Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Tuesday Grab Bag: A Setback in LA

I'm behind the 8-ball this week, what with Homecoming preparations, and all.  So, straight to the action!

Today in the bag, I'm talking the troubles with the Trojans, how the rest of the Pac-12 fared, and the seemingly unstoppable CU Women's Soccer Team.

Click below for the bag...

Buffs stub their toe against USC - 

Late in the 4th quarter and down a touchdown to the resurgent USC Trojans, the Colorado Buffaloes faced a critical third-and-seven from the Trojan 22-yard line.  There was still a little over five minutes to go in the game, but, with Southern Cal averaging near seven yards per play on offense, this had the feeling of a make-or-break series for the Buffs.  CU would call a downfield pass play, entrusting redshirt freshman QB Steven Montez with making something happen.  Unfortunately, he took a sack as the USC rushers pinned their ears back. Colorado then settled for a 42-yard field goal to cut the deficit to four points, and hoped for the best on defense.

They never got the ball back, and lost 21-17.

I have a number of issues with this sequence.  First-and-foremost, Colorado should've been playing with a mindset for four downs once they crossed midfield.  In and of itself, kicking the field goal on fourth-and-nine wasn't the worst decision, but I would've looked to either run or throw a screen on third, knowing I would go for it on fourth-and-manageable if the team didn't convert.  By playing the end of the series series conventionally - conservative, with the fallback of a field goal attempt in mind - CU let USC dictate the terms of the final minutes of action.  Playing all out for the touchdown would've put all the pressure back on the Trojans to make a play, rather than looking to the Buffs' defense to make a stop.  Again, in and of itself, trusting the defense, as good as it has been this season, would not normally have been a terrible strategy.  It's just, on this day, with the way Southern Cal had been chewing up yards, to expect the Colorado defense to get a three-and-out was asking for a lot.
The defense was bending, but not breaking, against the Trojans.  From: the Post
What's more, who's to say that, if the Buffs had gotten the ball back, they'd have wound their way into a similar position in the game's final seconds?  Drives had been stalling all day, and I would've liked to see the team capitalize on the field position when they had it, rather than look to find it again when they needed it.  This is nothing new.  I have long stared bemusedly at Mike MacIntyre's NFL-style passivity in game management, but it hurts knowing the Buffs played against the percentages down the stretch.

It was the capper of an 'off' day for the then-21st ranked Buffaloes.  The first half was nearly an unmitigated disaster, only saved by a few Trojan miscues on offense.  CU couldn't get anything going offensively in the opening frames, getting just 3.3 yards per play, and failing on six of their nine 3rd down opportunities.  Conversely, USC was roaring, getting over seven yards per play and executing at almost every position.  The difference was in the trenches, where the bigger, faster, stronger Trojans defensive and offensive lines were owning their Black and Gold counterparts.  Colorado had just 36 yards of rushing on 16 carries at the break -- 19 yards of which came on a single QB scamper by Montez. On the flip side, USC was getting every hole they needed at the point of attack, devouring over five yards per run headed into half.  Yes, CU was only down 14-0 headed to the tunnel, but it felt like so much more.
Montez was a little rattled on Saturday.  From:
Into the 3rd quarter, the Buffs improved, capitalizing on a strip-sack from Addison Gillam by calling for a WR option pass that Bryce Bobo turned into a 67-yard dime to Phillip Lindsay.  Suddenly, the Buffs were back in it.  It wasn't until the final quarter that they really started gaining some traction, however. A perfect drive with 13 minutes left tied the score up, and seemed to give Colorado the momentum they'd needed all afternoon.  USC would quickly answer, though, putting us all in the position of watching that final CU drive that ended in the field goal.

As a result, the Buffs dropped out of the rankings ahead of a key Homecoming showdown with Arizona State (another program Colorado has never beaten).  If they win, the Buffs will be back on track, and still within a shout of competing for the Pac-12 South crown.  Should they lose, then I'm back to my default position of just hoping for a bowl trip... any bowl trip.  Teaser to come Thursday night.

