Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer DAILY CAMERA
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
In the moments following Travon McMillian’s 75-yard touchdown burst down the middle of the Folsom Field turf on Saturday, all seemed to be well for the Colorado football team.
Following two straight losses, the Buffaloes were blowing out an overmatched foe at home and poised to secure bowl eligibility and keep themselves in the running for the Pac-12 South division.
The Buffs, it seemed, were back on track.
Everything changed during the final 24 minutes Saturday, as the Buffs (5-3, 2-3 Pac-12) stunningly lost to last-place Oregon State, 41-34, in overtime.
The wheels fell off, as head coach Mike MacIntyre said afterward, but this may have been more disastrous than a single-game collapse. This is the type of loss that can derail a season and change the course of a program.
Questions of “Can the Buffs win the South?” and “Which bowl will they reach?” have turned to, “Can they win another game?” and “Does CU have enough money to fire MacIntyre?”
An overreaction to one game? Perhaps, but this was a disastrous defeat on the heels of two other losses that could be attributed, in large part, to the coaching staff.
MacIntyre – who has three years and nearly $10 million left on his contract after this season – fell to 30-41 during his six-year tenure.
Coughing up a 28-point lead at home to the unquestioned doormat of the Pac-12 was inexcusable and perhaps more evidence that MacIntyre’s not the coach to take CU to another level.
“I guess you could say this is a gut-wrencher, a tear-your-guts-out type of game,” MacIntyre said.
With four games to play, CU is technically still in the mix for a second South division title in three years, but appears more likely to finish last in the South for the fifth time in MacIntyre’s tenure.
Whether MacIntyre and his staff survive after this season remains to be seen, but the real key to CU’s season at this point is how the players get past the disappointment and anger that showered the locker room Saturday afternoon.
“How are guys going to react to that? How are we going to respond? How is the team going to act after a tough loss like this?,” quarterback Steven Montez said after the game.
Montez then added that the answers to those questions weren’t going to be found Saturday night, but in the coming days, after the initial sting of the loss wears off.
“At the end of the day, this is going to be a learning experience for us,” Montez said. “It is going to be a chance for us to get tougher and to get better as a team.”
Yeah, the offense needs to get better. The secondary is in rough shape. The offensive line has been a patchwork group. Perhaps some better play-calling will help.
Fixing the Buffs goes beyond Xs and Os and getting healthy, though. It’s all about what goes on between the players’ ears.
“This was definitely one that will knock some screws back into place and let us know that every team can win at any point,” defensive end Mustafa Johnson said.
Since the spring, the Buffs have talked about their brotherhood. It’s what led them to their 5-0 start this season. In good times, it’s easy to be close.
What happens to that brotherhood now?
“The biggest thing right now is going to be our mentality and if we decide to stick together or if we decide to split up,” Montez said. “As of right now, I think everyone is on the same page; we need to tighten it up. We need to tighten the team up and get closer as a group after this loss.”
Easier said than done, but Montez at least spoke with a mature awareness of the situation.
“You’re putting dudes (together) who are 18, maybe 17, through 22-23 years old,” he said. “These are still kids and we still have a lot of emotion in us and we don’t like to lose. Losing is not what we sign up for. We don’t work hard Sunday through Saturday to come out here and lose close games; we put all that work in, put all those blood, sweat and tears in to come out here and perform when the lights are on.
“It’s a tough situation; it’s doesn’t taste good, but at the end of the day, it is what it is. We lost and now we just have to bounce back and we have to worry about keeping everybody in close.”
Doing that might be the only way the Buffs can save their season.