Every year, the Colorado football team says goodbye to seniors who have forged different paths during their careers.
Before Saturday’s 20-14 win against Washington at Folsom Field, a group of 17 seniors were honored. It’s a group that includes those who had record-setting or highly successful careers – such as Alex Kinney, Tim Lynott Jr. or Steven Montez. Others – such as Jalen Harris or Mikial Onu – are leaving after very brief stints as transfers.
Jack Shutack, meanwhile, will leave with a smile that he struggled to find when he first started the college journey back in 2015 as a freshman at Rutgers.
“It’s not where you start; it’s where you finish,” Shutack, a walk-on offensive lineman, told me last week. “When I got here, I couldn’t even smell the field. You’ve just got to keep on working and good things come to those who work. It’s just a very satisfying feeling.”
In this edition of the Monday Rewind, we’ll look at Shutack’s college experience and the happiness he has found in Boulder. Also this week:
- What Steven Montez has learned from each of his QB coaches
- Jalen Sami’s TD-saving tackle
- Stats and quotes of the week
- Pac-12 rankings and AP ballot
LEADING OFF: Shutack’s journey
A 2015 graduate of Nazareth Academy in Illinois, the 6-foot-6, 300-pound Shutack was a three-star recruit who signed with Rutgers, but he very quickly realized Rutgers was not for him.
“I was not in the best place at the previous program,” Shutack said. “I was really unhappy and was just sad. And I knew that this was the place for me. I never doubted coming here.
“All my previous teammates, I just love all of them. I still keep in touch with a lot of them. The people were great. The coaches were great. I just was unhappy and I had to get a change. It was time for change, for sure.”
The timing could not have been better for Shutack. He had family ties to the Buffs – his sister and a couple other family members had been students at CU – and Rutgers went through a change after the 2015 season, firing head coach Kyle Flood and hiring Chris Ash.
One of Ash’s new hires was Toby Neinas, who had been let go as CU’s special teams coordinator after the 2015 season. Neinas was hired as Rutgers’ director of player personnel in February of 2016.
“By the time the new coaching staff was in, I really liked the new coaches,” Shutack said. “I was still unhappy though. I knew that coach Neinas could put me in touch with people here, so that’s what he did. Coach Neinas is the man. He’s a great guy.”
Neinas connected Shutack with former CU head coach Mike MacIntyre, who brought him in as a walk-on in 2017 (after Shutack spent a year taking classes at College of DuPage in Illinois).
For Shutack, the change of scenery was much needed, but his first year in Boulder brought another challenge. During one of his first practices, in August 2017, he got in scuffle with defensive lineman Frank Umu, who – much like Myles Garrett of the Cleveland Browns in a recent game against the Pittsburgh Steelers – ripped off Shutack’s helmet and hit him in the head with it.
“It was similar, very similar,” said Shutack, who got a concussion and had a root canal from the incident and missed several weeks of practice (Umu was later dismissed from the team). “It was not fun. It’s unfortunate. I’ve put it behind me. I’ve forgiven everybody involved. Everything from that point has just been an upward trajectory, for sure.”
After redshirting in 2017, Shutack played in two games during the 2018 season. This season, Shutack has been extremely valuable, first as a backup and now as a starter at right guard the last five games.
“It’s a great feeling because last year I couldn’t even smell the field and this year really affirms my confidence in myself,” said Shutack, who has played 273 snaps this season, recording 32 knockdown blocks.
“When it started to get real was this season when I was taking reps with the first team and I was thinking to myself, ‘Okay, there is some major responsibility.’ I don’t want to let any of my teammates down by me not doing correct stuff. It was definitely a mindset change.”
Shutack said graduate assistant Jack Harris, a former CU lineman who now helps O-line coach Chris Kapilovic, has been a major boost to his football career.
“These past two years have been completely different in the way I’ve prepared,” he said. “(Harris) has helped me out a bunch and coach Kap is obviously like a great coach. We’ve all worked together to get me ready.”
Since head coach Mel Tucker and Kapilovic came in last winter, Shutack has practiced at all five offensive line spots.
“He’s been phenomenal,” CU offensive coordinator Jay Johnson said. “Jack’s been great. We got some injuries and he stepped in there and has done a very nice job for us. Really proud of him. It’s been a big boost for us. We’ve had to move the pieces around a little bit and, and Jack has that ability to kind of go a lot of different spots and it’s really helped us in those situations.”
For Shutack, it’s been a blessing to get a chance to make an impact in his final college season, but more than anything, it’s been a blessing to find a place he loves.
