Rooney: CU Buffs may be battered, but WSU trip a chance to kick reeling foe while down

Mel Tucker, Mike Leach a contrast in coaching styles

Getty Images
Colorado head coach Mel Tucker is looking to get the Buffs back on track against WSU.

Talk about a contrast in coaching styles.

The newcomer, at least to the collegiate head coaching ranks, isn’t exactly soft-spoken, yet his words typically are as intense and carefully measured as his demeanor. The other is prone to diverging wildly into realms of politics and the perceived ills of society when asked simply to describe how his team might best attack a 3-4 defense.

One is trying to instill a culture of relentless toughness. The other leads a team that is all finesse. One looks like he could still run through a brick wall while prowling the defensive secondary. The other…well, let’s just say he’s not exactly the pillar of fitness for his troops to aspire toward.

One is in the midst of trying to get his program back on the upswing. The other is in danger of authoring a collapse not unlike what Colorado Buffaloes fans witnessed a year ago.

When Mel Tucker leads his Buffs on to the Martin Stadium turf in Pullman, Wash., Saturday evening to take on Mike Leach’s Washington State Cougars the hope, at least for Buffs fans, is that this will be a showdown between Pac-12 Conference rivals trending in opposite directions.

The Buffs have yet to show definitively that some sort of “The Rise II” is in the works under Tucker; though in fairness there remains a grace period intact for a first-year coach to set a philosophical template, while also attempting to collect the exact sort of players he prefers on the recruiting trail, before passing judgment on the overall direction of the program. Cert4ainly the early returns show Tucker making solid inroads with that philosophical template as well as the on the recruiting trail.

At Washington State, though, the Buffs have an opportunity to take advantage of a reeling opponent. Certainly CU isn’t in great shape itself, coming off a loss at home against a very beatable Arizona team followed by last week’s 45-3 drubbing at Oregon. It’s the Cougars, though, that seemingly are teetering closer to train wreck status at the halfway point of Leach’s eighth season in Pullman.

On Sept. 21, Washington State squandered a 32-point second-half lead at home to a UCLA team that previously didn’t look like it could top Denver suburban powerhouse Valor Christian. After a thorough 38-13 loss at Utah, WSU spent its bye week dealing with the resignation of defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys. The Cougars came out of that bye with a road loss against Arizona State. And recently Leach, the coach who has never encountered a microphone or camera he won’t expound for, banned the use of social media for his club. As if it was all those tweets that prevented WSU from holding off the lowly UCLA Bruins at home.

With WSU still facing road dates against Oregon, Cal, and state rival Washington, the Cougars will be desperate for a win Saturday. Last week, Tucker offered an analogy about decision-making that might be described as a bit Leach-esque. CU’s leader was specifically speaking about how to correct the injury issues that plagued the Buffs against Arizona (the speech didn’t help, as CU again was brutal in that department at Oregon) yet it seems to also offer a telling metaphor for how the Buffs should approach the second half of the season, which begins in Pullman.

“I talked to the guys (last week) about choices and decisions that we make,” Tucker said. “That does matter and it factors in. It’s not just during a game. It’s day in and day out in practice, on the field and off the field. There’s simple truths. Simple things that have to be done. I hold up an apple, and a bag of Doritos. It doesn’t take a dietitian to tell you which one is healthier. It’s a simple choice.

“But then you wonder why aren’t those choices being made all the time when they’re so simple. That’s where the challenge comes. We put our guys in position day in and day out to make those choices. And there’s consequences for everything that we do, whether it’s class or treatment or being punctual or assignments. You either win or you lose. When we win, we want to understand why we won, why we were successful and celebrate that. And when we do make poor choices, then understand there’s going to be consequences in that.”

The choice this week? Find the fight that was lacking once Oregon got rolling last week. And then, just maybe, the Buffs indeed can rise up and kick an opponent while it’s down.