Oregon State hosts Colorado this Saturday night for the Beavers' Homecoming (both literally and ceremonially). Ralphie won't be coming (though Chip will), but beyond that, a lot of Oregon State fans may not know what to expect from the Buffs.
To get a scouting report, and updates on what Colorado will do in the wake of the loss of notable WR Shay Fields, we got with Jack Barsch from The Ralphie Report, our brother SBN site that covers Colorado.
Hi Jack, and thanks for taking time to talk about the Buffs.
BTD: Colorado has actually about met expectations, at least those held by most people outside Boulder. The Buffs took 3 of 4 non-conference games, but are now coming up short after a competitive initial effort in their games since starting Pac-12 play. Colorado fans surely hoped for more, but hope and expectation are usually 2 different things, How has the season gone relative to your expectations?
Jack: Well, in my schedule preview, I said that the Buffs would go 3-1 in non-conference and 0-3 in their first three conference games, and actually I was quite close with the score predictions to, so it's going about how I thought it would so far. None of the teams that the Buffs have played have looked as strong as they were projected to, but neither has CU (in the fan's minds), so that kind of evens out. Close losses are about where this team should be against teams like Arizona and Oregon. However, Coach Mac HAS to win at least one more game, and two would make him more comfortable. Two years without a conference win is straight unacceptable.
BTD: Looking at the game summaries, it looks like Nelson Spruce has been quite consistent, but while consistently good, hasn't had that big breakout game that might have made the difference. Is that an accurate assessment? And if so, why hasn't he quite been able to be the game changer many expected an All-Conference receiver to become?
Jack: Well, simply put, he has not been as effective year because the offense hasn't been that effective this year. He still gets targeted a lot, but he's either bracketed in coverage or the pass isn't on time or target. Spruce is very effective at being a possession receiver and he's still the first option on third down, but he doesn't have to do as much this year as others have stepped up and the offense can't seem to move the ball as well this year.
BTD: Shay Fields appeared to have emerged as the Buffs' most likely big play threat, while still being a steady producer, and now he's out for at least this week's game with a sprained ankle. How do the Buffs compensate for this, and with whom?
Jack: Shay Fields is a big loss, no doubt. He has been consistently a top threat and has a chance to take it to the house any play, something we have seen very little of in Boulder the last 5 years. Thankfully, nothing was broken and Buff fans still have at least a year and a half of his talent. However, if there's one position group that CU could sustain a loss in, it's the wide receivers. There's a great position coach, Troy Walters, and the players left have great experience and skill set.
The name you'll see most often in place of Fields is Bryce Bobo, a big boy with the attitude to match. He never goes down on first contact and is a fantastic possession receiver, albeit underutilized. He can't quite replicate Shay's speed on the outside, so enter speedster Devin Ross. Too diminutive to play on the boundary all the time and too unreliable to get a lot of snaps, Ross is perfect for about 15-30 snaps a game in the flat and the fly where he can use his speed to full advantage. Few can catch him in the open field, so CU should give the ball to him in as creative of ways as possible. I'd love it if they'd compensate by using the middle of the field more with players like Sean Irwin and Dylan Keeney, but at this point it looks like a pipe dream.
BTD: Sefo Liufau's numbers seem to actually be improving against Pac-12 opponents; is that a product of getting his shoulder healthy again? Update us on his injury, and how his season has been going. Is Oregon State going to be the game when Liufau gets his, and Colorado's, first conference win since Cal in 2013?
Jack: You nailed it on the head. The Buffs didn't need him to pass against Umass, the Hawaii game was an anomaly for all involved (hopefully), and after the CSU game his shoulder really needed to heal. Arizona was the first game where he looked healthy, and would you look at that, he stopped sailing passes and looked fantastic. Let's hope that Liufau shows up again, as it looked like he may have hurt the same shoulder again. I think Sefo may have his way with the Beaver secondary if they aren't too careful, especially if he's given a clean pocket. He's hitting his stride. And I'd love the OSU game to be the game that gets some demons off his back. He's been too good to lose this much.
BTD: Looking at the Colorado rushing game, it looks like Phillip Lindsay is another story of a Buff having a good year, but not quite having the big breakthrough that could flip an L into a W. What's the story there?
