CU Buffs football season recap: Two quarters changed course of program

  • Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer

    Colorado quarterback Steven Montez walks off the field after the Buffs blew a 31-3 lead at home against Oregon State.

  • Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer

    Mike MacIntyre was fired on Nov. 18 after a home loss to Utah.

  • Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer

    Colorado receiver Laviska Shenault finished the season with 86 catches for 1,011 yards and 6 touchdowns, while rushing for 115 yards and five scores.

  • Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer

    Colorado linebacker Nate Landman racked up 123 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, four sacks, two interceptions and 10 third-down stops.



Over the course of the past two weeks, literally dozens of names have been floated as potential candidates to be the next head football coach at Colorado.

Meanwhile, CU athletic director Rick George has kept the search air tight, making almost no public comments or even returning messages throughout the process.

The search appears to be nearing an end, with multiple reports this weekend that Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker — a veteran coach with an impressive resume who was on almost nobody’s initial candidate list — will be hired by the Buffaloes at some point in the coming days.

It’s been a whirlwind couple of weeks that has included the Buffs’ season finale, on Nov. 24 at California – a dismal 33-21 loss that completed an epic collapse in the second half of the season. A seven-game losing streak to close the season has left the Buffs out of the bowl season yet again.

On Oct. 11, the Dodd Trophy released its midseason watch list for its national coach of the year. CU’s Mike MacIntyre was one of 17 names on the list, and with good reason, as his Buffaloes were 5-0 and ranked No. 19 in the country at the time.

MacIntyre never won another game with the Buffs and, on Nov. 18, he was fired.

What exactly happened to turn such a promising season into a nightmare finish and a search for a new leader?

Certainly, there were many factors in CU’s seven-game losing streak. Injuries took a toll at times. The Buffs ran into better competition than they had faced early in the year.

The real turning point, however, may have been two lousy quarters of football on Oct. 27.

“I think that would be a pretty good moment to point to,” co-offensive coordinator/line coach Klayton Adams said.

Coming off two consecutive losses — hardly unexpected against traditional Pac-12 powers Southern California and Washington on the road — the Buffs were perfectly set up to get back on track on Oct. 27. The worst team in the conference, and arguably in any Power 5 conference, showed up to Folsom Field and one play into the third quarter, CU owned a 31-3 lead against Oregon State.

From that point on, miscues on the field, poor game management from the coaching staff and the failure of anyone on the CU sidelines to rally the team that day changed the future of the football program.

In stunning fashion, Oregon State outscored the Buffs 38-3 the rest of the way to steal a 41-34 overtime victory, prevent the Buffs from clinching bowl eligibility and destroying their confidence for the final third of the season.

“I think that was probably the first of many extremely disappointing things that happened (in the final seven weeks) and probably the one that is the easiest to point to and say, ‘Yeah that’s when it happened,'” Adams said.

And, really, it shouldn’t have.

Players have admitted that they took the foot off the gas and relaxed a bit with a 28-point lead. But, the issues went beyond that, as the coaching staff badly mismanaged the second half.

Oregon State began its rally by picking apart CU’s depleted secondary. The Beavers pulled within 31-20 with 9 minutes, 29 seconds to play.

In a similar position three weeks earlier against Arizona State, the Buffs repeatedly ran the football to take the final 7 minutes, 10 seconds off the clock and secure a 28-21 win against Arizona State.

Facing an Oregon State defense that finished this season 129th — out of 130 teams — against the run, the Buffs were in prime position to chew up the clock and secure a win.

Instead, the Buffs threw three consecutive passes and then punted, taking just 54 seconds off the clock. In the next 82 seconds, OSU shredded CU’s secondary for six consecutive completions to pull within 31-28 and keep the momentum going.

By the time Oregon State’s players exploded onto the field in celebration at the end of overtime, many within the program knew it was the beginning of the end for MacIntyre and, perhaps, the staff.

Co-offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini doesn’t buy that theory, because the Buffs still had four games to play.

“You have to be able to move on and move forward,” he said. “The other games weren’t dictated by the Oregon State game. You can’t blame one game. To me, that’s kind of an excuse.”

