Wide receiver Bryce Bobo came into his postgame press conference following Colorado’s 21-17 loss at USC Saturday in a ball cap that made his team’s mission for the 2016 season clear: Make CU Great Again.
With its first Top 25 ranking in 11 years ago earned a week ago, Colorado made strides to that end. The Buffs’ time in the polls may have been abbreviated — Saturday’s loss assures they’ll drop from the rankings heading into Week 7.
“It hurts,” said quarterback Steven Montez. “It hurts a lot.”
But the pain must only be temporary, the loss more a setback than a defining moment, if CU is truly to be great again.
“It’s a loss, and it’s tough right now,” Montez said. “But we’re going to go back Monday and review the film. We still have a lot of season in front of us — a ton of season.”
A ton of season’s no exaggeration. Exactly half of the regular season remains ahead for Colorado, and despite losing at USC, the Buffs remain in control of their Pac-12 destiny. Colorado landed on the positive side of the Pac-12’s imbalanced scheduling in 2016, drawing more home dates than road.
Saturday was CU’s second road game of the conference season. The Buffs play four times at Folsom Field in the weeks to come, including three games against the Pac-12 South. Handle its business at home, and Colorado has a clear path to the Pac-12 Championship Game.
Getting set down that course starts with a showdown of divisional leaders in Week 7, with Arizona State visiting Boulder, fresh off a 23-20 win over UCLA. CU will devote the next week to learning from Saturday’s missteps in preparation for the Sun Devils, the Buffs’ Homecoming game and a chance to “regroup,” as head coach Mike MacIntyre said.
The biggest single item from which Colorado can regroup after its loss: coming out with more fire.
“We started extremely slow, and a lot of that’s on me,” Montez said. He may be a youngster, thrust into the starting lineup with senior Sefo Liufau injured, but Montez’s acceptance of responsibility demonstrates capable leadership from the Buffs play-maker.
So, too, does his helping lead a second-half turnaround that Colorado can use as a blueprint moving into the latter half of the season. After falling behind 14-0 at halftime, CU outscored the homestanding Trojans 17-7, the defense buckling down to force three turnovers after intermission.
While Montez took responsibility for the sluggish start, the Colorado defense did likewise for the Buffs falling in a hole in the first half.
Linebacker Kenneth Olugbode said CU’s initial woes could be attributed simply to the Buffaloes “not tackling.”
As Bobo noted, however, no one area could be blamed for Colorado falling behind. Montez’s play in final 30 minutes, commensurate with better line push, and the defense effectively shut USC down.
“In the second half, our o-line did a better job of giving Steven more time,” Bobo said.
USC’s been exceptional pressuring opposing quarterbacks the last two weeks, and Saturday’s four sacks marked a season-high. The Trojans repeatedly got to Arizona State quarterback Manny Wilkins Week 5, eventually knocking him out of the gain.
Montez was briefly sidelined Saturday after “getting the wind knocked out” of him by repeated tackles from the Trojan defense. Liufau played a few emergency snaps before Montez returned.
“We didn’t play fast and tough,” MacIntyre said, in reference to USC’s early dominance on the line scrimmage. “We didn’t play typical, Colorado football. We didn’t get into a rhythm…[USC] had a lot to do with it, and we had a lot to do with it.”
The Buff front gave Montez more time to operate in the second half, and the coaching staff opened the field of play up with a trick call that worked to perfection.
Bobo took the handoff on an end-around, then found running back Phillip Lindsay on a wheel route that went for six.
MacIntyre said CU devoted time in the past week to that particular playcall. It was the kind of gutsy move the Buffs can sprinkle in more of on the upcoming, critical stretch of their schedule.
Saturday’s second half demonstrated plainly that Colorado can indeed be great in this wide-open Pac-12 South. Continuing to adjust, as the Buffs were able against USC, will make the difference.