Although Mel Tucker has never been involved with the Rocky Mountain Showdown, Colorado’s new head coach has an understanding of the magnitude of the matchup with the rival Colorado State Rams.
“I haven’t heard the players talk about how big the rivalry is, but I know it’s a huge game because there hasn’t been a day that I’ve been here, since Dec. 5, that someone hasn’t said something about this game to me and how important it is,” Tucker said Tuesday after the Buffaloes’ practice.
Tucker’s debut as head coach comes Friday, when the Buffs and Rams square off at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.
“It’s a moment we can embrace and show what we’re all about,” Tucker said.
For many of the Buffs, it’ll be their first moment in a CU uniform, their first playing in front of 70,000 fans and perhaps their first in an NFL stadium.
Tucker isn’t worried about the players be in awe of the moment.
“There may be some of that, but we put a lot of pressure on guys in practice,” he said. “Usually your first experience out, it goes away with that first hit. That’s the key, get that first hit in and let’s go play.”
Tucker’s not worried about his own nerves, either. While this is his first game as a full-time head coach, he did have five games as the interim head coach of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars in 2011.
“I’ve kind of already been through that,” he said of having the first-game butterflies. “I’m just really focusing on what has to be done, just game day operations. I’m looking forward to it. It won’t be anything out or the ordinary for me.”
Tucker and his staff have worked to make sure Friday’s game isn’t out of the ordinary for the players, either, by making practices hard and putting a premium on the details.
“I feel like the game plan is unfolding and guys are really starting to have a good understanding of what they need to do in the plan and what our opponent is going to do or what we’ve seen them do,” Tucker said. “You shouldn’t see a whole lot of change in the way your guys behave on a game week if you’ve been practicing the right way during camp.”
Camp went well for the Buffs, and this week is off to a good start. Tucker came away from Tuesday’s practice pleased.
“The focus from our players, the attention to detail, it was very deliberate about the work we had to do today,” he said. “We had really good focus today and I was happy with the way they approached it. It was a good day’s work.”
The Buffs are hoping for a good day’s work on Friday against the Rams, as well, and there is pressure on CU to start the season with a victory. The players will feel some pressure, but it’s nothing they can’t handle, Tucker said.
“If you don’t feel something you probably don’t care very much,” he said. “That’s my opinion. That’s not a concern. We have to continue to prepare the rest of this week. Then when we go out, it’s going to be about execution, following the game plan, playing harder, playing longer, trusting your training, trusting each other, being unselfish, urgency.
“Every play is going to have a history and a life of its own. We’ll play one play at a time to the best of our ability. That’s our goal.”