That was not a typical game, however, and many within the program believe it was that game that derailed the 2018 season.

“That literally carried over for the next four weeks,” senior linebacker Drew Lewis said. “That reality of being up 31-3 in that game and we lost the game – the presence of that reality did stay over us like a dark cloud and it stayed on top of us.”

It was more than just losing a 31-3 lead, though. At 5-0, CU was the only undefeated team in the Pac-12 and there were lofty expectations. There was talk of the Pac-12 title, the Rose Bowl, and maybe – if things fell in place – a run at the College Football Playoff. The Buffs even had a top Heisman Trophy candidate. All of that was being talked about in the locker room, in the athletic department and outside of the team.

“Really kind of all in one moment, that was all gone,” Adams said.

Players and others within the program have talked about the tension that built up within the program in the aftermath of that loss.

“It was an absolutely miserable experience,” Adams said. “That dealt a really big blow to the team’s confidence.”

CU never could figure out how to regain its edge and the Buffs continued to make costly mistakes down the stretch, buckling under the intense pressure to try to stop the bleeding.

“You just have to find a way to play better and we have to find a way to finish games and we weren’t able to do that down the stretch,” Chiaverini said. “That, obviously, is the reason why coach Mac got dismissed and why a lot of us (assistants) are looking for jobs.”

For many of the CU assistants, they hope their next job is working for the Buffs’ new head coach.

“I want to be there and hopefully I am,” Chiaverini said. “But we’ll see how it plays out with the new head coach. I know how the business works, too.”

It’s a tough business and, as the Buffaloes proved this season, one that can change in a hurry.

Once the Buffs officially hire a head coach, the focus will be on the 2019 season and beyond. The Collapse of 2018 won’t be easy to forget, however.

“Probably about as high of highs as you can have in a season and as low of lows as you can have in a season,” Adams said. “A lot of it was incredibly disappointing. Probably a whole bunch of things together that continued to happen and rolled itself into a big ball of negativity that we couldn’t stop.”

BuffZone CU football awards

A few postseason honors for the CU football team:

Team MVP — WR Laviska Shenault, So.: He missed three games due to injury, but was the Buffs’ best overall player. Finished with 86 catches for 1,011 yards and 6 touchdowns, while rushing for 115 yards and five scores.

Offensive MVP — QB Steven Montez, Jr.: Didn’t finish the way he wanted – or the way the Buffs had hoped – but still put together a solid season, with 2,849 passing yards, 19 TD and eight interceptions. Also ran for 238 yards and four TD.

Defensive MVP — LB Nate Landman, So.: Nobody made more plays or had a bigger impact on the defense. He racked up 123 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, four sacks, two interceptions and 10 third-down stops.

Offensive newcomer of the year — RB Travon McMillian, Sr.: The graduate transfer from Virginia Tech ran for 1,009 yards and seven TD, while also catching 14 passes for 118 yards and a score.

Defensive newcomers of the year — DE Mustafa Johnson, So., and Buff Davion Taylor, Jr.: Tough to pick between the two, because they were both so good. Johnson had 73 tackles and led the team in tackles for loss (17.5), sacks (8.5) and QB pressures (16). Taylor had 75 tackles, 11 TFL and 11 pressures.

Most improved offensive player — TE Brady Russell, Fr.: The former walk-on was awarded a scholarship in the fall. By the end of the season, he was the top tight end. A solid blocker, he also caught five passes for 41 yards and a TD.

Most improved defensive player — NT Javier Edwards, Sr.: Had a rocky first season in 2017 after transferring from junior college. This year, he was dominant and posted 36 tackles and a sack.

Coaches of the year — Defensive coordinator DJ Eliot and defensive line coach Kwahn Drake: Another dual award, because both made a big impact. In his first year, Drake coached the most improved position group on the team. Eliot’s defense, much maligned in his first season at CU in 2017, was exceptional for much of the year, and he recruited some of the key game-changing newcomers (Johnson, Taylor, Israel Antwine, Delrick Abrams).

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at or

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