Skip to content

Road to success a long one for CU Buffs

Mel Tucker understands the process of turning team into a contender

Colorado head football coach Mel Tucker tries to get the attention of officials to call timeout during the Buffaloes' 45-3 loss at Oregon on Friday at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore.
Photo courtesy CU Athletics
Colorado head football coach Mel Tucker tries to get the attention of officials to call timeout during the Buffaloes’ 45-3 loss at Oregon on Friday at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore.

EUGENE, Ore. – Mel Tucker has never been under the illusion that turning Colorado into a winner on the football field was going to be easy or happen quickly.

Even as the Buffaloes beat then-No. 25 Nebraska and then-No.24 Arizona State to jump out to a 3-1 start to the season, Tucker was well aware that the process was in the beginning stages.

Home losses to Air Force and Arizona – both underdogs coming into Folsom Field – were reminders that this is a team primed for a roller coaster ride.

Friday’s 45-3 loss to No. 13 Oregon at Autzen Stadium was proof that the road will sometimes be downright rocky.

“My experience in these type situations is it’s a very, very tough road to go down, but it’s the road we have to go down,” said Tucker, the first-year CU head coach whose team fell to 3-3 (1-2 Pac-12) with the loss to the Ducks. “There’s no shortcut to success and where we want to get to. It’s very difficult and gut-wrenching. It really tests your character and your mettle, individually and as a team – every player, every coach. It really puts you up against it. And you really have to reach deep down and really make tough decisions about where to go from here, how to handle it, how do you get better.”

Tucker came to CU after three years as the defensive coordinator at Georgia. With a career that has included two national titles, at Ohio State and Alabama, and a runner-up finish at Georgia, it’s easy to forget that Tucker’s been in a similar situation before.

In 2016, his first season as Georgia’s DC, the Bulldogs went to Ole Miss and got rolled, 45-14. Georgia was ranked No. 12 going into that game, but that was the start of a 1-4 stretch in a season that finished 8-5; good by CU standards, but not by Georgia’s.

“That same team was playing for the national championship the very next year,” Tucker said.

CU is further away from national title contention than the 2016 Bulldogs, but Tucker’s point was that the dark days don’t last forever – but it takes some work to pull out of them.

“Our goal is to win every single game that we play,” Tucker said. “We feel that every team on our schedule we can beat, but any team on our schedule we could lose to, as well.”

Prior to Friday’s loss, the Buffs were a couple plays away from being 5-0 and ranked in the top 20. They were also a couple plays away from being 1-4. The Buffs managed to stay in games despite some mistakes, but on Friday, Oregon pounced on seemingly every CU mistake – and there were a lot of them.

A season-high 14 penalties – the most by a CU team since Sept. 16, 2017, against Northern Colorado – hurt, and some were critical. Mistakes on defense led to big plays by the Ducks and mistakes on offense prevented big plays by the Buffs.

The Buffs also botched a great scoring opportunity late in the half. For the second week in a row, the Buffs faced first-and-goal within three yards of the end zone. Last week, they settled for a field goal; this week they failed to score.

“Can’t make mistakes (in the red zone),” Tucker said. “Everything happens quicker in the red zone, so you have to be very sharp. When you go and you get on the plane or you get back and you turn on the film and you go to those plays, it’s so simple. It just rips your heart out. All we had to do was just do that, or this guy just has to do that. That’s it. And then we score. It’s as plain as day.

“On defense, they’re probably saying the same thing when they give up a play: if this guy would have just gone ahead and done his job, we’d have been fine. That’s what makes football such a great game, because it’s the ultimate team sport. At the level that we’re playing … you make mistakes, you’re going to pay for it.”

Mistakes were critical on Friday, but the Buffs also played a team further along in the process. Just three years removed from a 4-8 disaster of a season, the Ducks go into the second half of the season with not only a Pac-12 title, but a spot in the College Football Playoff on their minds.

“That’s a really good football team with a lot of experience and a lot of talent,” Tucker said. “They’re very well coached, they play hard. Going  into the game, I said I like that team and I like the way they play. And, they’re going to win a lot of football games. It’s one of the best teams in the country.”

Tucker would like to get Colorado there someday. The road is long, but Tucker knew it would be when he was hired in December.

“We’re going to learn from it,” he said on Friday, “and we’re going to move on, guys.

“At some point we’re going to have the type of football team that we need to have here and the sooner we figure it out, the sooner we’ll have that team.”

Join the Conversation

We invite you to use our commenting platform to engage in insightful conversations about issues in our community. We reserve the right at all times to remove any information or materials that are unlawful, threatening, abusive, libelous, defamatory, obscene, vulgar, pornographic, profane, indecent or otherwise objectionable to us, and to disclose any information necessary to satisfy the law, regulation, or government request. We might permanently block any user who abuses these conditions.