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Rooney: Thanks to Mel Tucker, big boy football back in Boulder

Despite midseason slide, Buffs reach finish line with something to play for

BOULDER, CO – November 23, 2019: Colorado’s head coach Mel Tucker greets Jalen Harris against Washington during the game in Boulder on November 23, 2019. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
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Now that was a Senior Night to remember.

Good for Steven Montez, who directed a seize-the-win drive on his team’s last possession of not only his last home game, but in each of his final two games at Folsom Field.

Good for Tim Lynott, the venerable offensive lineman who has been there through thick and thin for the Colorado Buffaloes.

Good for Tony Brown, who capped the home portion of his Buffs playing career with an 18-yard catch, his last one at Folsom, that helped set up a pivotal touchdown late in the third quarter.

Good for Delrick Abrams and Alex Tchangam and Davion Taylor and Mikail Onu, senior defenders who have led the way with patience and perseverance as their youthful teammates have grown up in a hurry around them.

Good for all the Buffs’ seniors, but good for Buff fans, too. With one game remaining, CU’s postseason hopes, improbably, remain alive. And at this point it’s difficult not to be on board with the idea that something special may be brewing in Boulder under first-year head coach Mel Tucker.

For just the second time since 2011 the Buffs won on Senior Day, and no doubt it was a night those 17 seniors will recall fondly wherever their journey takes them, as CU kept its postseason hopes alive with a 20-14 win against Washington on Saturday.

Big boy football has returned to Boulder.

Regardless of next week’s result at No. 6 Utah, Tucker has done exactly what his predecessor, Mike MacIntyre, was unable to accomplish last year. Not only has Tucker turned things around after a five-game losing streak that made bowl-eligibility an uphill climb, but he has reversed the tailspin while simultaneously giving notice the Buffs should be much more of a force to reckon with in 2020.

That young defense no longer seems so green, having held Stanford and Washington to a combined 27 points in consecutive games. For all the ups and downs this season on offense, the Montez-led group has delivered at crunch time in each of the two wins, running the ball at will even when the opposing defenses knew it was coming — first to set up a winning field goal at the buzzer against Stanford, and then battering Washington into submission in a final clock-killing drive late Saturday night.

A two-game win streak might be modest in the vast canvas of the big picture, but how they have unfolded is as much a reason to celebrate for Buffs fans as the wins themselves. CU has displayed winning football traits largely absent from Boulder since the Gary Barnett era, outside the Pac-12 South Division title year of 2016. Against Washington the Buffs harassed Huskies quarterback Jacob Eason constantly and painfully. The Buffs controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. And it was the Buffs who dictated their will with the game on the line.

Kudos to offensive coordinator Jay Johnson for embracing a run game that, at times, should have been leaned upon more heavily during the five-game losing streak. Kudos to defensive coordinator Tyson Summers for calling all the right shots in CU’s blitz deployment, and for the swift development of a unit that doesn’t at all resemble the defense that surrendered 37.4 points per game during the losing streak. And, most of all, kudos to Tucker, who clearly has his players buying in to the foundation he is attempting to establish at CU.

It will be a tall task to nab that sixth win, and the accompanying bowl eligibility, at No. 6 Utah. Odds are the Buffs will be saddled with their third consecutive 5-7 season. In the midst of the five-game losing streak it was suggested in this corner that Tucker would be challenged to give Buffs fans a glimmer of hope that better days awaited. He has done just that by getting the Buffs to the regular season finale with something to play for.

A glimmer of hope? Between the swift improvement on the field and the recent recruiting victories off the field, that hope is barreling forward as relentlessly as Mark Perry charging into an opposing backfield.

“One main thing I think it says is that we don’t quit,” Taylor said. “That we’re going to keep on pushing no matter what the scoreboard says. No matter what the critics say, what nobody else says. We’re going to continue to push and try to go into every game and win. That’s our goal. Next week we’ll go to Utah and that’s our goal, to win. We won’t worry about what number they’re ranked, just go out there, play hard, and have fun.”