BOULDER – When Colorado hired him last winter to reconstruct its failing football program, Mike MacIntyre knew the rebuild wouldn’t happen overnight. Or in one season.
His first Buffs team is 0-4 in the Pac-12 Conference and has been outscored by a combined 133 points in those four games. But MacIntyre sees progress and doesn’t detect fragmentation. He’d like to see more consistency on offense, better tackling and overall recognition on defense, more playmakers up and down the roster, and someone up there to hit the fast-forward button for overall progress.
He’s thinking big. But at the moment, even with a broad vision, the steps forward remain small, deliberate and often painful. Success is somewhere out there, and his biggest hope is that his coaches and players can take a swig very soon.
“I want our kids to taste that carrot, drink that sweet wine – so to speak – and understand what that feels like,” he said Tuesday. “I honestly hurt for them and for my coaches.”
In the wake of a deflating 44-20 weekend loss to Arizona, the media’s preseason pick to finish fourth in the Pac-12, MacIntyre doesn’t believe the Boulder rebuild is a more demanding job than he imagined when he signed on.
“No, I don’t,” he said, citing a personal theory that he entered the Pac-12 when a good, possibly exceptional crop of young quarterbacks was maturing and their respective offenses were ready to launch. He said his San Jose State teams should have beaten UCLA – CU’s opponent Saturday in the Rose Bowl (5:30 p.m. MDT, Fox Sports One) – two years ago and had Stanford on the ropes last season. Four years were required to rebuild the Spartans, with their most tangible progress – that shown on the scoreboard – shown in years three and four.
MacIntyre contended the Pac-12’s young QBs and young players at other positions “have matured. I just think (the league) is at a good peak right now for the upper echelon teams. My hope and my plan is those guys (on other teams) will kind of ease out and my guys will keep growing and getting better and we’ll be there. And that’s what usually happens; it goes in a little bit of cycles. It better happen that way.”
After previous encounters with Sean Mannion (Oregon State), Marcus Mariota (Oregon), Taylor Kelly (Arizona State) and B.J. Denker (Arizona), the Buffs face UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley on Saturday. He’s sixth in the league in total offense (297.7 yards a game) but is coming off back-to-back losses against No. 13 Stanford (24-10) and No. 3 Oregon (42-14) in which MacIntyre said the Cardinal and Ducks defense “consumed him a little bit.” The Bruins (5-2, 2-2) are ranked No. 17.
Despite its 3-4 overall record and lack of a conference win, MacIntyre said he detects improvement in effort and “the things we’re trying to do.” A goal against Arizona was to slow the nation’s leading rusher, Ka’Deem Carey at 161.0 yards a game. The Buffs held him to 119, but he scored four touchdowns. Another goal was to slow Denker, but Denker rushed for a career-best 192 yards and accounted for 457 yards in total offense.
Said MacIntyre: “We were one-for-two . . . at least it was not oh-for-two.”
Still, the Buffs’ bottom line shows improvement to be made across the board, which MacIntyre acknowledged: “We’ve just got to be better . . . coach them better. Offensively, I thought we did some good things. We just need to be consistent. The crazy thing about today’s football is, honestly, if you don’t score 35 or 40 points you didn’t have a good night on offense.
“And that used to be the exception. If you scored 24 and didn’t turn the ball over you won the football game. It’s not that way anymore. So that’s something we’ve got to keep working on and I think we’re getting there. The scoreboard’s the final telltale sign and I understand that, but I try to look at everything else. . .”
MacIntyre is certain this team isn’t about to splinter as it enters the season’s final month, which features three road games (at UCLA Saturday; at Washington, Nov. 9; at Utah, Nov. 30) and only two more at Folsom Field (vs. Cal, Nov. 16; vs. USC, Nov. 23).
“I really think we’re a together team and I really think they’re trying hard, playing hard,” he said. “We just have to play better, do a few more things. I know that sounds simplistic, but I don’t see factions, I don’t see people pointing fingers at each other. I don’t see guys not coming to work. I don’t see guys not going to class. I see them all doing the things that you see a good football team maturing and doing.
“Now it takes a process to get it done against good teams, really good football teams. That’s another bowl team we played (Arizona). We play another bowl team (UCLA) that was ranked tenth in the country eight days ago. So we’re playing really good football teams . . . we have to keep getting better as people, as players, getting better athletes, getting better coaching. We’ve got to all move it forward and I think we’re all going that way.”
Snapping his fingers, he said, “I wish it would happen tomorrow, though. But I think we’re going that way, I do.”
Senior defensive tackle Nate Bonsu said the Buffs’ mood “is good. We know it’s a hard conference and we play good teams every week. You’ve got to come with it every day.”
Added senior center Gus Handler: “It’s tough taking losses, but back in high school we had a 24-hour rule where you had 24 hours to either be happy about a win and dwell on it (or flush the loss). We came in (Tuesday) ready to work and get ready for UCLA.”
PUTTING IT ALL IN PERSPECTIVE: MacIntyre indicated the nature of the loss to Arizona – an opponent he believed CU could defeat – was chiefly responsible for his terse opening to his post-game media conference. “All of us were down and frustrated,” he said.
He said departing the Dal Ward Athletics Center with his family, he encountered his brother-in-law, who had lost a sister to cancer four years ago, wearing a pink shirt. Several other people wearing pink – Saturday’s game was designated as Breast Cancer Awareness Night – also were in his path.
When he arrived home, he said he received several telephone calls from persons who had lost relatives to cancer and who acknowledged the football program’s tribute.
“All of a sudden, I said, ‘Wow.’ You can get frustrated, but you’ve got to realize really, really, really what’s important in life,” MacIntyre said. “Definitely a football game is important to us, there’s no doubt about it. But you have to put everything in perspective. That pretty much put it in perspective.”
Also hitting home, he said, was the importance of building daily relationships with his players and staffers and the need to stay positive and “keep pushing, keep the right perspective and not let our emotions take control sometimes, everything will work out and we’ll be successful.”
NOTABLE: Receiver Paul Richardson (ankle) and running back Michael Adkins II (concussion) remain day-to-day for UCLA, MacIntyre said, adding, “I know he wants to play Saturday – UCLA in the Rose Bowl, back at home. I hope he’s ready to go because we definitely need him.” Adkins was scheduled for retesting on Tuesday afternoon. “The concussion situation is not one where you can say, ‘Gut it out,’” MacIntyre said. “It’s what the doctors say.” . . . . Freshman quarterback Sefo Liufau made his first Pac-12 start against Arizona and “did some really good things,” MacIntyre said. Liufau’s approach to the game, MacIntyre said, reminded him of Eli Manning when MacIntyre coached the Ole Miss receivers. “There’s the same type of intelligence, humbleness and work ethic.” . . . . Liufau completed 17 of 32 passes for 212 yards and a 75-yard touchdown to Richardson. Liufau said he misfired on two throws that could have been touchdowns – one intended for D.D. Goodson in the first half and another in the second half aimed at Keenan Canty. Liufau characterized his three-game performance as “up and down” but said he believes he is “slowly getting better.” . . . . Senior safety Parker Orms finished the Arizona game with a career-high 15 tackles (13 solo), with a tackle for loss, a third-down stop and a touchdown save. “He played his heart out,” MacIntyre said, adding that was another reason for his post-game frustration.