Thursday, October 18, 2018

Can the Colorado Buffaloes Learn From Their Bad Week?

The Colorado Buffaloes had a bad week last week. 

Not only did they lose to USC to drop their first game of the season, they were also unceremoniously dropped from the AP Top 25. They woke up Saturday morning as one of only 11 unbeaten teams in the country, and the only one west of the Mississippi. The ended the day with all the pundits who said that Colorado would be horrible this year to finally have the chance to say, "AH HA! We knew it!"

It's funny how things change.

If you looked at the first seven games of Colorado's 2018 schedule two years ago, most people then would have spoken about how tough it projected to be. Nebraska in Lincoln, USC in Los Angeles, Washington in Seattle, the always tough games against Arizona State and UCLA, and the in-state rivalry game with Colorado State. That gauntlet of a schedule was one of the reasons that Colorado was predicted to win only four to five games this year.

Of course, after starting the season 5-0, the angry pundits thumbed their noses at Colorado's record and claimed they hadn't played anybody. Never mind that USC won the Pac-12 last season and was favored to win the South again. Never mind that, historically, beating Nebraska in Lincoln is one of the toughest tasks in college football. Forget that Colorado had only beaten UCLA and Arizona State once apiece since joining the Pac-12.

Now, the game against Washington awaits. The Huskies were favored by the football writers to make it to the national championship playoffs again. But sometimes things don't work out the way the pundits planned. First they lost to Auburn, had some close games with Arizona State and UCLA, and then lost at Oregon. 

Despite their two losses, Washington is still ranked in the Top 15. And yes, they are the highest rated team in the country with two losses.

Colorado has never beaten Washington since joining the Pac-12. In their six games this decade, Washington has averaged more than 44 points per game to Colorado's less than 13. It's one of the reasons that the Buffaloes are expected to lose by 16.5 points. For those who think the Buffs are being "disrespected" -- remember that Washington has traditionally beaten them by closer to 31.

Last week, the Buffaloes seemed tight against USC on offense. They could not get anything going, including the coaches. Maybe the pressure of finally (possibly) being able to beat the Trojans was too much to bear. Although USC was favored, it was close enough to make the game a toss up. 

No such closeness in the point spread this week. Washington is expected to roll over Colorado. There are no expectations from fans or pundits that Colorado can win this game. Does that mean the pressure is off? Of course not. Football is, after all, a sport that is dependent upon wins and losses.

But a loss by a touchdown or two would be seen by many as a moral victory by fans. The players are not buying into that for a moment. They want to leave Washington with a victory. 

Having no expectations from the media or fans may allow them to focus and play smarter than they did against USC. That means the coaches too.

If the defense can play like they did for 50 of 60 minutes against USC, Colorado can be a very tough team. If the offense can play like they did for every game other than USC, the Buffs can put up points on Washington.

Strangely enough, if Heisman candidate Laviska Shenault cannot play, it might be better for the team's chance to win. Offensive coordinator (and play caller) Darrin Chiaverini last week could not find a way to NOT call play after play for Shenault, even though USC stacked their defense to stop Shenault. He faced double and triple team coverage on every play. Despite that, Colorado continued to go to that well so often that Laviska ended up injured.

Colorado has a lot of offensive weapons, but they are of no use unless their numbers are called. 

If Shenault is on the sideline, maybe Chiaverini and MacIntyre can get away from their tunnel vision. And maybe they've learned the lesson that you do not try to run away from a speed team. You run right at them. Washington has lots of speed. 

Colorado needs to adjust. If not, the Buffs will come back home with another loss. Even if they adjust correctly and still lose, at least they will know going forward that they have the ability to adjust on offense. All they need to do is look at their own defense and see how well they have adjusted over and over again this season.

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