Given the expectations set by the Colorado football program, the last month has been difficult.
Head coach Mike MacIntyre has been through plenty of ups and downs in his coaching career, but this might be one of the toughest challenges of his career.
“Yeah, it’s been tough,” he said Tuesday as the Buffs (5-4, 2-4 Pac-12) prepare to face No. 10 Washington State (8-1, 5-1) on Saturday and try to snap a four-game losing streak. “We set the expectations high and played really well (early).”
MacIntyre knows the Buffs haven’t played their best, but pointed to the Buffs’ injury list as a top reason for the slide.
“I cannot control game day injuries,” he said. “We’ve just had a rash of injuries and throwing guys out there. That makes it tough when you’re playing really good football teams and you have key, key, key players going down. But nobody cares. You still have to find a way to win. We’ve been close in the last three and just didn’t get it done. Hopefully we’ll get it done Saturday.”
The most significant injury, of course, was to receiver Laviska Shenault. He injured his toe during the second half of the Buffs’ first loss, 31-20 at Southern California, on Oct. 13, and hasn’t played since.
“I think you take a Heisman Trophy candidate out of your picture, it’s a big deal,” he said. “Take (quarterback Gardner) Minshew out, it might change Washington State. We haven’t had our best football player on the field since halfway through the USC game. He only played five and a half games.”
Receivers KD Nixon and Jay MacIntyre, safety Evan Worthington, cornerbacks Delrick Abrams and Chris Miller, kicker James Stefanou, running back Beau Bisharat, outside linebacker Jacob Callier and defensive end Jase Franke have all also missed a game or more because of injuries. The Buffs also lost tight end Chris Bounds, who has taken a leave of absence from the team.
Nevertheless, the Buffs have had chance s to win each of the last three games. They were within four points of Washington with four minutes to play before falling 27-13. They led Oregon State 31-3 before collapsing and losing in overtime, 41-34. They led by 10 early before losing at Arizona, 42-34, last week.
A common theme? The Buffs have failed to finish the games the way they did early in the year.
“You need to play well in the fourth quarter if you want to win tight ball games and we haven’t played as well in the fourth quarter as we would like,” MacIntyre said. “We need to finish off a game. We’re going to have some opportunities here in the next three games to be able to do that and we have to come through and do that. We’ve done it in the past and we can do it again.”
Linebacker Nate Landman has been CU’s most consistent playmaker on defense this year. The sophomore leads the team with 94 tackles (28 more than anyone else), while also racking up 12 tackles for loss, two interceptions and six third down stops.
Quite often, however, when the Buffs’ defense is faced with third-and-long situations, Landman comes off the field. The Buffs will typically go with Rick Gamboa and Drew Lewis as the inside linebackers in those situations.
Statistically, that’s puzzling, but MacIntyre said the Buffs are simply trying to preserve Landman – especially as injuries have decimated the Buffs in other areas.
“Nate Landman is really beat up,” MacIntyre said. “He doesn’t even practice all week. He has to wear a blue (non-contact) jersey and can’t touch anybody or hit anybody. We’re trying to preserve Nate Landman, so I don’t lose Nate Landman, too, so there’s reasons we do it.”
Gamboa lead the linebackers with 599 snaps played (all but 46 of the Buffs’ defensive snaps this season). Lewis, who often plays outside linebacker, is next at 514, while Landman is third at 476.
“(Taking Landman out on third downs) is one way we felt like we could preserve Nate because Nate is hitting so many people and making so many (tackles),” MacIntyre said. “You can only dish out so many hits and take so many to stay healthy for a ton of games.”
Exercising the right
With Tuesday being election day, MacIntyre began the press conference by joking, “First of all, you can’t ask a question if you didn’t vote.”
He added that he encourages his players to vote.
“I think if you want to have a voice in your country and you want to be able to stand up for certain rights, you better vote,” he said. “I think if you don’t vote, you don’t have a right to say anything. I think that’s an important part for everybody to be involved in our country. That’s one way you can do it.”