Sunday, September 15, 2019

Air Force Win Will Force Colorado Coaches to Make Some Tough Decisions

After the Colorado Buffaloes walked off the Folsom Field gridiron with their first loss of the season, they got to the locker room and realized that blame for this game was on everyone.

Quarterback Steven Montez, the senior three year starter, continued to make mistakes like a rookie. He missed wide open receivers over and over. Once hit, like he has done way too often, he became gun-shy and tentative.

Kicker James Stefanou has been a beacon of steadiness in his Colorado career. The streak of never missing an extra point came to a dramatic end in the 4th quarter. A low kick and bad blocking ended the chance that Colorado would come back for a one point victory in regulation.

The entire offense seemed unhinged. Over and over, a Buff would move before the snap and send the Buffs backwards five yards. This kept the Buffs from getting into a rhythm all day long.

The defense continued to be Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. They continued their ability to cause timely turnovers, yet they didn't force Air Force to punt until deep into the 2nd half. They also allowed the ground and pound Falcons to turn into a quick strike offense. 

Air Force had three scoring plays of 25 yards or  longer (25 yard run, 32 yard pass, and an 81 yard pass). Coming into the game, the Air Force QB had thrown a total of ONE pass. He threw 12 on Saturday, including two touchdowns.  If it hadn't been for the turnovers, Air Force may well have scored 40 points or more.

The Colorado coaches are mostly to blame. They said the right things about getting their guys ready. They talked about how dangerous Air Force was. But apparently no on the team was taking them seriously. They should have known. Maybe they did, who knows?

Colorado was not ready for a team as well-conditioned as they are. The Falcons did not tire like Nebraska and Colorado State. They kept on coming through overtime and the Buffs were not ready. Once again, that blame falls on the coaches.

And it was not just the preparation by the players. It was the play calling by the offense coordinator. It seems everyone talked about how difficult it would be to stop Air Force, but it looked like no one spent any time devising a way to score against the Falcons.

The Falcons may have a difficult offensive to scheme to defense, but they also have to play defense. With Colorado's skill players, they should have been able to score a lot more points and move the ball a lot more consistently. They didn't.

The offensive play calling was extremely vanilla the whole game. Every effort to stretch the field for a deep ball failed because the Montez was vastly overthrowing his wide open receivers.

It's the coaches who have to make the tough calls. When Montez was obviously having an off game, maybe they needed to bring a backup in for a series or two... or the rest of the game if they play well.

Montez is a senior with all the talent in the world. He has the size and skill-set that NFL teams love. He also plays often as if he doesn't realize that his NFL dreams may be fading before his very eyes. 

To paraphrase an old coach, "If you can't manage to get yourself mentally motivated for a game that's only played once a week, maybe you need to find another sport".

There is a reason that football is often compared to war. You are either all-in and ready for battle... or you become a casualty. Colorado was a casualty on Saturday.

That said, it's the coaches jobs to get their guys ready. They are the ones getting paid. The players are college students with two full time jobs. It's the coaches who also have to make the tough decisions.

All summer and camp, Mel Tucker and the other coaches have preached that the guys who practice the hardest  and make the most plays will play. We've seen that with just about every position except quarterback.

Maybe a quarter or a half on the bench will motivate Steven Montez. If not, leave him there. Yes, he's a senior. But he is not ENTITLED to be the starting quarterback at the University of Colorado.

Serious fans care about wins and losses. Another season without a bowl game will not be made less painful if Montez breaks the rest of the QB records. We'll be happy for Laviska Shenault if he becomes a first round draft pick. But we'll be much happier with a winning season.

Personal records mean NOTHING without a winning season. Since the Colorado streak of futility began with the firing of Gary Barnett in 2005, one thing Colorado has had was a string of "record setting" quarterbacks.

Cody Hawkins, Tyler Hansen, Sefo Liufau and Steven Montez all made big marks in personal stats and records at Colorado. 

Since 2006, however, the Buffaloes have LOST 50 MORE games than they have won. Or to put it another way, the Buffs have lost almost twice as many games as they have won in that time. Their record since the 2006 season began is 57-107.

Forget the individual records. Winning the games needs to be the focus. 

If anybody thinks this is too drastic, look at Alabama in the 2017 season. They had a dynamic, experienced, quarterback in Jalen Hurts. He had led them to an 11 win season and the national championship game. He had played in the national title game the year before as well.

In the title game against Georgia (Mel Tucker's last team), Alabama could not get untracked offensively and trailed 13-0 at halftime. Nick Saban made the hard call and brought in true freshman QB Tua Tagovailoa. He sparked the Crimson tide to catch up in the 2nd half and a win in overtime for another National Championship.

Was that the proper decision to make? Thrusting a true freshman onto the biggest stage in college football instead of relying on a seasoned veteran? The "playing it safe" crowd would say absolutely not. 

But the playing it safe crowd does not own five national championships like Nick Saban does. Mel Tucker watched that game from the Georgia sidelines as defensive coordinator. His guys had held the vaunted Alabama offense scoreless in the first half. But a change in quarterback gave the Tide the spark they needed to come back.

Closer to home, in the Pac-12, both USC and Arizona State are starting true freshman quarterbacks. USC was ranked last week and Arizona State is ranked this week.

Also, another true freshman starting this season is Hank Bachmeier at Boise State. This writer got the chance to spend much of the 2nd half of a game with Hank, his dad and his uncle, when he made his official visit to Colorado. Boise State is also ranked with a true freshman at quarterback.

Steven Montez, our senior, record setting quarterback, will be gone after this season no matter what happens the rest of the year. The Buffaloes need to prepare for the future. A new quarterback will be playing for Colorado next year one way or another.

Also remember that it was a young Steven Montez who came in and sparked Colorado to some big victories in 2016 when Sefo Liufau got hurt.

Maybe the best thing that could happen for Steven Montez is to spend some time as 2nd string, in practice and in a game. It could be that some bench time is the type of motivation he needs.

If he responds to the challenge and ups his game, he's there when needed. If he instead chooses to sulk and withdraws, it means he's not the leader the position needs him to be.

The clock is ticking. Monday will soon be here. A game on the road against a ranked Arizona State team is looming. And the Pac-12 conference gauntlet is starting.

What will Mel Tucker and the Colorado coaches decide to do? Do they play it safe? Or do they shake things up? We'll see.

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