This was supposed to be Colorado’s break out year, getting back to the glory days of Bill McCartney and their national championship. They have several running backs with 1,000 yard potential and a stacked offensive line. But, four games in, the Buffs rank 11th in the Pac-12 in scoring (26.3 points per game) and 11th in yards (413.8 per game). Yes, they played Washington in that span, but ranked 10th in scoring during non-conference play that featured a fairly soft schedule.
So, what happened?
The current diagnosis is an issue with consistency.
They started strong against Washington, but after their first drive, the energy fizzled and the familiar sequence of several possessions and no points returned. There have been a variety of reasons for this lack of scoring, including five turnovers. Of the six interceptions thrown by quarterback Steven Montez this season, four have happened in their opponent’s end of the field. Half of Montez’s interceptions came in league play against Washington.
Let’s get down to the details and look at the specifics of this offense.
Redshirt sophomore Steven Montez has taken the reins from Sefo Liufau (who is currently a free agent after being injured and waived in Tampa) and he definitely has the physical tools to be an elite Pac-12 quarterback. But against the Huskies, he showed he still has a way to go before he gets there.
Last season, in Montez’s first start at Oregon, he threw for 333 yards and rushed for 135 with a combined four touchdowns in the 41-38 victory. He only started two other games last season, but really showed he has the necessary skills to be a great quarterback. Right now, his inexperience is giving him trouble. For example, last weekend on a third-and-four, Montez took the snap and threw the ball in less than two seconds. Montez never moved his eyes off wide receiver Bryce Bobo, paying no attention to one of Washington’s defensive backs, who sat in his zone, jumped the route and returned the interception 35 yards for a touchdown. It is split second decisions like these that have plagued the quarterback thus far. He is not the only one to blame, however, because the Buffs also have issues on defense including multiple penalties and an offensive line that gave up two sacks and continuously allowed Montez to be flushed from the pocket last Saturday.
Montez has completed 70% of his passes for over a thousand yards so far, so it is only a matter of time before the growing pains go away and he turns into the quarterback Colorado needs. Let’s just hope it isn’t this weekend.
Senior Philip Lindsay is the big name of this unit, putting up over 1,200 yards last season, and 446 to date in 2017. He is on the Doak Walker Award Watch List and doubled his yardage from his sophomore to junior year. Colorado only has five rushing touchdowns so far this year, four of which are his (the last one came from Montez). The run game isn’t exactly what the Buffs thought it was going to be this year, and at this point, only have another 49 rushing yards spread among five additional running backs (for the season, yes). I guess we can sympathize with their woes in this category.
Seniors Shay Fields, Bryce Bobo, and Devin Ross are the top three targets for Montez so far this season. They have almost 1,000 yards and five touchdowns between the five of them, with eight other Buffs catching a toss from Montez. This unit was working with one of the best secondaries in the nation last year, with three of them going on to the NFL last April. Preseason expectations that have fallen extremely flat, and this offense is definitely not producing as expected.
In this area, Colorado is still making changes and trying to find the magic recipe that makes the front five successful. The Buff’s center, Jonathan Huckins, went down with an injury during their second game against Texas State, offensive line coach Klayton Adams decided to move right guard Tim Lynott Jr. to center. This was a change that had been in the back of Adams’s mind that he ended up trying on the fly. It ended up working out, so Lynott, Jr. is still the starting center. The change may or may not be permanent depending on Huckins’s status.
This unit was supposed to be a strong suit for Colorado. With left tackle Jeromy Irwin, left guard Gerrad Kough, Huckins at center, Lynott at right guard and right tackle Aaron Haigler, this line had a combined 82 career starts coming into the year. All but Huckins were returning starters from last year. Unfortunately, Irwin was suspended for the first two games and Huckins was out, so this unit has yet to see game action intact.
Inconsistent play has led to numerous combinations on the front line. Already this season, the Buffs have used Josh Kaiser, Isaac Miller and Irwin at left tackle, Huckins and Lynott at center, Lynott and Haigler at right guard, and Haigler and Kaiser at right tackle. Only Kough has remained in one spot.
I said it last week with Stanford—a team struggles then plays the game of their lives UCLA. However, I don’t see that happening with Colorado. While they have talent here and there, they definitely do not have the talent level of the Bruins on offense. The difference maker will be the state of our defense and their ability to stop Lindsay, which the Huskies were able to do last week. Contain him and rush the passer, and it’s a win. Play shoddy defense, and it’s anyone’s game.