Colorado seems to be improving, with coach Mike MacIntyre leading the Buffaloes to a 3-2 record so far in his third year, but have some key injuries heading into Saturday. We caught up with The Ralphie Report staff writer Jack Barsch on what to expect from the Buffaloes.
It seems like Colorado is having a (relatively) positive season so far. Mike MacIntyre has history of turning a program around in his third year with a team. What has been the biggest difference in Boulder this season?
Well, from an attitude standpoint, not much from what I can tell. Last year, they really started to believe in themselves and the confidence was there. This year just brought another level of confidence. The CSU game was a perfect example. Down by 14 halfway through the first quarter, a Jon-Embree coached team would lay down the rest of the game (and they did, on multiple occasions). This team fought through the adversity and made the plays it needed to win. I guess that would be the biggest difference, making plays rather than trying to prevent them. A lot of that attitude can be attributed to [defensive coordinator] Jim Leavitt.
Kenneth Olugbode has been ruled out 4-6 weeks with a leg injury. Addison Gillam is also injured and likely won't play, but it seems like MacIntyre isn't too worried. How big of a blow are those two injuries to the Buffaloes' defense, and who steps up in their absence?
MacIntyre may not be too worried, but I would guarantee that he is. If you had to pick three positions where the starter couldn't get hurt this year for the Buffs, they would have to be LT, QB, and LB. Well, guess which three got hurt in the first 5 weeks. *sigh* Such is the life of a CU fan. Gillam and Olugbode are probably the two most experienced players on this defense, and definitely in the linebacking corps, and that loss is going to hurt big. Rick Gamboa and Ryan Severson, their replacements, are both pretty small and Gamboa may not be fast enough for Ballage and Richard. One of everyone's favorite freshman, N.J. Falo, should get a lot of play as the rotation linebacker, and he looks the most like a Pac-12 linebacker out of the three. The problem is, however, he's still a freshman, so we'll see how effective he is at diagnosing plays in there. It should be rough until Gillam gets back.
Phillip Lindsay has already put together a stellar season after breaking freshman records last season and could be an All-Pac-12 running back in a year or two at this rate. How would you describe his potential?
The thing is, I think he's already reached his potential, which is fine by me, because he's awesome. He runs harder than anyone else in the country, but he really shouldn't be a feature back, he's just too small and predictable. Lindsay does most of his serious damage on sweeps and dump-offs, when he has a little time to rev his engine and really start heading down the field. In 1-2 years, CU should have a feature back or 2 (please), which would allow Lindsay to come in 15-20 snaps a game and really do some damage. A Danny Woodhead role, if you will.
Nelson Spruce was widely considered to be the Pac-12's top receiver. He's still in the top five in the conference in receiving yards and it's not like he's disappeared, but what has been the biggest reason that his production has been limited?
I'm glad you asked! Quite simply, he's being doubled most of the time and no one else on the receiving corps has given any team reason to stop doubling him. Now, that may be because Sefo Liufau doesn't target them enough for it to matter or the offense hasn't schemed them to get open, but man it is frustrating to see the ball get thrown away or to Spruce when there are other options on the field. Nelson is doing all he can, but simply put, not enough people are catching balls in this offense. People can blame the receivers, people can blame Sefo, but I put it on Brian Lindgren's shoulders. Last year's offense found a lot more creative ways to get the ball in the middle of the field to some of the bigger bodies. We as fans haven't seen that yet this year.
The Buffaloes fought the Oregon Ducks for 3.5 quarters last week. Oregon hasn't looked nowhere as dominant as it's been over the last several years, but it was still a surprising effort from Colorado in the eyes of everyone else. How do Buffs fans feel about that game despite the loss?
Well, it's encouraging to hear that it's surprising to the rest of the Conference of Champions because I would say most of the fan base was disappointed with the effort. That game was there for the taking. Almost sellout, night game, at home, and a depleted Oregon team. But the Buffs started the 1st quarter absolutely terribly and the same goes for the 3rd. After that, the Ducks just wore the defense done with their athletes and their run game. It was expected. And that's how I think a lot of us feel. They did what was expected of them, and many people are happy with the effort. However, some of the fan base subscribes to the "no moral victories", and they saw the team drop a game that they could've won, something that comes at a premium now that conference play has started.
Final score and a bold prediction?
I think ASU runs train on the Buffs and just puts a stomping out there. A physical run game is the ultimate weakness for this defense, and an attacking D should take advantage of the injury problems at LT. My bold prediction is that Sefo (when not running for his life) puts up some big numbers. His shoulder looks to be doing better this week and he's due for a big game stats-wise.