Soon after an occasionally sloppy 41-21 victory ended over Northern Colorado Saturday afternoon at Folsom Field, Buffs coach Mike MacIntyre and the players sounded eager to turn the page on the non-conference portion of the 2017 schedule.
After all, defending Pac-12 champion and playoff participant Washington is coming to town nearly 10 months after the Huskies trounced the Buffs in Santa Clara, Calif. for the conference title.
Now Colorado (3-0) gets an opportunity to extract a measure of revenge upon the Huskies, which hosted Fresno State Saturday night.
“We’re going to be ready for Pac-12 play,” MacIntyre insisted Saturday. “We’re excited to be playing Pac-12 teams and for Washington to be coming in here. They completely beat us pretty good in the second half of the Pac-12 championship game. We can’t forget it. Our players will use that as motivation. I won’t have to say much at all.
“They (UW) are an excellent team. They’re very well coached. They’re clicking. They have a great quarterback. It’s going to be a tough, tough game. But they’re coming to Folsom and we love playing here. This is what you dream about as a player and a coach. Playing them so soon after what they did in December is exciting for us. I like having out first Pac-12 game at home.”
Upon reviewing the video, there should be plenty of teaching moments for MacIntyre and his staff going into the Washington game. Saturday, the Buffs turned the ball over in the red zone, had two players ejected for targeting (free safety Afolabi Laguda and defensive lineman Chris Mulumba) and surrendered a six-play, 70-yard drive on Northern Colorado’s opening possession of the game.
In all, the Buffs turned the ball over three times. MacIntyre and quarterback Steven Montez both know that won’t get the job done against Washington.
“The turnovers in the red zone hurt us. We should have 14 more points, easily,” MacIntyre said.
Did the Buffs over look Northern Colorado? Depends on who you ask.
“They’re competitors just like we are,” Montez said. “They come out and play and nobody wants to get embarrassed. They played very well today. Their quarterback is a freak. We ended up walking out of there with a victory, and that’s all that matters.”
Linebacker Derek McCartney said he “wasn’t really proud of the way” the Buffs defense played on Saturday even though they allowed just 273 total yards, forced 10 punts and didn’t allow a single point over the final 27:28 of the game.
“We’ll learn from it,” he said.
Northern Colorado scored on pass plays of 33, 52 and 27 yards. That’s 112 total yards on three plays, so the Bears gained just 161 yards on their other 65 snaps.
“Take away the (three) long balls and the three late hit penalties, they didn’t have many yards at all,” MacIntyre said. “We have to do a better job teaching our guys to say on top of the deep balls on the grid and we have to do a better job coaching our guys that when the quarterback is holding the ball, we can’t hit him up high.
“I’m sure (UW coach) Chris Peterson will watch the video and put in some plays to throw the ball deep. We have to get prepared for that. Hopefully, our offense will keep improving. We have some weapons out there and they started showing it today.”
There was also a healthy dose of good news coming out of the victory over the FCS Bears. The Buffs offense totaled 569 yards as Steven Montez was 29-of-41 passing for 357 yards and four touchdowns and Phillip Lindsay ran for 151 yards on 26 carries.
Colorado scored on three of their final four possessions – two field goals and a touchdown (14-yard pass to Jay MacIntyre) to pull away in the fourth quarter. Northern Colorado ran just 11 plays for 30 yards in the final quarter.
“We’re continually getting better,” Montez said. “We’re starting to gel a little more. The O-Line is coming together. The receivers and quarterbacks are starting to get on the same page. It’s starting to show out there. Hopefully, we just keep laying the building blocks and getting better and better every week.
"If we do that, our finished product will look very good. Obviously, there are some things we can improve on, which will be the case the entire season. Right now, though, I’m pretty happy with where we’re at right now.”
Wide receiver Devin Ross, who caught eight passes for 143 yards and one TD, proclaimed the Buffs “ready” for Pac-12 play after they swept three non-conference games to move halfway to securing bowl eligibility by mid-September.
But just qualifying for a bowl is just one of many goal for the Buffs this season. The long road to a possible Pac-12 championship begins next Saturday in prime time against Washington.
“We’re definitely ready,” Ross said. “We’ve had a few good weeks offensively. I think we’re just scratching the surface. We have a lot of potential. We just have to come out next week and get ready for Pac-12 play. It’s going to be a tough opponent, but we’ll be ready.
— Colorado Football (@RunRalphieRun) September 17, 2017