It`s been a while since I`ve seen fans leave Folsom Field after a CU scrimmage with smiles on their faces. Actually, maybe not so much smiles as looks of pleasant surprise. The Buffs have some talent and depth this year, and it showed on Thursday.
Certainly any optimism should be accompanied by the term "guarded," but the difference between this year and last -- or even the summer and spring -- is noticeable.
Make Tyler Hansen my quarterback. Hansen said he believes it`s his job to lose, and there`s a reason: he simply brings more to the table than counterpart Cody Hawkins. From the planned bootleg run for a touchdown early to some solid passing throughout (69.2 completion percentage), Hansen showed why he`ll be the guy.
Yes, he did make some mistakes, the most noticeable of which was an interception returned for a touchdown (something the other guy has also done on occasion).
But when Hansen is at the helm, the offense clicks.
Asked if this was the best he`s seen the offense perform in a scrimmage in his time here, Buff offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau said, "Absolutely."
One reason? See above.
What was feared to be a weak spot is suddenly a strength. The Buffs have the best receiving corps they`ve had in years. Will Jefferson is a playmaker (even with that wide-open drop he had early).
And that list doesn`t include Travon Patterson, who wasn`t in pads on Thursday because he didn`t have enough practices under his belt yet. Patterson can fly. He`ll make a difference both as a receiver and punt returner.
Colorado`s corners are one very big reason the Buffs` receivers are getting better every day. Jimmy Smith and Jalil Brown are lockdown guys.
Smith is in for an interesting season. He`ll be expected to make big plays, but he`s going to find that quarterbacks are going to go to great lengths not to throw in his direction -- something CU`s quarterbacks were already doing Thursday.
CU`s coaches will find a way to get defensive back Parker Orms on the field. Somehow, the kid is always in middle of the action. That interception for a touchdown that Hansen threw? Orms was the culprit, making a great read to step in front of the intended receiver at the last second to make the play.
It would be nice to see just a tad more consistency with the running game. It was good to see Brian Lockridge get some carries (10-46 with a long of 21), and nice to see Rodney Stewart get into the end zone in short-yardage situations (three TDs). But it would still be good to see the Buffs be able to line up and control the tempo with their running game when necessary this year.
Cross your fingers on this one, but the Buffs seemed much more disciplined in the area of penalties. There were just a handful of false starts and other "unforced" errors, a vast improvement over years past.
OK, go ahead and cross those fingers again, as the Buffs also greatly limited their turnovers. Granted, they were costly when they came, but overall, a solid step forward.
Justin Castor. Don`t recognize the name? He`s the kid who was 3-for-3 on field goal attempts Thursday, including a 52-yarder to close the scrimmage.
Favorite Hansen stat of the day? The Buffs were 12-for-17 (70 percent) on third-down conversions with him at the controls. Last season, CU was 68-for-190 (36 percent) on third-down tries.
So far, you have to like the balance of Eric Kiesau`s offense. With either Hansen or Hawkins on the field, CU ran 101 plays -- 57 passes and 44 runs. That kind of balance will keep defenses honest.
Leading tackler for the day? Try freshman DB Terrel Smith, who was credited with 10 stops. Right behind was sophomore safety Vince Ewing with nine.
The Buffs` offensive line might be ready to live up to expectations. The Buffs` defensive line will have to exceed expectations to be a force.
But there is potential on the D-line. Will Pericak, Curtis Cunningham, Conrad Obi, Nick Kasa and Marquez Herrod have all improved. If they step up, CU`s defense could be fun to watch.
And finally, the best stat of the day: As of this morning, it`s now just 22 days until the Sept. 4 kickoff vs. Colorado State.