“Boulder is just such a unique place,” he said. “That trip in off I-36 coming in and you just see the mountains right there, I never get tired of looking at it. All my buddies, whenever I drive around my teammates always get annoyed because I’ll always be like, ‘Can you look at those mountains?’ It’s a great place.
“There’s just so many great people here, too. Ever since coach Tuck came in here, it’s been an absolutely first class organization from top to bottom.”
LESSONS LEARNED: What QB coaches have taught Montez
During CU’s bye week, after a Nov. 9 win against Stanford, I had a chance to sit down with Buffs quarterback Steven Montez and chat for a while for a senior feature, which ran in the Sunday edition of the Daily Camera. That story was mainly on Montez’s five seasons at CU, but part of our interview that I didn’t work into the story was the challenge Montez has had with staff turnover.
Montez, to his credit, has never used it as an excuse, but the turnover has been significant.
In his first three years at CU (2015-17), he had Brian Lindgren as his position coach and play-caller. For two of those seasons, Lindgren and Darrin Chiaverini were co-offensive coordinators. After the 2017 season, Lindgren and the Buffs parted ways and he’s been the offensive coordinator at Oregon State since.
In 2018, Chiaverini took over play-calling duties, while offensive line coach Klayton Adams was promoted to co-OC and Kurt Roper was hired as quarterbacks coach. The offense didn’t change much, but it certainly had a different approach and different voices in Montez’s ear.
After last season, head coach Mike MacIntyre was hired, Adams went to the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, Roper left for North Carolina State and Chiaverini was removed as co-OC, while remaining as receivers coach. Enter head coach Mel Tucker and OC/quarterbacks coach Jay Johnson.
That’s three position coaches, three play callers and two head coaches in three seasons for Montez.
Montez did tell me “It’s not easy” on him, but quickly added, “There’s a lot more difficult things that are going on in the world right now than someone learning a new offense.”
True, but in his final season, Montez has had to learn a new offense that’s very different than what he had his first four years.
“You get those new offenses coming in every year and sometimes they start to blur together and you’re looking at signals on the sideline and you’re seeing something but it’s a different signal from last year,” he said. “It’s just little things like that you have to deal with and then just understanding trying to pick up the scheme because the first two offenses that I had were very similar. They were kind of spread out type offenses where we’re going to throw the ball a lot and try to mix in the run game mix in read option, mix in quarterback power read; we’re going to mix in quarterback counter; they were going to run me a lot more when I was younger, which I was happy with and I really enjoy running the ball.
“Now this offense that we got this year is kind of more of a pro-style offense. We want to run the ball downhill a lot more.”
While it’s been a challenge and likely contributed to some of the struggles of the offense, Montez is ultimately thankful for the opportunity to work with Lindgren, Roper and Johnson. Montez has taken lessons from all three of them in his development.
Lindgren gave Montez a foundation as a college quarterback and instilled the resiliency that Montez has always seemingly had. Montez’s father, Alfred, who was a successful QB, taught his son to forget an interception or bad play and move on, but even Alfred admits it was Lindgren who made more of an impact in that regard. “Every single play was quick, quick so you don’t have time to really think about all that stuff,” Alfred said of the Lindgren offense. “I think coach Lindgren has quite a bit to do with that, giving him that mindset to just say, ‘Next play, you’ve got to go.’”
Roper took Montez’s film study to a new level. Earlier this season, Alfred visited his son to watch a game and then spent nearly three hours the next day watching film together. Alfred, who had a brief stint with the Oakland Raiders, listened to his son critique every throw, every check and, frankly, everything. “I know he knows how to do that now,” Alfred said. “That’s something that he didn’t know how to do early in his career was watch film and I think coach Roper really took the reins on that and taught him how to watch film and what he should be watching.”
Johnson has elevated Montez’s football education even more and given him more responsibilities on the field. “(Johnson) has just been crucial to my development,” Montez said. “He really just kind of sat all the quarterbacks down and just kind of showed us the tips and the keys and just basically he calls it, ‘Football 101,’ just basically learning more about the game.”
Under Johnson, Montez said received a better understanding of managing a game, recognizing defensive pressures and making checks at the line of scrimmage. It’s often up to Montez to recognize the defense before the snap and get the Buffs out of bad plays.
“That was something that I wasn’t doing so much earlier in my career because I didn’t understand it,” he said. “I didn’t really get it; I couldn’t see pressure before the ball was snapped. We do run checks where basically we get a running play, but we don’t have a direction; we have to choose what direction based off techniques, based on what front they’re in and doing all that stuff. So that was different (this year), but I definitely think that doing that helps me, especially going forward for the next level. I think you have to do that in the next level. That’s mandatory to just get the coordinator out of bad plays and get the team into good plays and just keep moving forward.”