The Bulle(i)t points:

  • At this point, I don't know what's going on with the quarterback situation.  Montez looked rattled all game, making a number of freshman mistakes, and Sefo Liufau looked healthy enough when he spelled the frosh late in the second quarter (Montez had gotten the wind knocked out of him on a previous play). Going forward, there's no doubt in my mind that Sefo should start , but what do I know?
  • Bryce Bobo had a hell of a day for the Buffs, both throwing for and catching a touchdown.  His pass to Phillip Lindsay for CU's first points was a thing of beauty, hitting his mark under heavy pressure from the oncoming USC defender.  He took a hit for his efforts, too, but stayed in the play.  Kid's got game.
  • As rough a day as the defense had (539 yards allowed, 6.7 per play), they still forced four turnovers and kept the Trojans out of the endzone as required.  Bend, but don't break.  That, again, is the problem with trusting them with getting the ball back after that field goal, however. A bending defense is not one that gets you the stop in just three plays.
  • Juju Smith-Schuster sat on a sure touchdown on the last meaningful play of the game with his team up four points.  It secured his team the victory, eliminating any remaining chance of a miracle Colorado comeback, but it also cost the Trojans the cover.  Not his deal, I know, and nothing untoward, but many interested parties were in a tizzy over the result.  For me, however, it was money in the bank -- I love me some back-door covers.

Around the world of Pac-12 football - 

- Washington 70 - Oregon 21 - 

At long last, the streak is over.  In emphatic fashion, too.  After 12 years of futility, the Washington Huskies finally broke their losing ways to the Oregon Ducks, thrashing them with over a decade of pent-up frustration.  70 points?  That's a cleansing fire if ever I've seen one.  The Huskies put up damn-near 700 yards of offense on the woeful Ducks, who, every week, seem to be getting closer and closer to a bowl-less season.
Streak: over.  From: ABCNews
- Washington St 42 - Stanford 16 -

OK, what the hell is up with Stanford.  I get their blowout loss to Washington, who is a world-beater. But WSU?  The Cougars had previously lost to Eastern Washington, of all teams.  I can see the win, but not the blowout win.  Credit where it's due, though.  The Cougs kept Christian McCaffrey to well-under 100 total yards (only 35 rushing) and generally dominated in the trenches.  This wasn't a fluke. Maybe the Apple Cup will be worth something this year, after all.

- Oregon St 47 - Cal 44 -

In a narrative-heavy week in the Pac-12 North,this result made me do the biggest double-take. Oregon State, the team CU pounded into dust, turned around and squeaked one out against a half-decent Cal team?  What the hell?  It took overtime, but the Beavers prevailed thanks to a monster game from Ryan Nall -- 221 yards rushing, 3 touchdowns (CU held him to essentially nothing, remember).  As a side note, this result also leaves Oregon alone in the basement of the division. Related: schadenfreude is wonderful.
Happy Beavers!  Didn't think I'd see that this year.  From: USA Today
- Arizona St 23 - UCLA 20 -

With this win over the Bruins in the desert, the Sun Devils will head to Boulder with a national ranking and a lot to play for.  ASU was forced down to their 3rd-string QB (something to watch for Saturday), but survived thanks to a record-breaking performance from kicker Zane Gonzalez.  For the Bruins, a lot of nervous looks as Josh Rosen went down with a leg injury in the first half.  He did return, however, compiling 400 yards passing for the game, but left again in the 4th after a punishing hit.  If he is out any extended amount of time, UCLA is in trouble.

Soccer team on a roll - 

We are all wrapped up in #TheRise over at Folsom, and Basketball season is so close that I can taste it (6,500 words into my Massive Preview, btw...), but the best team on campus right now may very well be the Women's Soccer Team.  Since a trio of one-goal losses in late August, they've reeled off nine straight wins, including five in conference play, to vault into both the top-25 and the lead of the Pac-12.

Their latest, a 3-0 blitz over Oregon State on Sunday, was highly impressive.  First half goals from Sarah Kinzner and Taylor Kornieck put the Beavers behind the 8-ball, and they never managed to respond. CU Goalie Jalen Tompkins was rarely troubled en route to her 7th clean sheet, only forced to make a pair of saves as the Buffs kept the pressure up throughout.
A lot of smiles for the ladies at Prentup.  From:
Since losing their last game, CU is up 22-3 on the combined scoreboard, including 9-1 in Pac-12 action.  They've been relying heavily on the defense, having been out-shot 55-36 in conference games prior to Sunday.  It's a winning strategy, building a wall in front of Tompkins with a veteran core of defenders and midfielders.  Eventually, the stellar attacking play of forwards like Danica Evans and Kornieck will pay dividends.  In fact, Kornieck is tied for the Pac-12 scoring lead with 10 goals, and set a program record against OSU for consecutive games with a goal.

Their biggest games are still ahead of the Buffs, however.  Trips to the Bay Area and visits from the SoCal schools, all of whom are in the national top-25, will be particularly troublesome later this month.  Still, to have a clean sheet in conference right now is incredible, and the team deserves all the plaudits we can spare.  Hopefully we can all make it a point to pack Prentup this Friday at 3pm, when they take on Washington.

Happy Tuesday!

No comments: