Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Monday, November 21, 2016

Monday Grab Bag: Buffs On The Cusp

I come to you this morning from Brooklyn, NY, having flown all the way from Boulder to watch the Legends Classic. I'll have a teaser for the CU/Notre Dame game up later today, but know that the overall schedule this week is slammed.  After the bag and teaser today, I'll have more Legends Classic thoughts up tomorrow before the second game of the tournament, a Utah football teaser and beer post up Friday, and a Wofford basketball teaser up... sometime before Sunday's game with the Terriers. You want content, you're going to get it this week.


Today in an abbreviated bag, I'm talking the big football win over Washington State, and the Men's Basketball Team improving to 3-0 after their tilt with Louisiana-Monroe.

(Apologies for the lack of photos this morning, but it couldn't be helped.)

Click below for the bag...

Buffs overpower Cougars in dominating 4th Quarter effort - 

Early in the second quarter of Saturday's game with the Washington State Cougars, the Colorado Buffaloes were in trouble.  Already down 14-7 on the scoreboard, CU was bleeding from the gut as Wazzou marched deep into their territory.  As the ball was placed on the Colorado 29 yard line for a key 1st-and-10, it seemed that all was needed was another State score, and the rout would be on.  I was panicking, the crowd was quieted, and it seemed as if the miracle season was about to turn back into a pumpkin.

But that's right about the time that the CU defense, that titan of the Front Range, stiffened up and refused to break.  A short gain on 1st down begat a 2nd-and-7 that ended in an incompletion.  Then, on third down, the Cougars bizarrely called a run play, which netted them nothing.  Eschewing the field goal attempt, WSU lined up with their offense for a 4th-and-7 from the CU 26, looking for the killing blow.  As QB Luke Falk dropped back, he was eyeing his main target, the ethereal Gabe Marks, on the edge, but covering him like a Snuggie was stalwart corner Ahkello Witherspoon. Not shying away from the moment, Witherspoon provided the first of his three breakups on the day to turn aside the threat. Colorado had held, disaster averted.

Saved for the moment, the Buffs would go on to churn out 74 yards on 11 plays in the ensuing possession, tumbling into the endzone to level the score at 14-all.  While the Cougars would add on a field goal shortly thereafter, and went into halftime with a 17-14 lead, my feeling was that CU had survived a body blow, and were in a great spot.  The second half would be for the Buffaloes.

My newfound faith was rewarded immediately out of the locker room; the Buffs strolled right back down the field in 12 plays, to take a 21-17 lead.  WSU would respond later in the 3rd, but it would be their final points of the game.  In the blink of an eye, Colorado was back in the endzone, with QB Sefo Liufau plunging past the retreating Cougar D-line on a daredevil 11-yard run.  With just 30 seconds left in the penultimate quarter, CU was back on top for good.

As the sun dipped behind the Flatirons, the Colorado defense began to coil around the Cougars like a python.  On a 4th-and-4 from their own 18 they held, with reserve safety Nick Fisher clamping onto Kyle Sweet and flinging him down short of the line-to-gain.  The next WSU possession, after another Buffalo score, ended in a three-and-out and a sack.  After the CU offense scored yet again to push the lead to 38-24, the Buffs pounced on a sack-fumble from Jimmie Gilbert on 3rd-and-10 to all but end the game. Washington State would get the ball back one final time with just seconds left on the clock, but that just ended in a pick from Tedric Thompson.  In all, Jim Leavitt's defense allowed just 46 yards of offense in the final frame, held on three of four third down plays (and one fourth down), and forced two turnovers.  Talk about transforming into a final form; that was lights out football at just the right time.

The final, a 38-24 beauty, changes relatively little in the status quo of the Pac-12.  Washington State still will get to Santa Clara And the Pac-12 Championship with a win next week over rival Washington, and Colorado will do likewise with a win over Utah.  It does, however, move the Buffs to 9-2 on the year, and tie them for the most conference wins in program history.  The magical ride isn't over yet, with the denouement set to be written next Saturday.

