In a moment of perfectly understandable frustration, Mel Tucker summed it up perfectly.
Colorado’s first-year football coach performed his postgame duties with his usual classy demeanor Saturday evening despite a gut-wrenching finish by his Buffaloes, who returned to action a full two weeks after a stirring road win at Arizona State to put together a mistake-filled 35-30 home loss against Arizona.
Tucker calmly conducted his postgame interview with KOA radio before that frustration boiled over. Upon removing his headphones, Tucker bellowed a short yet all too fitting expletive that reverberated off the walls of the Folsom Field locker room tunnel.
That word of course can’t be repeated here. But Buffs fans surely get the point.
The most disturbing aspect wasn’t the loss after having two weeks to prepare, or the fact the Buffs backed up their best all-around performance of the first third of the season with their second consecutive dud on their home turf. Heck, it wasn’t even the mounting injuries, which will do no favors for a team about to embark on the toughest stretch of its schedule.
This one was about self-inflicted wounds. Eliminating those will be Tucker’s biggest challenge moving forward if the Buffs still hope to challenge for a bowl berth.
Give the undermanned Buffs credit for fighting the good fight despite a mounting list of walking wounded. As expected, the Buffs played without their best player on offense (Laviska Shenault) and their most disruptive player on defense (Mustafa Johnson). They also were missing starting cornerback Chris Miller, starting guard Colby Pursell, and safety Aaron Maddox. By the end of Saturday’s loss receiver KD Nixon, defensive tackle Jalen Sami, tight end Brady Russell, and safety Mikial Onu were sidelined as well.
That’s a significant amount of depreciation on both sides of the ball. But that’s also football and, unlike last year, the man in charge certainly wasn’t leaning on the injury situation as any sort of excuse.
Bottom line: If the Buffs could have avoided shooting themselves in the foot with penalties, they probably would be going into the Friday night showdown at No. 13 Oregon as a 4-1 team sitting atop the Pac-12’s South Division.
Instead, CU is sitting in the crowded pack of league mediocrity with a number of in-game discipline issues to address. Against the Wildcats the Buffs committed eight penalties for 85 yards, the latter of which counted as a season-high (CU had nine penalties against Nebraska, but given a number of them were relatively minor five-yard infractions, the damage was limited to 65 yards).
Certainly some of those yards proved meaningless, like the roughing the passer penalty on CU’s Alex Tchangam on Arizona’s first touchdown, which was assessed on a kickoff that resulted in a touchback anyway. And the occasional holding penalty can be attributed to the cost of business over the course of a full game. Yet too often the Buffs’ miscues not only sent CU backward, but also erased big plays.
On CU’s next drive after that first Arizona touchdown guard Casey Roddick, starting in place of Pursell, was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and holding in just three plays. The Buffs punted. On the following drive, Nixon tried to help fellow receiver Dmitri Stanley after a first-down catch but instead shoved an Arizona defender from behind. Two downs later, senior offensive lineman Arlington Hambright was flagged for a false start. The Buffs punted.
It was more of the same after halftime. Running back Alex Fontenot, who otherwise had a solid 94-yard day, was flagged for a block below the waist late in the third quarter. And finally, with the game in the balance and CU attempting to make one last charge in a contest that featured nine lead changes, the Buffs were whistled for a false start that turned a second-and-two into a second-and-seven.
A short run and two incomplete passes later, the Buffs were done.
The video review will be an interesting one for the Buffs, and no doubt Tucker will have plenty of corrections to make during a short week. The “next-man-up” philosophy has been a necessary crutch for a team that has been forced to turn to more than a few of the next men in line over the past few weeks but, with the exception of Roddick, the bulk of CU’s most costly penalties Saturday were committed by veterans.
After the Oregon trip the Buffs visit Washington State, followed by a Friday night home date against USC. In a league riddled by parity behind Oregon, the Buffs easily could still surprise a few teams along the way.
Fail to correct the flag-fest witnessed at Folsom on Saturday, however, and October and November are more likely to be as forgettable as last year.