Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado’s play-makers on offense and young talent on defense helped to turn the Rocky Mountain Showdown into a laugher on Friday night.
Watching the Buffaloes on both sides of the ball, it was hard not to be impressed with the 45-13 rout of rival Colorado State.
It didn’t take long, however, for head coach Mike MacIntyre to pump the brakes a bit. He is a coach, after all.
“I was excited about the way the guys played and we’ll get back on the drawing board and look at some different things we’ve got to improve,” MacIntyre said during the opening statement of his post-game press conference.
“The good thing is when we go coach them Monday and correct them on everything, they’ll listen a little better, you can coach them more, they won’t be as down.”
CU fans no doubt loved seeing their team roll past the Rams for the fourth year in a row, but MacIntyre’s right: it wasn’t perfect.
Two first half turnovers — both in CSU territory — could have been very costly. One of them, a KD Nixon fumble in the final minute of the first half, led to a CSU field goal before intermission.
That field goal came two plays after the Buffs were flagged for running into the kicker on a missed attempt by the Rams. Five yards closer, the Rams connected to cut their deficit.
“We kind of screwed up a few things there at the end of the first half, which could have come back to haunt us,” MacIntyre said. “I was a little nervous because we should have really had at least 10 more points on the board there, which would have given us a little bit more buffer.”
Certainly, there were enough mistakes to keep the Buffs and their coaches busy making corrections this week, but this was a great foundational victory for the Buffs, who never looked this good in a 3-0 start to the 2017 season.
Some of the most positive building blocks include:
1. QB Steven Montez backed up his offseason film study and mental work with an impressive performance, completing 22-of-25 throws for 338 yards, four touchdowns and an interception.
“I was thinking about that coming into this game; he had 15 starts,” MacIntyre said. “That’s kind of when you start really honestly clicking. He keeps making progress. We’ll have a stout test this Saturday coming up (at Nebraska), so we’ll see how we do there, but to me he has a lot more command of everything and sees it better.”
In addition to film study, Montez spent a lot of time this offseason throwing with his receivers. He said his 4-yard touchdown pass to Juwann Winfree in the second quarter was a testament to that work. Montez threw a quick pass to Winfree’s back shoulder, putting the ball where only Winfree could get it. The senior turned and reached out to grab it for the score.
“That throw just doesn’t happen,” Montez said. “That’s hours and hours and hours of me and Juwann throwing, sometimes in parking lots. That’s the work that we’ve been putting in and it’s paying off a little bit for us. It’s definitely promising.”
2. The offensive line wasn’t perfect, but allowed zero sacks and only six negative-yardage plays. All six came after it was already 42-10, and three of those were end-of-the-game kneel downs. It was a confidence-boosting effort for a group that played together for the first time.
3. Defensively, the Buffs generated three sacks, nine total tackles for loss, six QB hurries and six pass breakups.
“I am (pleased),” coordinator D.J. Eliot said. “I think we got a good pass rush, which we needed. They have a good quarterback and good receivers. If we let him sit back there and get comfortable, we were going to be in for a long day. Our defensive linemen did a good job of rushing the passer and affecting the quarterback and then our defensive backs and our linebackers, they played well, too.”
4. The run game looks to be OK. Much has been made this offseason of the Buffs needing to replace two-time 1,000-yard rusher Phillip Lindsay, who made an appearance in the press box and said he was impressed with what the backs were doing against the Rams.
CU finished with 258 yards on the ground, led by Travon McMillian’s 103.
5. The kicking game is in great shape. We knew that going in, but James Stefanou was perfect (6-for-6 on extra points, 1-for-1 on field goals); Alex Kinney had a great night punting; and Davis Price had touchbacks on seven of his eight kickoffs, with the only return coming after a CU penalty moved the kickoff back 15 yards.
While it wasn’t a perfect performance for the Buffaloes, it has to be encouraging. The last five times the Buffs beat the Rams by 25 or more points (1989, 1995, 1998, 2001 and 2016), they went on to win at least eight games.
Time will tell if that trend continues, but it was an encouraging start.