The Bulle(i)t points:

  • Sefo. Liufau.  Everyone better be going up to the kid and apologizing for the years of crap heaped on his shoulders.  Even his coaching staff doubted, looking for unworthy grad transfers over the offseason.  The grittiest of the gritty has responded this fall, and the team in kind at his side.  Against the Cougars, Liufau pushed the Buffs to 603 yards of total offense, including 458 of his own account.  Of that, the 108 rushing yards and three scores on 23 carries were the most impressive.  He refused to go down easy, and willed himself into the teeth of a top-10 rush defense.  While the defense earned the accolades in the 4th Quarter, Sefo was the individual MVP on the evening.
  • Don't forget about Phillip Lindsay.  The little maniac added 194 total yards and two rushing touchdowns to help keep the Buffs on the move.  On the day, he also topped 1,000 rushing yards for the season.  Simply a fantastic all-around back.
  • Oh, how about Jay MacIntyre? A personal best seven catches for 90 yards, five of which came on 3rd down for conversions.  He was massive all day out of the slot.  #ThirdDownJay is a thing now.
  • Back to the defense.  Luke Falk had been completing about 74% of his passes this year, but wasn't even over 50% against Colorado on Saturday.  The Buffs even held the usually efficient Cougars on 11 of 15 3rd downs.  They are plain nasty in this state. Thumbs up all around.  

Buffs vs ULM wrap - 

Back on Thursday, the Men's Basketball Team was able to hold serve at home with a breezy effort against the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks.  Following up on the dour, scatter-shot effort from Monday, it was encouraging to see them hit their shots early, and close out the home portion of the Legends Classic with the walk-ons on the floor.  It was mostly thanks to a dominating first half which saw them play +25 basketball, the best stretch of basketball they've played since the season opener. While the intensity would flag a bit in the second half, and the 'Hawks allowed to keep pace over the final frame, at no point was the lead in danger, and the Buffs can head to Brooklyn with an 89-70 win and a 3-0 record.

The buzzword after the game was, once again, balance, with each of the four redshirt seniors finishing in double-figures scoring while combining for 52 of the team's points.  The best performance overall, however, was from Derrick White, who chipped in 12 points on five shots, to go along with four assists, three boards, and two steals in 23 minutes.  My only complaint: all those points came in the opening possessions of the contest.  Had he wanted to, White could've dropped 30 or 40 on Thursday; he just stopped scoring.  Sure, it's nice to involve your teammates, but I'm still looking for just a little selfishness from the transfer point guard.  For the rest, Xavier Johnson caught my eye.  He's still struggling to finish, but his work on power moves in the paint is paying off.  I'm seeing separation from defenders, and the promise of his speed and athleticism beginning to pay off; now it's just a matter of converting those opportunities into points consistently.

Beyond the seniors, my biggest takeaway from the game was the vulnerability of the second unit with Dom Collier on the sideline.  The junior point guard is out for about a month with a break in his foot, and the reserves looked a little chaotic in his absence.  Without his calming influence off the bench, the first grouping off the bench was lead by Thomas Akyazili, who chipped in 5/3/3 with four fouls in 16 minutes Thursday.  While I like the young Belgian, and see him as a valuable piece in the entire picture of the roster, he's a little exposed right now.  He can do some exciting, awe-inspiring stuff on the basketball court, like his reverse layup in the second half against ULM, but, at least right now, he's just as likely to take a hasty foul on the perimeter or turn the ball over while trying to play a little too freely.  I expect some improvement from him over the next few weeks, as playing time and responsibility increases, but he's just not there right now, and it's noticeable.

One hedge against Yaz's oftentimes erratic play could be freshmen guards Deleon Brown and Bryce Peters.  They're still prone to freshmen mistakes, but it's clear that Boyle and the coaching staff are willing to put trust in them. In Dom's absence, the pair combined for 37 minutes of action -- both, individually, more than Akyazili.  Probably the most impressive was the debut of Peters.  The combo guard from LA, now released from his season-opening, two-game suspension, put his abilities on display against ULM, and I liked what I saw.  Good athleticism, a sense for the moment, and flair. He finished with 9/3/1/3, and really added something to the second unit.  Defensively, too.  More to come, and development needs to follow, but a strong statement in his first official action, nonetheless. Hopefully, he can take care of business off the court, so we in BuffNation can continue to see him shine.

Regardless, on to Brooklyn, and on to the Fighting Irish.

Happy Monday!

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