Colorado is 4-6 on the season and needs to win two of their final three games to become bowl eligible. USC is heavy favorites heading their Friday the 13th matchup in Boulder. We talked to Jack Barsch about the state of Colorado football and Nelson Spruce among other things:
1) Evaluate Mike MacIntrye’s performance in his two and half years with the team. How does the future look for him?
I think Coach Mac has done an adequate job in the first three-ish years. He inherited a terrible program, and has made it less terrible. We are a proud fanbase, and it’s hard to be patient knowing what this team can be, and that shows in some of the fan’s perceptions of MacIntyre. Some people want him gone now, some last year, and some want to give him five years. For me, he has to perform next year or he’s gone. 2016 sets up pretty well for this team, and the schedule is pretty favorable. Four years in, the fat has been cut from the previous regime, time to see if he can win with his guys. This year, the Buffs are a better team than the previous four to five years, which says something, but that’s a low bar to clear. The team hasn’t taken quite the jump people expected them to, which frutrates some. I don’t know, this is a tough question. I think some staff changes are needed this offseason, but I expect and hope to see Coach Mac in Boulder for a long time.
2) There have been a lot of close calls for Colorado this year. Why can’t the Buffs finish games?
Well, there’s plenty of reasons, and it seems to be a different reason each time, which is part of what makes it so frustrating. Ultimately, it comes down to not capitalizing on chances. Against UCLA this year, four red zone trips ended in six points. Against UCLA last year, the missed scoring opportunity at the end of the first half proved to be the difference in the game. Against Oregon and Arizona, the opposing team’s offense adjusted to out-athlete the Buffs, and it worked to perfection. This team is not good enough to overcome those shortcomings, which makes it so frustrating that they can somehow get so close when out-matched and then blow it. It’s not as if they are fluking their those games, CU genuinely outplays the big favorite, but then they shoot themselves in the foot. At this point, it’s hard not to wonder whether this is a systemic problem or a personnel problem. We’ve seen as fans the difference Jim Leavitt has made on defense, and unsurprisingly they have finished games fantastically in 2015 for the most part. While I’m not lobbying for anyone to lose their job, it may be true that similar staff changes can bring upon similar changes in attitude.
3) Colorado uses a lot of different options in the backfield. Who should USC watch out for?
Well, I wish you had to watch out for Michael Adkins, but it looks like he's going to be redshirted after an impressive start, so unfortunately he's not an option. After him, Phillip Lindsay has had an impressive campaign, but he is now inexplicably being used less and no one knows how much run he is going to get on Friday. He’s tenacious, quick (but not fast) and a fantastic blocker. Other names to keep an eye on are Patrick Carr and Donovan Lee. Carr broke out against UCLA, played against Stanford, and is probably going to get 10-20 carries against the Trojans. He’s not quite the same athlete as some of the freaks on USC’s roster, but he can still take it every play and he has surprising toughness. Lee fits much of that same mold. A fantastic athlete with a smaller stature, Lee can make people miss, hit some tacklers harder than they hit them, and accelerate quickly. The Buffs will feed him the ball if they know what’s good for them.
4) Nelson Spruce is one of the most efficient receivers in the nation. What does he do so well?
Spruce’s best skill is catching the ball, which should make you say “duh”, but there’s more to it that that. 50/50 balls thrown to him aren’t 50/50 balls. He attacks the ball in the air that nine times out of ten, Spruce is coming down with it. He has deceptive speed, strength and size, runs fantastic routes, and is always aware when the play breaks down and helps the quarterback. In short, he’s everything you want in a possession receiver, and quite possibly the best wideout in program history. It’s his last home game on Friday, so pardon me if I get a bit melodramatic, but he was a singular talent in an era with so few of them.
5) Colorado’s defense has improved but is still average. How can USC exploit the Buffaloes defense?
The blueprint has pretty much been set. Run the ball successfully (pretty easy to do), draw all the defenders in, and then take long shots in the air. It’s worked for pretty much everybody with better athletes than CU’s, and I expect that formula to keep working. CU just does not have the players to keep up. Jim Leavitt has done a very good job maximizing what he has, but until he has the players he needs in his system, this is about the ceiling for the defense.
6) It’s going to be #PAC12AfterDark on Friday? How can Colorado upset USC?
Luck? USC’s bus breaks down and they forfeit the game? They forget JuJu Smith and Adoree Jackson in LAX? There’s not much past that. Turnovers would be key, CU would need be +2 at least and they would have to FINISH drives. A lot of things that haven’t happened a lot this year. #PAC12AfterDark and Folsom Magic would both have to be in full effect. USC just has so much more natural talent and seem to playing hard under Helton. However, if Cam Smith and Ronald Jones want to switch teams before the game, now we’re talking.
7) Final score prediction.
I think the Trojans win 31-17. And that’s being generous to the home team.
Thanks to Jack for answering the questions and as always, you can find all your Colorado info here.