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CU Buffs scrambling for answers after fifth straight loss

Head coach Mel Tucker dealing with injuries, transfers and lack of depth during first season

Colorado Buffaloes quarterback Steven Montez (12) is tackled by UCLA Bruins linebacker Krys Barnes (14) during the first half of a NCAA football game at Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. on Saturday November 2, 2019. UCLA Bruins defeated the Colorado Buffaloes 31-14. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr, Contributing Photographer)
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It’s an easy question with a complicated answer.

How do the Colorado Buffaloes bounce back from yet another defeat?

“It’s based upon individual guys,” head coach Mel Tucker said after the Buffs’ 31-14 loss at UCLA on Saturday night. “Everyone reacts differently and that’s what you’ve got to do as coaches is find a way to get guys going to get them better.

“The young guys, continue to get those guys to understand what’s required and let’s keep moving forward.”

Tucker and his staff have been trying to do that for about a month. Once sitting at 3-1 and receiving votes in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, the Buffs (3-6, 1-5 Pac-12) have lost five in a row and looked listless at Rose Bowl Stadium.

Tucker is here, of course, because this wasn’t a great team to begin with. The Buffs finished 5-7 each of the previous two seasons, prompting athletic director Rick George to fire Mike MacIntyre and hire Tucker last December.

Since taking over, Tucker has seen several players transfer out of the program and several more go down with injuries. The Buffs played Saturday night without leading rusher Alex Fontenot, three of their top four cornerbacks, a starting offensive lineman and a safety that elected to leave the team a few weeks ago.

Tucker isn’t one to make excuses for injuries or departures, though, and he’s never been under the illusion that the success he enjoyed as an assistant at Alabama and Georgia the past four years was going to come quickly at CU.

“There’s nothing easy about it,” he said. “You can’t sprinkle dust on them or whatever, or you can’t wave a magic wand. It’s really, really difficult and I expected it to be. Any time you come into your first year of a program, my experience has been … it’s very, very, very difficult. There’s ups and there’s downs and you have to stay the course and make adjustments along the way and keep chopping.”

With three games to play, starting Saturday against Stanford (4-4, 3-3) at Folsom Field, the Buffs will keep chopping. At this point, the roster is set for the season – although getting a couple injured players back would help – and there doesn’t figure to be drastic changes being made down the stretch.

Tucker will continue to try to motivate his players to battle for wins in the final three games.

“We’re going to stay the course,” Tucker said. “I’m looking for guys that are going to compete, continue to fight, work to get better, do what we ask them to do. There’s a lot of film study, a lot of corrections that need to be made. We’ve got to have a really good week of practice. And we’re going to continue to look for guys that have the type of behavior on a consistent basis that we need to get this job done.”

It’s not an easy job, as much of the roster is filled with players who finished last year on a seven-game losing streak. The “here we go again” mentality is human nature and not easy to avoid.

“It’s always hard to get out of a slump,” said junior linebacker Nate Landman, who was arguably the best player on the field for the Buffs on Saturday, with two sacks and 11 tackles. “Looking back on the past weeks, coach always refers to a game of inches. Watching film and going back and learning from that, you  see those inches. I think we need to get back to the basics and get those inches in our favor.”

Those inches have added up to feet, yards and even miles during the five-game losing streak. But, the Buffs have played well at times this season, and Landman is hopeful that they can rediscover that formula this week against Stanford.

“In the back of your mind, you’re always thinking about  what happened last week and getting redemption and moving on and getting that win,” he said. “I agree with what (Tucker) said about taking one game at a time and no game is the same. You can see that throughout the league and throughout the country that it doesn’t matter what week it is or who you’re playing; it’s who comes out and executes that week.”

CU has been out-executed five games in a row, but the Buffs have three more chances to turn the tide.

“We’re really just trying to get ourselves better, any way possible for ourselves to help us be successful on the field,” running back Jaren Mangham said. “We’re just going to get back to work and we’re going to come back stronger.”

CU opponent glance

Opponent: Stanford Cardinal

Game time: Saturday, 1 p.m. MT at Folsom Field in Boulder

TV: Pac-12 Networks

Coach: David Shaw, 9th year (86-30)

Record: 4-4, 3-3 Pac-12

Last week: Bye; defeated Arizona, 41-31, at home on Oct. 26

Notable: After a 1-3 start to the season, the Cardinal are 3-1 in their last four games. … Stanford is 1-2 on the road this season. … Stanford ranks 11th in the Pac-12 in scoring, at 22.6 points per game, and 11th in total offense, at 348.5 yards per game. … Junior quarterback KJ Costello, considered one of the best in the country coming into the year, has played in only four games because of injuries. After missing three in a row, however, he returned for Stanford’s last game, throwing for 322 yards and three touchdowns in a win against Arizona. … Running back Cameron Scarlett is fifth in the Pac-12 at 87.5 rushing yards per game. He has 700 yards and five TD. … Stanford has won at least eight games and played in bowl games each of the last 10 seasons.

 

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