Coming off of his first loss as the head coach of the Colorado football team, Mel Tucker now faces probably his toughest test yet.
Tucker has a team that, despite a 2-1 record, hasn’t played a full four quarters of good football, and the Buffaloes were outplayed for much of the day Saturday in a 30-23 overtime loss to Air Force.
The Buffs need to be better at execution and gain more consistency, Tucker said on Tuesday as the Buffs prepare to open Pac-12 play at No. 24 Arizona State (3-0) on Saturday at 8 p.m. (TV: Pac-12 Networks).
The challenge of getting his players to improve is one that energizes the first-year coach of the Buffs, however.
“How you go about doing that is really the art of coaching and teaching,” he said. “It’s how do you move the needle, right? How you capture someone’s mind to get them better on a day to day basis? I really love to coach. I have a passion for coaching because coaching is teaching.”
Tucker and his staff are doing a lot of teaching this week and the Buffs head to a stadium where they’ve never won. Two days into preparation for ASU, however, Tucker and the players are encouraged by their progress.
“Coaches and players try to find ways to get better, to improve individually and collectively as a team,” Tucker said. “It’s not easy to do. Sometimes it’s very difficult to find that improvement because it really comes down to the fine details, the inches that you need. When you’re competing at a high level, success is measured in inches.”
CU didn’t measure up last week, but the Buffs have pushed that loss to the Falcons aside as they aim to be better this week.
“I liked how we worked the last two days after coming off that loss,” quarterback Steven Montez said.
Although the Buffs often say they prepare for every opponent the same, there is a sense of urgency this week as the Buffs begin Pac-12 play. Tucker told his team that Tuesday’s practice “can’t be just another Tuesday. It has to be more than that,” and he felt his team respond.
“You want to tighten your focus a little bit; you want to be more detail oriented and attention to detail,” safety Mikial Onu said. “The biggest thing is always looking for ways to improve.”
CU is aiming to pull off a rare road win against a ranked team, but the Buffs are also looking to win their conference opener for the third time in four years.
“It’s very important,” defensive lineman Mustafa Johnson said. “Even though we lost to Air Force, it doesn’t really affect our season play. All these games right here matter. Not that the other ones didn’t, but they’re in the past now and they’re not going to change anything, so we have to play good (at Arizona State).”
Johnson believes the Buffs didn’t practice well on Monday and Tuesday last week, but the Buffs have felt good about their start to this week. They spent Monday trying to clean up mistakes. That was followed by “bloody Tuesday” and tomorrow’s “bloody Wednesday),” where the Buffs are in full pads.
“Today was a good day for us,” Tucker said Tuesday. “I say that because these are the types of days that really test you, as coaches and players. Tuesday and Wednesday are really hard days.”
Nevertheless, it’s a process that Tucker enjoys, and he was eager to wrap up his weekly press conference and break down the film from Tuesday’s practice.
“I’m really looking forward to making the corrections from this practice and getting ready to go again tomorrow morning,” he said.