Montez cited the fourth quarter of the Buffs’ 16-13 win against Stanford as an example of development as a game manager. Montez led field goal drives of 6 minutes, 31 seconds and 6 minutes to win the game.
“You have to stay mentally locked in to kind of get those drives and finish them out how you need to finish those drives out,” Montez said. “If you put me in that situation two years ago, I think that I try to press maybe and I try to do too much and maybe end up going three-and-out and turning the ball over.”
As he prepares to wrap up his career at CU, Montez said he’s thankful for all the lessons he’s learned from Lindgren, Roper and Johnson.
“For me to kind of sit here and explain all the little things and all the little details that I’ve picked up over a four-and-a-half year period of time, we just don’t have enough time to discuss all that,” he said.
GAME CHANGER: Sami’s TD-saving tackle
Alex Kinney’s remarkable punt that rolled along the 1-yard line; Laviska Shenault’s leaping touchdown catch; Montez’s scrambles; Mark Perry’s sacks. There were a lot of big-time plays by the Buffs in the 20-14 win against Washington.
There may not have been a better play, however, than the tackle nose tackle Jalen Sami made on a Washington punt return with 6:58 to play in the game.
CU led 20-14 and the Huskies’ Aaron Fuller – who already has one return for touchdown this season – was off to the races before the 6-foot-6, 320-pound Sami pulled him down after a 52-yard return to the CU 37-yard line.
Had Sami not make the tackle, Fuller would have scored.
“Relentless effort,” Sami said of his play. “Just practicing every day doing coverage drills and just really working technique.”
Sami is part of the three-man shield that protects Kinney. Quite often, the guys on the shield don’t do anything and the Buffs have a saying that they don’t need the shield until they need them.
“They needed me then,” Sami said, “so I had to perform and come out and make the play.”
Fuller had beat everyone on field for CU except for Kinney and Sami. The two blockers in front of Fuller both went for Kinney and that left Sami free for the tackle.
“At first, I just saw a pretty wide space in front of him and he had room to make plays, so that was kind of nerve wracking,” Sami said. “I was shoring my gap, trying to contain him. As soon as he started coming further, I was like, ‘I’ve got to run and make a play.’ Alex Kinney helped me out, taking on two blockers, which let me get free and just make a tackle.”
Without that tackle, Fuller scores to give Washington a 21-20 lead. Because Sami made the stop, the Huskies had to go 37 yards and never did. In fact, they went backwards 13 yards before punting. CU’s offense finished the game from there.
“That was huge and we started the defensive meeting with it because I told the team, usually on plays like that, that’s a touchdown,” Tucker said. “We never see a guy that big in that situation in the open field make a tackle on skill guy like that. That was possibly a game saving tackle.”
BEST OF THE BUFFS: This week’s top CU players
Some of the players – many on defense – that stood out to me in CU’s 20-14 win against Washington:
- CB Delrick Abrams: He was great in coverage and made six tackles.
RB Alex Fontenot: The sophomore ran extremely tough all night, finishing with 105 yards on 24 carries, including the touchdown that provided the winning points.
- LB Akil Jones: Not sure he’s had a better game, as he finished with nine tackles (eight solo) and one tackle for loss.
- P Alex Kinney: The Pac-12’s special teams player of the week, he averaged 45.8 yards on four punts – pinning the Huskies at 1, 7 and 13-yard lines.
- LB Nate Landman: 10 tackles, one tackle for loss, one interception and two pass breakups – yeah, that’s pretty good.
- DE Terrance Lang: When he’s on, he’s really good, and he was on: six tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack.
- QB Steven Montez: He’s had better statistical games, but he hasn’t many better games than this one. He threw for 223 yards and a touchdown, while running for a season-high 56 yards.
- NB Mark Perry: The freshman continues to shine. He had three tackles – all of them behind the line of scrimmage, including 1.5 sacks.
- NT Jalen Sami: In addition to his massive tackle on special teams, he recorded five tackles on defense was a key to holding Washington to 32 yards rushing.
- WR Laviska Shenault: It’s been a roller-coaster year, but the All-American version of Shenault was on display: 7 catches, 100 yards, 1 brilliant touchdown. Oh, and 17 more rushing yards.
THOUGHTS ON THE WEEKEND
1. Utah has been remarkable since its loss to Southern California in September. It’s not just that the Utes are winning – they are crushing just about everybody and it’s been rather impressive. During the past two months, this has been one of the four best teams in the country.
2. I’ve seen too many remarkable things in sports over the years to say that CU has no shot at Utah this week, but it’s hard to imagine that the Buffs can score enough points to pull off a win in Salt Lake City – or even make it close.
