After the rest of the Colorado football team had kicked the mud off of their cleats before going into the locker room Wednesday, the receivers were still out on the grass at Franklin Field.
Phil McGeoghan’s group was the last one off the field for a good reason. It’s a group that needs to step up if the Buffaloes (1-6, 1-3 Pac-12) are going to get some momentum on offense in the last five games, starting against Arizona State (2-5, 1-3) on Saturday at Folsom Field (5:35 p.m., ESPNU).
“We have to build ourselves up by doing extra work, by being the first in, by being the last off the field,” said McGeoghan, the Buffs’ first-year receivers coach. “Your confidence builds when you have great habits. You’ve earned the right to catch the ball confidently on Saturdays. That’s just the reality of playing the wide receiver position.”
Right now, some of Colorado’s receivers have a confidence problem.
According to Pro Football Focus, CU has had 19 dropped passes this year, which ranks third in the Pac-12. Washington (22) and Arizona (20) both have more but they also rank as the top two in passing attempts, while CU is 10th.
Without question, a number of issues have contributed to the Buffs’ dismal offense, but the dropped passes have been glaring, especially in recent games. (Receivers aren’t the only position group with drops, but they have 14 of the 19).
On CU’s first offensive snap on Oct. 15 against California, quarterback Owen McCown put a perfect pass in the air that should have been a 66-yard touchdown and 7-0 lead, but instead it was dropped by senior Daniel Arias, and CU wound up punting.
Last Saturday at Oregon State, a CU drive before halftime stalled when JT Shrout’s back-to-back passes, on third-and-10 and fourth-and-10 hit Arias and then freshman Jordyn Tyson in the hands and fell to the ground.
“In reality, I don’t think there’s a drill, I don’t think there’s more time (that fixes it),” McGeoghan said. “Every free moment these guys have, they catch the ball well. It’s just a confidence issue and that’s just being straight honest.”
How to fix the confidence is the issue for McGeoghan, interim head coach Mike Sanford and the rest of the offensive staff. Sanford and McGeoghan both said the staff doesn’t point fingers or yell at players who drop passes, but take a different approach.
“We don’t do that because it doesn’t help a person get out of that negative cycle,” McGeoghan said. “Is it tough to kick yourself out of a mental slump as a human being, in general? For sure it is.”
McGeoghan and the staff try to build up the players mentally because they’ve seen them battle back after mistakes and make big plays.
“It’s very tough, but that’s the beauty of sports,” McGeoghan said. “The guys who can respond to that adversity, those are the guys that elevate the team and you can draw inspiration. Who doesn’t love a comeback story? Who doesn’t love an underdog story?”
Arias, in fact, had a nice, 41-yard catch later in the Cal game that helped set up a field goal. And, Tyson finished the Oregon State game with a season-high 92 yards, including a 58-yard catch that is the longest offensive play of the season for CU.
“I know we can do it because we’ve done it before,” McGeoghan said.
More difficult is recovering from repeated drops, and that’s an issue CU is dealing with this week.
While coaches work on building the confidence of those struggling, there also comes a time when giving someone else an opportunity is in order. To that end, Sanford said receivers such as RJ Sneed and Jack Hestera could get more opportunities this week.
“(After repeated miscues), now you’re in this catastrophic event inside of your own mind,” McGeoghan said. “I think that’s more of where we are.
“If you get to a point where you have repetitive drops, then you have to move forward and go with other players and that’s very difficult, because it’s tough to recover from that. Typically I don’t like to discard human beings out of the game plan. Do I take them out and try to protect them and put them in different situations in the progression? Yes I do.”
Fixing the issue of a particular player struggling with drops also goes beyond the field, McGeoghan said.
“There’s a whole checklist of things (in life) that builds confidence with what we’re doing,” McGeoghan said. “I think it’s about how you live your life and everything that you do. How you do anything is how you do everything.
“When all those things get met, I would venture to guess that you’re really going to like the product that you have out there on Saturdays. I would venture to guess that that’s everywhere around college sports right now. It’s the whole personal discipline. The guys that put the ball on the ground are the guys that sometimes aren’t doing everything right during the week.”
Talent, however, isn’t the issue. CU’s receivers have shown the ability to make difficult, acrobatic catches. But, using a basketball analogy, McGeoghan said CU’s receivers are good at hitting fadeaway 3-pointers, but struggling with layups and free throws.
“Apply the fundamentals, narrow the focus, concentrate on the little things,” McGeoghan said. “And, make your layups and free throws.”