Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Tuesday Grab Bag: A Rose By Any Other Name Is Apparently The Alamo Bowl

Pressed for time, it's straight to the action this morning. Today in the bag, I'm talking the result in Santa Clara, the Bowl Selection process, and the BasketBuffs responding in Portland.

Click below for the bag...

Buffs struggle under spotlight of the Pac-12 Championship Game - 

The Colorado Buffaloes were always going to be playing with their backs to the wall in the Pac-12 Title Game against the Washington Huskies.  UW is a dominant team, possessing oodles of talent to go with a head coach who knows how to win big games, and clearly deserving of a shot at #1 Alabama.  Even on their best day, the Buffs would've found it difficult to beat them with Playoff positioning on the line.  The unfortunate thing of it is, however, that CU didn't bring their best with them to Santa Clara last Friday, shooting themselves in the foot throughout a lackluster effort.  The final, a 41-10 shellacking, was not indicative of the true caliber of this team, yet leaves me with a sour taste in my mouth after months of sweets.

There will be a number of people who will point to the first play of the second half as a turning point. Down just 14-7 after the break, with Colorado QB Sefo Liufau back under center after spending a large portion of the opening frames sidelined with an ankle injury, the Buffs were looking to tie up the score and gain some momentum with the opening possession of the 3rd Quarter.  What they got, instead, was a death sentence.  Liufau dropped back, spied slot receiver Jay MacIntyre open over the middle, and floated a pass his way.  It was a little high, forcing JayMac to jump, but the toss was still a catchable ball that the wideout was able to put both hands on.  Unfortunately, though, Jay wasn't able to secure the grab, instead tipping the ball in the air and back behind him.  Washington defensive back Taylor Rapp was there, waiting for the mistake, and returned the loose rebound 35 yards for a touchdown.  21-7 Huskies.  All the warmth seemed to drain from the air, and the remaining question was no longer if Colorado could push for the win, but if they would be able to keep the score close. They would not.
"I've made a huge mistake." From:
Certainly, that play tipped the scales, permanently, in Washington's favor.  The mistake was then only compounded on the ensuing drive when Liufau was picked off, again, by Rapp, leading to a UW field goal to make it 24-7.  My perspective, however, doesn't lead me to believe that there is an alternate universe out there where those two picks don't occur, and Colorado somehow pulls off the win. Washington, throughout the first half, had proven to be the better team, and it was only a matter of time until they turned in the finishing plays needed to put the Buffs away.  The offensive mistakes by Liufau and MacIntyre just accelerated the time table.

Look back at the first half and tell me where you think Colorado had shown a secure foothold against the Huskies.  Yes, CU was down just seven points at intermission, but it was a hard seven points.  The Buffs had proven incapable of stopping the Washington running attack (17 first downs, 296 yards), leaving UW on the front foot throughout, and the Colorado offense was stuck in neutral, even without those two train wreck possessions to start the 3rd (just three yards per play, nine total first downs). The simple fact is that the Buffs were never going to win, pick-six or no.
The Huskies are very deserving champions.  From: Yahoo Sports
As depressing as that though is, I will repeat my sentiments from Friday night -- there is no shame in losing to a good team.  On that day, in that setting, CU was never going to win.  But that doesn't mean the Buffs didn't deserve to be there, or should be cowed by what they put on the field.  Yes, in a perfect world, they play clean, near-perfect football, and come up just short. But I'm not one to cry over degrees of defeat.  They lost, the better team won, let's move on.

With the result, the College Football Playoff Selection Committee saw fit to drop the Buffs two spots, leaving the door open for the idle USC Trojans to move up three (that's a strong week of practice, boys!), and usurp CU for the honor of a Rose Bowl bid.  Denied the storybook setting for the final chapter of this dream season, the Buffs will have to settle for the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, TX against the Oklahoma State Cowboys on Dec 29th.  My thoughts on that after some side observations...

The Bulle(i)t Points - 

  • For all the struggles up front in containing the Husky running attack, CU made Jake Browning look like a second-rate QB.  The former Heisman candidate probably saw any hope of back-dooring the award disappear over a 9-24 performance that resulted in just 118 yards of passing (and two scores).  Pat of it was game plan (UW called 54 runs to just those 24 tosses), but every time Browning dropped back he looked lost and vulnerable while staring into the dominant Colorado defensive backfield.  But for a few dropped picks and some corners trying to hit home runs late, his line would look even worse, too.  
  • There was some discussion floating around that Sefo should not have come back after half, and backup QB Steve Montez should've stayed in.  I'll leave any determination of true health to the medical professionals, but if Sefo is cleared, he should be in there.  You can point to the interceptions, but two of those weren't Liufau's fault.  You can point to Montez leading the one scoring drive of the game, but it was done against a defense still reacting to the switch, and they countered in a hurry, forcing a near-interception of the freshman right before half.  More to the point, that's Sefo's team, and the kid deserves to lead them til the end, results be dammed. If you can't understand that, you don't have a soul.
  • Faced with 54 run calls, Colorado linebackers Kenneth Olugbode and Addison Gillam totaled 32 tackles.  Yo.  The next three leading tacklers for the team were all defensive backs -- Afolabi Laguda (9), Ryan Moeller (9), and Chidobe Awuzie (7).  If that doesn't tell you all you need to know about the play of the CU defensive line, I don't know what will.
  • Phil Lindsay got just 2.8 yards per carry against the Huskies' defensive line, and I was surprised it was even that high.  The Colorado o-line struggled to open holes and get to the second level all night.  That crew in purple ain't no joke.