3. Three upsets that could be huge for the Pac-12 in general – and Utah specifically – this week:
- Georgia Tech over Georgia
- Auburn over Alabama
- Oklahoma State over Oklahoma
No. 4 Georgia, No. 5 Alabama and No. 7 Oklahoma all have tough road games against their primary rivals to navigate this week. Any of them stumbling would help the Utes.
STAT OF THE WEEK: 61
Career touchdown passes for Steven Montez, who set a new school record with a touchdown against Washington. Montez will go down in CU’s record book as the leader, but Cody Hawkins does still have the most TD passes ever thrown in a CU uniform, with 63 (during the regular season and three in the 2007 Independence Bowl). CU doesn’t count bowl stats in its single-season and career records.
MY PAC-12 RANKINGS
How I rank the Pac-12 after Week 12:
1. Utah Utes (10-1; 7-1; Previous rank: 2): I’m not sure there’s been a hotter team in the country lately than the Utes.
2. Oregon Ducks (9-2, 7-1 Pac-12; PR: 1): Hard to believe the Ducks saw their CFP dreams squashed in Tempe.
3. USC Trojans (8-4; 7-2; PR: 4): Trojans closed the regular season on a three-game winning streak and could still win the Pac-12 South title.
4. Washington State Cougars (6-5; 3-5; PR:7): Two seconds away from a home loss to Oregon State and sitting alone in last place in the North, but they pulled it off and sit fourth in my rankings. That’s the Pac-12 this year.
5. California Golden Bears (6-5; 3-5; PR: 8): Bears achieved bowl eligibility with a win against rival Stanford.
6. Arizona State Sun Devils (6-5; 3-5; PR: 11): Somehow they stopped an ugly four-game losing streak by coming up with the most stunning upset of the season in the Pac-12, knocking out Oregon.
7. Colorado Buffaloes (5-6; 3-5; PR: 10): Great two-game stretch for the Buffs, who have beat Stanford and Washington in back-to-back games.
8. Washington Huskies (6-5; 3-5; PR: 3): In the last four games, the Huskies are 1-3.
9. Oregon State Beavers (5-6; 4-4; PR: 5): They were oh-so-close to achieving bowl eligibility in Pullman last week.
10. UCLA Bruins (4-7; 4-4; PR: 6): Nice three-game run by the Bruins to give their fans hope, but now they’ve lose two in a row, securing a third consecutive losing season – for the first time since the mid-1960s.
11. Stanford Cardinal (4-7; 3-6; PR: 12): A run of 10 consecutive bowl appearances has officially ended as the Cardinal ran their losing streak to three games.12. Arizona Wildcats (4-7; 2-6; PR: 9): I’m not sure how this team won in Boulder, but the Wildcats have been awful since, losing six in a row.
MY TOP 25 BALLOT
Here’s the ballot I submitted to the Associated Press for this week’s Top 25:
3. Ohio State
14. Notre Dame
16. Penn State
20. Boise State
21. Appalachian State
22. Virginia Tech
23. Air Force
QUOTES OF THE WEEK
Head coach Mel Tucker on the CU defense starting to become what he wants: “Yes. An attacking defense and stopping the run. Be good in the special situations: In the red zone get a stop and hold them to a field goal attempt or take the ball away. We were able to do that (against Washington). We talked last week after the Stanford game about resetting the standard of how we play football here and how we play defense. Our coaches keep believing in our guys. We have a lot of young players out playing and the older players are getting better as well. It is a credit to our coaches and our players’ grit, determination and their want to. It is hard to get better as the season goes, especially at this time of year, but we are getting better as a football team.”
Walk-on quarterback Josh Goldin on his journey. The Rock Canyon H.S. graduate began as a equipment staffer, spent much of 2018 as the holder and has been a valuable backup in practices: “Pretty surreal, looking back. It was really special to just take a few minutes today and reflect on the journey that it has been. Obviously emotional getting cut the first time and be able to come back and contribute. It really is just most important to help out the team. Steven (Montez) and I kind of joke about it a lot but it’s just being a team guy. Whatever the team needed. Obviously, the team didn’t need me for a little bit then it needed me again. It’s just been really special and honestly surreal.”
Outside linebacker Carson Wells on the Buffs’ two-game win streak: “I feel like we’re playing our best football. We’ve got to keep getting better each day, come to practice next week and get ready for Utah.”
THIS WEEK: Upset special?
The Buffs visit Utah for the season finale. CU can reach bowl eligibility if it can find a way to knock off the sixth-ranked Utes.