Exasperated and perhaps forced to his wit's end by another puzzling mistake from one of his players, Colorado football coach Mike MacIntyre could do little else but drop plaintively to his knees.
The play in question was an unsportsmanlike penalty on sophomore safety Aaron Maddox that turned a third-down stop by the Buffaloes' defense into a first down for Washington State in the third quarter. It was a penalty as obvious as it was stupid for a team trailing by 10 points. Yet it was MacIntyre's reaction — not a sideline rant as Buffs fans have seen before, but an almost capitulating collapse to his knees — that captured the perfect screen shot of Colorado's 31-7 loss Saturday afternoon against No. 10 Washington State.
MacIntyre made a bit of inglorious Buffs history as the first CU coach to author both a five-game winning streak and a five-game losing streak in the same season. In a 12-game campaign, that's almost impossible to do, particularly with two games still to play.
Yet that's exactly what has happened in 2018, as the Buffs' riveting 5-0 start has turned into a distant memory in barely over a month. We can run through the grocery list of issues with this team, most of which have been pointed out in this corner repeatedly, and all of which have some level of merit. Poor play calling. Ill-timed penalties. An offensive line that can't pass block. And yes, even injuries.
Breaking this down is getting easier, though. The Buffs just aren't a good football team right now. And unlike the rest of the Pac-12 South, the Buffs are getting worse, not better, in the fourth quarter of the season.
As he has on several occasions in recent weeks, MacIntyre was quick to point out his team's injury situation, which kept KD Nixon, Jay MacIntyre, and Evan Worthington out of action Saturday. One-time Heisman candidate Laviska Shenault, however, did return after a three-game absence. Many thought he would have made a difference in the three losses the Buffs suffered without him, and perhaps there is some truth in that belief. But the reality is his 120 yards of total offense wasn't enough to keep the Buffs from their worst scoring performance of the season, and his back-to-back drops near midfield in a 10-point game early in the third quarter put a much bigger dent into CU's chances of an upset than MacIntyre's decision to punt on fourth-and-11 in similar field position on his team's next drive.
There was little on display against the Cougars to give hope the five-game slide won't turn into seven, or that the Buffs' run of eight consecutive losses with bowl eligibility on the line won't turn into 10. Utah, which visits next week in the home finale, maybe appeared ripe for an upset after recently losing its starting quarterback and running back. Yet unlike a certain team on the other side of the Rocky Mountains, the Utes didn't use injuries as an excuse before going out and topping Oregon in impressive fashion Saturday.
At this point, even bowl eligibility may not be enough to save MacIntyre's job. In a Pac-12 South whose mediocrity has become a national punch line, the Buffs are looking worse week to week while on the fast-track to the division cellar for the fifth time in MacIntyre's six seasons. Such a turn of events was perhaps understandable on the talent-depleted teams of MacIntyre's first few seasons. With the talent on this roster, in a division devoid of a true powerhouse, it should be unacceptable.
Once athletic director Rick George gets to his performance review of MacIntyre, there's a reasonable chance the scene at Folsom Field as the final minutes ticked away will factor into his thought process. After a 5-0 start to the season, in the penultimate home game, the Buffs trudged off the field before wide swaths of empty seats, remnants of the CU faithful who decided they'd seen all they could stomach of the Buffs' continued collapse.
Meanwhile, the Washington State faithful partied and danced in their little corner of Folsom Field as if they owned the joint. One week ahead of the 500th game at one of college football's most iconic venues, it will be a sad commentary on the 2018 season if the Cougars' celebration goes down as the most festive moment of the year inside Folsom.