On the Bowl Selection process - 

For all that the Buffs did this year, for all that they accomplished, their reward?  A trip to Texas. For a game against a Big XII school. *sigh* That's the rough equivalent of getting underwear for Christmas. Sure, it's nice, and the gift is appreciated, but that copy of Watch Dogs 2 I wanted would've killed you?

Look, I get the point.  No one in this fanbase, nine years removed from the last bowl trip to *shudders* Shreveport, Louisiana, should be complaining about the destination.  And, given the opportunity three months ago, even the Motel 6 Cactus bowl would've looked like a juicy steak to us bowl-starved denizens of Buff Nation.  But, circumstances have changed, and the Alamo Bowl demeans the team and their regular season profile.
Well, at least they're happy with the matchup.  From:
Am I 'disappointed' in the relegation to the Alamo Bowl?  No, not as such.  What I am 'disappointed' in, however, is the Buffs getting punished for wining their division, then losing to a better team while USC sat at home, all nice, fat, and happy. No wonder USC was so outwardly happy for Colorado when they won the South -- they knew, when push came to shove, they'd be rewarded for coming in second, anyways.  Such is life, I guess, to the privileged runners-up go the spoils.

USC in a Rose Bowl?  Wow, what a wonder.  Maybe I could be driven to give a flying shit if they weren't invited one out of every three times they hold the damn thing.  For me?  I'm going to hold my nose and hope Pedo State kicks the bloody bejesus out of them.

Yes, I will go to San Antonio, and yes I will cheer on the team in person despite all my better instincts telling me to never return to the Lone Star State.  That doesn't mean I will forget the slight levied by the CFP Committee, an injustice for the ages. Remember the Alamo, indeed.

Buffs Basketball responds, beats the Pilots - 

After the home horror show against the Rams, I'm sure a road trip out to quiet, removed Portland seemed like a Tad-send to the BasketBuffs.  The visit didn't start clean, though, with a rocky start greeting the club out of the locker room.  Colorado, however, would go on to pull away in the second half, earning a 76-63 victory that calms the blood for a few days.  Far from perfect, but road dubs are always precious, and a win, as ever, is a win.

I wan't able to watch the first half, still heading back from the airport along E470, but I was able to listen to the 850 KOA radio call as the miles ticked by.  If the temperament of Mark Johnson was any indication, I didn't miss much.  Thomas Akyazili and Derrick White were turning the ball over, and generally playing ineffective basketball. The offense as a whole was scatter-shot, and the team was still missing free throws.  With about six minutes to play in the first half, Portland had built a 23-15 lead, and I was starting to wonder just how deep the rabbit hole would go.
The Pilots were up early.  From: the Oregonian
Then, the Buffs realized that they were bigger than their smaller conference foe, and started taking it to the paint.  Starting with a layup at the 4.56 minute mark by White, every basket the Buffs would score until half would come from down low, fueled by the guards backing down smaller defenders. Add in some free throws from Xavier Johnson (who was largely unguardable) in the middle of the stretch, off of a good attacking mentality, and the Buffs were dictating their will. Through this, CU was able to close the gap to just two at the break, despite having an overall sluggish start to the game.

Into the final frame, the Buffs continued to pound the ball inside, keeping them in good position through the opening minutes of the second half.  That's right about when I got home, and the threes started falling. The team had been 0-7 in the first half from deep, continuing a trend of ice cold shooting from the week prior, but one three from XJ gave the team the lead, and a few minutes later a host of shots followed through the basket.  One from Bryce Peters, another from Josh fortune, a third from Deleon Brown; hello!  Throughout it all the margin on the scoreboard kept increasing, with the Buffs seeming more and more comfortable away from home.  CU would go on to hit 5-of-12 in the second half, good for about 42%.  From there, it was all about pressing the advantage inside, reveling in an explosion of energy from Wes Gordon mid-way through the second, and slowly growing the lead. By the end it was double-digits, and Colorado cruised home.
Not a very pretty ballgame.  From: the Oregonian
Some nits remain to pick, however.  It wasn't beautiful basketball, like the team is capable of, and it also helped that Portland was 2-12 from deep after halftime.  Further, I saw some ugly defensive possessions from Lucas Siewert, making me only more nervous about the depth of this team up front, and Derrick White has suddenly caught a turnover bug from somebody (six more on Saturday).  But the team showed good grit in bouncing back from the CSU loss, and I was heartened by the return of the three point shot in the second half. Xavier Johnson chipping in 19/5, and Josh Fortune adding in 14/5/2/2 against zero TOs was also very welcome.

Still, while the win is nice, I doubt it's an indication of a true turnaround.  CU was able to take advantage of some clear physical mismatches from the U8 timeout of the first half on, hammering home the separation between a Power 5 club and a mid-major also-ran (34 points in the paint).  They won't have such an opportunity Wednesday against Xavier, or Saturday against a more physically capable WCC squad in BYU.  I'll have previews for each up over the next few days, but I don't think I'm spoiling anything by saying my expectations are pretty low headed into the toughest week of non-conference play.  I've been wrong before, though, and you never know when this team is going to get hot from the outside.  If there was ever a moment for the offense to roar to life, it's right now.

Happy Tuesday!

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