Eight penalties. Several dropped passes. Miscommunication in the red zone.
When Colorado head coach Mel Tucker reviewed the film of the Buffaloes’ 35-30 loss to Arizona, he saw all of that add up his team’s first Pac-12 loss of the season.
“When you play good teams, mistakes will kill you,” Tucker said Monday. “You’ve got to play mistake-free football. When you’re at this level, and you’re competing with the best of the best, the margin for error is very, very slim.”
Perhaps even more so for CU (3-2, 1-1 Pac-12), which is not only fighting a multi-year battle to get out of the Pac-12 South cellar, but is now doing it with several key players wounded.
“We don’t have a lot of margin for error and you never really do,” Tucker said.
This week, the Buffs have a sense of urgency to get their mistakes fixed, as they visit 13th-ranked Oregon (4-1, 2-0) on Friday night at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore.
With one less day to prepare, CU had to put the Arizona loss behind it in a hurry.
“We are burning the midnight oil a little bit as a staff and making sure we are keeping those guys on track in terms of a game plan,” Tucker said. “It just moves everything up a day.”
Many of the mistakes CU made against Arizona can be corrected, but having a healthy lineup is out of Tucker’s control.
At one point in Saturday’s game, nine starters were sidelined, including star receiver Laviska Shenault and defensive lineman Mustafa Johnson, who didn’t play at all, and safety Mikial Onu, who missed most of the second half with a torso injury.
Tucker doesn’t often give specifics on injuries, but said Monday, “I’m encouraged by what I see there. They are going to be day to day, but I hope to get some of those guys back healthy this week.
“It’s case by case, but they have to be able to show us that they can practice in order for them to be able to go into the game. The majority of those guys got some work today and we’ll get them more work tomorrow and we’ll go day to day and see how it goes.”
The Buffs usually have a physical Tuesday practice. Although Monday’s practice was in place of a Tuesday, the Buffs scaled back the physicality because players are still recovering from Saturday’s game.
Tucker said it’s a fine line between scaling back the physicality in practice, but getting prepared for a game.
“We do what we can,” he said. “We still put the pads on, but we stay up. Our guys are used to practicing with pads and not going full speed to the ground and taking care of each other. But … the guys that are going to be playing in a game, they still need to get that work.”
Playing on a Friday night, especially on the road, is tough, but Tucker said it’s not that big of a deal.
In fact, it’s nothing compared to the first three games he had to deal with as interim head coach of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars in 2011. They played three games in 11 days going on a Monday, Sunday and then Thursday.
“Those are some short weeks right there,” he said. “So this is moderate and we should be fine.”
If the short week and tangling with the No. 13 team in the country wasn’t difficult enough, CU also faces tough odds. Since the start of the 2016 season, the road team is 5-14 in Pac-12 games played on Friday night, including 2-11 when traveling out of state.
Tucker said he was pleased with CU’s run defense against Arizona, as it held the Wildcats to 83 yards on 26 carries. Arizona came in averaging a league-best 255.5 rushing yards. Tucker was mainly pleased with the pass defense, too, but said Arizona got 265 yards on eight passes. “The rest of the 33 passes outside of that we were less than five yards per attempt, so that’s where we know that we’re close,” he said. … The Pac-12 announced Monday that the Buffs’ Oct. 19 game at Washington State will be slated for a 5 p.m. kickoff and will be broadcast on ESPN or ESPNU (to be decided Sunday).