TEMPE, Ariz. – The nature of the position puts it squarely under the microscope, a fact Mike MacIntyre didn’t have to be reminded of when he began his postgame press conference late Saturday night in Sun Devil Stadium.
Mid-season changes in starting quarterbacks – though this one comes one game shy of Colorado’s midway point – are difficult at best. And MacIntyre didn’t have to be reminded of that either.
“Real difficult . . . more than what you usually know,” he said. “You’re dealing with a young man and a position that’s already written and talked about. We’re spending the whole time (postgame) talking about this right now. It is a difficult position because it’s one that’s always going to be in the limelight.”
And so it will be for the Buffs’ last two games in October and their final five in November. Welcome to the limelight, kid, although this kid appears capable of playing beyond his years.
In the first quarter of CU’s 54-13 shelling by Arizona State, MacIntyre switched QBs. It signaled the beginning of the Sefo Liufau Era, with MacIntyre making it clear that ridding the true freshman of his redshirt means he expects Liufau to grow as quickly into a starting role as he did in becoming a backup.
“I’d like to look at the rest of the year (like) we took the redshirt off a young man that we think is very talented, very bright and is an excellent leader,” MacIntyre said of Liufau. “So we feel like we’d hopefully play him the rest of the year – if he plays good.”
Liufau didn’t know the call to arms was coming until it came. “I knew right at the moment it happened,” he said. “Coach told me to warm up and I went in. I was excited. It was fast for the first couple of plays then everything slowed down. But there’s always room for improvement.”
His athleticism and swift grasp of the offense have impressed MacIntyre and offensive coordinator/QB coach Brian Lindgren since August camp. His maturity also has been a cut above that of most freshmen, and that was apparent following his debut.
Liufau led CU’s only two scoring drives, but he was intercepted twice, trapped in the end zone for a safety and was charged with a fumble after a bad snap. Memories of those mistakes, he said, won’t linger: “I don’t really dwell on the mistakes – probably just for a second when it happens, then I flush it. I go talk to coach Lindgren on the phone, see what we can do better and move on to the next play.”
He said he had not spoken with MacIntyre about the next several weeks, but that was before MacIntyre met with the media and said Liufau is his guy – if he performs. “He has not discussed anything with me,” Liufau said. “We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.”
But this much should be clear: Subbing Liufau and not Jordan Webb for Connor Wood was done with the rest of this season and the next several in mind. Had MacIntyre wanted to save Liufau’s redshirt, Webb – the 2012 starter – was one of three other roster QBs available.
If Wood, said MacIntyre, “was lighting it up, playing great” and lost his helmet or suffered a minor injury that cost him one play, Webb would have been used as a one-play stand-in. “That’s what we’d planned all along.”
Wood, however, was neither lighting it up nor playing great against the Sun Devils, who used Wood’s seventh interception of the season to go up 25-0 in the first quarter and prompted MacIntyre to look at Liufau and into the future.
This was MacIntyre’s early, pre-tape critique of Liufau: “He made a couple of mistakes, but looked pretty calm and made some good third down plays, some good throws. Nothing looked too big for him, to me. To the naked eye I thought it was good, but he had a couple of turnovers that we don’t need to have . . . (but) he made some checks and went to the right guys on some blitzes. He’s done it in practice but hasn’t had to do it in the game yet. I thought it was impressive.”
Wood’s first-quarter interception came after he was pressured and threw a pass across the middle that should have been thrown out of bounds, MacIntyre said. “He was fighting and trying to work at it. Hopefully he’ll keep improving, and hopefully Sefo will keep improving and we’ll keep getting better at that spot.”
MacIntyre was very careful not to lay Saturday night’s loss or the two preceding it on Wood: “This game or the last few games can’t be blamed on Connor – no way,” he said. “It’s the whole team. We’ve made changes at other positions . . . we’ll keep working with him and keep moving forward.”
Wood, said MacIntyre, “has done some good things for us and I really, really like Connor. But he hasn’t had a winning grade for us in the last four games now. It was time to make a little bit of a change there, just like I would at any position. We’ve made changes at other positions, not just the quarterback.
“The quarterback’s always the one that’s obvious . . . Connor is phenomenal young man; he’s done some good things, he has good talent. We’ll give him the opportunity to keep working; there’ll be a time when he’ll have to come back in and do it again. So he’ll have to be ready.”
The plan, said MacIntyre, is to keep Wood engaged, keep a redshirt on junior college transfer Jordan Gehrke, and “see how things evolve” with Webb, who was cleared to play three weeks ago after rehabbing a spring knee injury. “He’s got a great attitude; he’s waiting to see if his chance arrives.”
Yet going with Liufau Saturday night under the most difficult circumstances – he entered his first college game down 25-0 – tells you that MacIntyre is holding out hope for the final seven games by not having Liufau hold onto his redshirt. The hope is that he can provide a late-October spark and fan it through November.
Charleston Southern, unbeaten at 7-0, visits Folsom Field on Saturday, with Arizona coming to Boulder the following weekend. The FCS Buccaneers, said MacIntyre, are “a good team; it’d be nice to beat them and be three and three at the end of October, keep moving and improving and you never know, you never know.”