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Rooney: Penalties, ejections hinder optimism for Washington showdown

Colorado defensive end Chris Mulumba, left, puts a hit on Northern Colorado quarterback Jacob Knipp on Saturday at Folsom Field.
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado defensive end Chris Mulumba, left, puts a hit on Northern Colorado quarterback Jacob Knipp on Saturday at Folsom Field.

Ready or not, here comes No. 6 Washington.

And after watching the Colorado Buffaloes play to the level of the competition while repeatedly stubbing their own toes through a victory against Northern Colorado, it’s difficult to argue the Buffs are ready. At all.

Yes, the Buffs are 3-0, and anyone glancing at Saturday’s final score of 41-21, as well as some of the gaudy final offensive totals, could easily be led to believe that CU cruised against an FCS-level foe in the team’s final tune-up before Pac-12 Conference play begins. Consider those numbers window dressing over some unsightly blemishes the Buffs won’t get away with in the coming weeks.

On the other side of those impressive numbers — 569 yards of total offense, quarterback Steven Montez’s career-high 357 passing yards, Phillip Lindsay’s 151 rushing yards — was a litany of errors unbecoming of a squad hoping to defend its Pac-12 divisional crown.

There will be a faction that believes it’s nothing but nitpicking to analyze the shortcomings of a squad that has outscored its opponents 95-27 so far. If winning is the only thing that matters, it’s tough to argue with 3-0. But last year’s 10-4 season that was christened with the nickname “The Rise” even before a game was played set a new standard at Folsom Field. The Buffs expect to compete with the Washingtons of the college football world. And right now, they just aren’t there.

Pick your poison from the UNC victory. Fourteen penalties for 114 yards. Two turnovers while marching into scoring position — a fumble by Michael Adkins inside the 20-yard line and a Montez interception late in the first half with the Buffs within range of adding points before the break. And two ejections via the always popular targeting rule, one of which will cost the Buffs the services of a key interior defensive lineman, Chris Mulumba, for the first half of the Washington game.

Instead of putting away an overmatched opponent during the third quarter, the Buffs were flagged for holding three times by three different offensive linemen (one was declined, as Montez was sacked on the play anyway). Equally alarming was the pair of targeting calls.

At this point, the arguments as to the detailed wording of the rule and its fairness on defenders tasked with flying to the football are irrelevant. The Buffs’ first targeting penalty cost them starting safety Afolabi Laguda, who is no stranger to targeting. Saturday’s ejection marked the third time in as many seasons Laguda has been given an early exit due to targeting. When it first occurred two years ago against UMass, the rule was relatively new and Laguda at least broke up a likely completion near the goal line. Against UNC, Laguda, now a senior, went high against a Bears receiver when the ball had already fallen incomplete.

In Mulumba’s case, he had a free, unblocked chance at UNC quarterback Jacob Knipp. A ribshot from the 280-pound Mulumba easily could have sent Knipp to the sideline. Instead he also went high. UNC got 15 yards and a first down, while Mulumba received an early shower. Right or wrong, fair or not, these are the rules now. CU’s defense needs to learn how to play by them.

Clearly there is no shortage of issues for head coach Mike MacIntyre to address this week. The consensus national coach of the year pick a year ago was awarded a lucrative contract extension for his work in returning the Buffs to an elite level, and how he tackles the discipline issues this week that led to Saturday’s glut of flags and ejections will be critical to the Buffs’ goal of remaining an elite Pac-12 program this fall.

Unveiled this week in print form was CU’s 2017 football media guide, which featured no less than eight pictures of MacIntyre on the cover. There are none of any players, even such highly-decorated and very likeable seniors like Lindsay or Shay Fields. The face of the franchise needs to get his troops in line, or Washington will make it a long Saturday night next week at Folsom Field.

Pat Rooney: or

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