Jack: *sigh* you have to stop writing my answers into the questions. Phillip is having a great year, and he looks to provide a spark to the team. He is the emotional leader of the Buffs, and he is tired of losing. It shows in his demeanor, and it would do well for everyone to copy his attitude. I'm in the very small minority (it seems like) that thinks Lindsay should not be the main back. If you ask me, his effectiveness would be maximized in a Danny Woodhead role. Give him 25 snaps a game, keep him in to block some (something he excels at), put him out on routes (something else he excels at), and give him some draws and sweeps. Minimize his straightforward running, as his vision can be spotty and he seeks out too much contact. That's my goal anyways. But Phillip is very integral to this team's success. He can change the game with a few plays.
BTD: Turning to the defensive side of the ball, it looks like the Buffs seem to either wear down or break down at some point, after at least playing competitively. Who are the best players on the defense, and what is Colorado doing to try to best matchup with opponents?
Jack: Man, you are nailing this team, props on the research. I've said it to the other PAC-12 blogs, and I'll say it here. I LOVE JIM LEAVITT. The attitude change has been night and day, and if the personnel can stay healthy/improve, the Buffs are going to formidable defensively once more.
But I digress. The best players are Chidobe Awuzie, the best player on the team, at nickel back, Derek McCartney at rush end, and Justin Solis in the middle at NT. Tedric Thompson is great at safety as well, but I've already put a secondary player in there. Chido will make plays all over the field, and largely shut down his assignment in the slot. They send him on blitzes a lot, and he generates consistent pressure from that role as well. He's great at containing running QB's (Seth Collings) and he is the surest tackler on the team.
McCartney usually gets some pressure when he rushes, and can hold the edge relatively well on the outside. He needs one more move in his arsenal to take the next step. Solis is stout at the point of attack and occupy a double team very well. Match-up wise, Leavitt, the Defensive Coordinator, likes to gamble. Single coverage on the outside puts a lot of pressure on the boundary corners, but the goal is to hurry the quarterback and take the middle of the field. Leavitt likes to send blitzes a lot, and he has these players making plays rather than waiting for plays to be made on them, a far cry from last year.
BTD: Oregon State is just beginning what is looking like will be a long haul to rebuilding; Colorado has been working on it for some time now. How are you, and most Buff fans, feeling about the process and the progress to date? Is Coach Mike MacIntyre on a hot seat? Or is he still seen as the right guy to handle the job?
Jack: Ask 5 different people and you will get 5 different answers. Some people look at Chad Morris at SMU and Tom Herman at Houston and say that CU has gone too slow with the rebuild, and some say the pace is fine, but the man in charge isn't. Some people say "wins, no excuses" and some say "give him 5 years, no excuses". My stance? I think this team is light-years better than the one he inherited three years ago, and anyone saying this could have been done sooner is fooling themselves. I think that Coach Mac has done himself no favors with the conference play this year, but I don't think he's on the hot seat.
He has to win one to get the fans off his back, probably more, and if he goes winless, he will feel Athletic Director Rick George's breath on his neck next year. I think that the arrival of Jim Leavitt and Safeties coach Joe Tumpkin, two big time coaches, has brought a big time attitude that was lacking, and I think more staff changes are needed this next offseason to maximize this team. And I think both Coach Mac and RG recognize that. I'll say one more thing- there's no excuse not to win next year. There was no excuse this year, but there's still time and there's some reasons why it didn't happen. Next year, everything is in place. If there's no bowl game, Mac will be coaching elsewhere.
BTD: What's your prediction for how things will unfold Saturday night in Corvallis?
Jack: I was wrong last week when someone asked me this question, and I'm willing to be wrong again. CU wins outright by a touchdown. Oregon State is rough in all the wrong places, and the match-up suits the Buffs well. Seth Collins scares the crap out of me, but In Leavitt We Trust, and getting leader Kenneth Olugbode back at MLB is a huge boon against a threat like that.
This will be the first conference game in which CU actually is more talented than the opponent (no offense), and if the coaches don't muck up the gameplan, it should be a pretty straightforward win. Gary Andersen will coach this team to be a great PAC-12 team. But not next week.
Thanks, again, Jack! Great intel!
Keep checking The Ralphie Report for the latest news on the Buffs as we get closer to game time!