Mel Tucker is no stranger to being a part of struggling football teams, but it’s certainly been a while since he’s endured a stretch like the one he’s in now with the Colorado Buffaloes.
During his decade as an assistant coach in the NFL, from 2005-14, Tucker was part of one winning season. Prior to becoming Colorado’s head coach last December, however, Tucker had become quite used to not only winning, but dominating. From 2015-18, he coached at Alabama for one year and Georgia for three, with those teams going a combined 46-9. The longest losing streak in those years: two games.
Eight games into his first season with the Buffaloes (3-5, 1-4 Pac-12), Tucker is still trying to discover the right formula to turn the program around. CU has lost four in a row going into Saturday’s matchup at UCLA (3-5, 3-2) at the Rose Bowl (7 p.m. MT; TV: Pac-12 Networks).
“I just deal with it day by day,” Tucker said Monday after the Buffaloes got back to work. “I’m always looking for solutions, looking for clarity, looking to be objective, neutral, non-emotional to the best I can be and lead the staff and lead the team. I’m looking for positives. And I’m very, very critical of myself and everyone involved to see how we can get better.”
While the results suggest the Buffs have a long way to go – and in some respects, they do – Tucker reviewed the film of Friday’s 35-31 loss to USC a handful of times and saw a team just inches away from turning the corner.
“Quite frankly it’s still very painful, even a couple days later,” Tucker said. “We see one play here, one play there, on both sides of ball and special teams. It’s still very disappointing.
“We’re extremely close. Take care of the football and take it away, score points in the red zone and we’re going to have a chance to win.”
Twice against the Trojans, the Buffs’ defense swarmed to the ball and delivered a hit that knocked the ball loose. Both times, CU had players around the loose ball, but couldn’t pull it in. Recovering one or both would have been massive, because USC wound up scoring touchdowns on both drives including the game-winner with 2:15 to play.
“Two weeks ago, we talked about having free runners at the quarterback and not being able to get them on the ground,” Tucker said. “We got one week better. Now, we have free runners and we are actually able to get to them and get the ball off. Now the next step is we have to get the ball.”
On offense, CU has had 14 false start penalties the past three weeks, with players admitting the defense yells “move” and the Buffs jump. Tucker said the Buffs practice that every week and that coaches have reminded the players of that during timeouts, only to have them jump early coming out of the break.
“We have to figure out a way to deliver that message better,” Tucker said.
Those are two examples of minute details CU hasn’t taken care of in recent weeks.
“We have to do simple better,” Tucker said. “I don’t think there was any time in the game that we looked at the film and said, ‘They’re just better than us.’ They just made a good play and hats off to them. That can put a little strain on you mentally, but it also can be a positive to say, ‘Hey these are correctable (mistakes), but, it’s really technique and fundamentals.’”
What the Buffs aren’t struggling with at this point is their will to improve. Good practices last week translated into the Buffs’ best game in a while.
“We strive to be the best every week,” receiver KD Nixon said. “We had our best practices last week out of the whole year, so we’re just going to carry it on this week and just try to keep it going.
“We have no choice (but to fight). Coach Tucker is our head coach and he’s going to bring it out of us, so we’re ready to accept the challenge.”
Tucker accepted a big challenge when he took the job last winter, aiming to turn around a program used to losing, but that challenge is ongoing.
“I was brought here to change the culture and to win games,” Tucker said. “We’re not going to stop until we get that done.”
CU’s Nov. 9 game against Stanford is slated for a 1 p.m. kickoff at Folsom Field. The game will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Networks. … Dating back to last season, the Buffs are 3-12 in their 15 games. … CU has won two of the last three against the Bruins but has gone 0-4 against them at the Rose Bowl since joining the Pac-12 in 2011.