Midseason review: Plenty of blame to go around for CU Buffs' slow start
10/10/2011 08:37:35 PM MDT
Cal's Keenan Allen, 21, makes a clutch catch over Travis Sandersfeld, 19, late in the game at Folsom Field in Boulder.
smugmug.com%2Fhack%2Ffeed.mg%3FType%3Dgallery%26Data%3D19476025_6P49Cv%26format%3Drss200%26Sandboxed%3D1" width="280" height="250" wmode="transparent">
Click on any photo to see full gallery
Blame Dan Hawkins for the Colorado football team's 1-5 start to the 2011 season. Sure, Hawkins hasn't been in charge for nearly a full year now, but he still is largely responsible for assembling a roster lacking speed and depth and too many scholarship players who don't contribute on Saturday afternoons.
Blame President Bruce Benson who, according to sources, forced CU athletic director Mike Bohn to keep Hawkins on the payroll after the debacle that was the 2009 season, thereby delaying improvement by one full year.
Blame Bohn for scheduling too aggressively and adding Ohio State to the slate this season for $1.4 million. Sure, Bohn is between a rock and hard place needing to add revenue wherever possible in a year in which CU will receive only a fraction of what it usually collects in conference distributions. But a confidence-building win in front of 42,000 fans at Folsom Field would have served the program much better in the end than the extra scratch.
Blame donors for not doing much to this point to ease that one-year burden on the athletic department.
Blame the coaching staff for not being able to get the team over the hump in nip-and-tuck games or reel in a penalty problem or prevent a rash of special teams mistakes that somehow continue to cost the team every week.
There is plenty of blame to go around for another forlorn football season in Boulder. Here is a look at the good, the bad and the ugly at the midway point of the Buffs' first autumn in the Pac-12.
The results have been mixed so far, despite the 1-5 record. Play calling hasn't been a big problem, though there have been instances for second-guessing. For example, calling a pass on third-and-6 in the final minutes against Washington State was ill-advised when a run would have at least taken another 40 seconds off the clock because the Cougars were out of timeouts.
But the reality is, CU coaches have put players in position to win four of the six games with solid game plans and second-half adjustments to those plans. The Buffs were simply outmatched at Ohio State and Stanford, which is something these coaches can't really be blamed for because they didn't build most of the roster.
Expectations weren't high when the Buffs kicked off the season in Hawaii six weeks ago, but it's also fair to say no one expected the team to be 1-5 at the midway point of a difficult 13-game slate.
While Jon Embree's ultra-competitive personality leads him to say he believes the Buffs can win each game, the fact of the matter is he knew he was facing a prodigious challenge before the season ever started. He said multiple times throughout the spring and summer the Buffs would be underdogs in every game they played. It was a subtle way of publicly sharing his evaluation of what he inherited. That evaluation is proving to be correct.
One of the biggest problems Embree faced when he took over receives relatively little attention. It is the psyche of the players he inherited. Many of the seniors on this year's roster were taught earlier in their careers to remove emotion from the process.
Under the former coaching staff, players who reacted with too much emotion to wins and losses, particularly losses, were punished. Some saw decreased playing time as a result. The current coaching staff values the emotional aspect of the game and it wants players to show that passion on the field. But getting them to do so is an ongoing process and it might be that turnover in the program is required before the Buffs hit the field on Saturdays with the right attitude.
Senior Tyler Hansen deserves credit for doing exactly what his coaches have asked of him so far. Coaches have preached taking care of the ball, staying in the pocket and not taking sacks.
Hansen came into the season having thrown 17 interceptions in his career with only 15 touchdown passes. He has thrown 12 touchdowns and three interceptions in the first six games this fall. He still has a tendency to take sacks a little too often, but part of that is him trying to stay in the pocket and complete passes.
Extending plays with scrambling ability is one of Hansen's best assets. It alway has been and it would be nice to see him make the decision to run a little more often when he is under pressure. At this point, he might be choosing to stay in the pocket a little too much when he could be able to make a play on the run. This is college football after all. Running quarterbacks are one of the most difficult challenges for defenses.
Hansen has completed only 56 percent of his passes. He has missed some open receivers at times and his receivers also have let him down with numerous drops that affect his completion percentage. It's never been a secret that Hansen could be more accurate, and he still has time to improve that over the final seven games of his career.
It's not time to throw in the towel on Rodney Stewart's quest to become the all-time leading rusher in CU history just yet, but that moment might not be far away.
Stewart has rushed for 431 yards this season. He needs 765 more to pass offensive coordinator and running backs coach Eric Bieniemy, who has held the record for 21 years. With seven games remaining, it's certainly achievable, but the Buffs have to make major improvements in blocking for Stewart. Going in to this week's game at Washington, the Buffs rank 109th in the nation in rushing.
While the running game isn't exactly thriving because of injuries and youth on the offensive line, Stewart has been invaluable in multiple roles. He is the Buffs' second leading receiver and is also returning kickoffs and punts. He even plays on coverage teams when needed and has recorded two tackles.
No one can question Stewart's heart and toughness. When he takes the uniform off for the final time later this fall, no one will ask if he could have done more. This program needs more guys like Rodney Stewart.
It has to be the five defensive players who earned indefinite suspensions for violating team rules. The secondary already was riddled with injuries and four of the five suspended players are defensive backs who had a chance to help, some of them immediately and some once they recovered from their injuries.
This program isn't at a point with its depth and experience where it can afford to absorb five key defenders being suspended. Coaches deserve credit for being more committed to enforcing the rules and winning games. There were no police reports involved, meaning the rules violations easily could have been handled internally and swept under the rug in the name of winning.
One of those suspensions has already been lifted.
True freshman cornerback Greg Henderson earned the starting job coming out of fall camp, well before many of his older teammates were hurt or suspended. He simply outperformed them and with development and experience under defensive coordinator Greg Brown, he could be another Deon Figures or Jimmy Smith in two or three years.
While true freshman place-kicker Will Oliver and redshirt freshman punter Darragh O'Neill certainly have solved some of the team's previous woes in the kicking game. Special teams continue to be a disappointment from week to week.
The Buffs have been awful in the return game and in covering kickoffs. They have allowed field goals to be blocked in each of the past two weeks and two punts have been blocked as well.
The CU defense has been creative in devising ways to pressure the quarterback and it has led to the Buffs being among the national leaders in sacks. CU has sacked the quarterback 17 times, according to official NCAA stats (often different from CU's official totals) and is just four off the national lead.