as Montez looked, you could tell he's still missing some things, which could present problems down the road.  Liufau is the safe, consistent choice; the trusted kind that will keep the team headed int he right direction through October and beyond.  Once Sefo is healthy, he needs to be back under center.
  • Shay Fields is a magician.  No one in white and orange could keep up with him one-on-one, and he had most of his seven catches for 169 and three scores by the middle of the second quarter.  Just spectacular stuff.
  • Speaking of spectacular, the offensive line didn't allow a sack, surrendered just one tackle-for-loss overall, and helped eight different Buffaloes get 248 yards rushing on 54 carries.  The CU run game is rarely explosive, but, at five-yard clips, keeps the chains moving consistently. It wears teams down, and suckers them in close to the line so the wideouts can launch over the top.  For example, on the first touchdown, those six-straight run calls netted just 24 yards, but brought in the safeties to spring loose Fields on the 7th play.
  • Davis Price seems to have finally taken over for Chris Graham at kicker.  He was good on both of his field goal attempts (his first from 54 yards), and didn't miss an extra point.  Even his kickoffs were solid.  I'm sure there will be some growing pains, but I'm much more comfortable with the freshman from Evergreen ascending to replace the injured Diego Gonzalez.
  • Oh, and the Buffs are ranked in both polls for the first time since 2005, just before that team went to Iowa State... a game I had written about previously

Around the world of Pac-12 Football - 

- Washington 44 - Stanford 6 - 

The biggest result in the conference came from Seattle, where the Huskies walloped the Cardinal. UW won every statistical category, including rushing yards, where they lead Stanford and Christian McCaffrey 214-29 (McCaffrey would still finish with 223 total yards, thanks to a number of kick returns). I haven't seen the Cardinal beat in the trenches like this since before the Harbaugh days, and this game may just signify a changing of the guard up North.
The Huskies are rolling.  From: Seattle Times
- Cal 28 - Utah 23 -

In one of the best finishes of the weekend, the Golden Bears held at the goal line against a determined push from the Utes. It took six stops from within the 10-yard line to do it, but the Cal defense won the game, eventually stoning Zach Moss on the 1-yard line to end it.  It's a tough loss for Utah, who seemed to be the class of the South prior to the game, but not a crippling one.  I still see them as the #1 threat to CU in the division, even over UCLA...  note: that I'm even discussing such matters is obscene.

- USC 41 - Arizona St 20 -

In a big turnaround, the Trojans put up huge numbers this week to mark their first fully positive result of the season.  The story with them, so far, had been of offensive inconsistency, particularly under center.  Well, QB Sam Darnold threw for 352 yards and three scores on just 33 attempts to help USC avoid a 1-4 start.  Sure, Arizona State is a dumpster fire on defense (121st nationally), particularly against the pass, but it's important to recognize that the famous Trojan talent is still there and still capable ahead of CU's visit to University Park.
The Trojans look revivified ahead of the visit from CU.  From: the LA Times.
- Washington St 51 - Oregon 33 -  

Finally, a very small amount of the luster from last week's CU win over Oregon was rubbed off this week, thanks to the Ducks' loss in Pullman.  Wazzou was allowed to rack up 280 rushing yards, which they leveraged into a breezy win.  This is the second-straight season that the Cougars have beaten the Kings of Swoosh, who appear to be in complete freefall.  With an impending visit from the pumped-up Washington Huskies, their season may be in serious jeopardy.

Basketball season quietly tips off - 

Somewhat lost amid the flotsam and jetsam of a burgeoning football campaign, the Colorado Buffaloes Men's Basketball Team tipped-off practices on Friday, ahead of the 2016-17 season.

The thing I love about Coach Boyle is that he habitually eschews fluff.  He didn't come out day one talking any 'best practice ever' nonsense (which it always is, no matter what coach tries to sell that line).  No, Tad quickly stated after the first practice, 'we have a long way to go defensively' and 'we have a lot to work on.' Of course, his answers were from the mindset of transitioning from summer workouts to actual practices, no need or alarm, but it's notable, none-the-less, how open he was about the current status of his team.

Attention to defense and rebounding is nothing new with Boyle, however.  As anyone who follows the program knows, they're his bedrock principles -- the idea being that taking care of both will necessarily lead to wins.  In fact, I can't remember a single season where the opening day's message wasn't about defense and rebounding... that is, other than the disastrous 2014-15 campaign.  So, to that end, we're in familiar territory.
The gym is warming up... From: @XTheCreator
And, certainly, the Buffs are used to hearing that message, as well.  No one in Black and Gold will be under any confusion when it comes to the importance of defending the rim.  It hurts here, however, that Josh Scott is no longer with the team.  He had, in his time, become one of the best defending centers I have ever seen in Boulder.  By the end of his CU career, he was supernatural in both his understanding and anticipation of what was needed to make an impact on the defensive end, leading the team in both defensive win shares and defensive rating.  Without him manning the middle, I'm actually a little concerned as to how the interior of the defense will hold up this season.  While Wes Gordon is a defensive stalwart, and an honorable mention from last season's Pac-12 All-Defensive Team, players like Xavier Johnson and Tory Miller are a decided step down on the defensive end from Scott (not to disparage either, Josh was just that good).  As a result, I expect Boyle to look more to a 4-out, 1-in system for whole stretches, and this may be part of the reason that the word 'zone' was floated a bit last week.

Regardless, it's good to have basketball back, and I cannot wait for the season to begin.  I'm already hard at work on my Massive Preview, and you should expect to see it ahead of opening night on November 11th.

Happy Tuesday!

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