BOULDER – From his San Jose State offense last fall, coach Mike MacIntyre grew accustomed to seeing long, accurate throws and weekly passing yards that by season’s end had morphed into miles.
MacIntyre’s first Colorado offense isn’t yet close to providing an instant replay, but it at least showed signs on Friday of being able to stretch the field – which represents a significant (air) mile marker in Buffs football.
“Last season we had one of the highest percentage (passing) offenses in the country and we had a bunch, bunch, bunch of deep strikes,” MacIntyre said after CU’s third spring scrimmage, a 124-play (21 special teams) outing at Folsom Field. “We want to throw the ball deep, then underneath if they (defenses) back off. So yeah, that’s something we need to be able to do.”
The Buffs did it pretty well Friday, with four quarterbacks combining to complete 39-of-58 passes for 517 yards and nine touchdowns (no interceptions). Juniors Connor Wood (18-of-22, 269 yards, 3 TDs) and Nick Hirschman (10-of-12, 171 yards, 4 TDs) were above 80 percent in their completion percentage, while redshirt freshman Shane Dillon checked in at 50 percent (11-of-22, 77 yards, 2 TDs).
Five receivers caught passes of 33, 38, 44, 48 and 75 yards – deep balls that MacIntyre hopes will show up in CU’s offense this fall. “We work on it all the time; it’s something you have to work at to complete them,” he said. “I thought we did a good job of completing those.”
Here’s his reference point: Last season, San Jose State completed passes of 35-plus yards in nine of 13 games and had five games that featured completions of 50-plus yards. Quarterback David Fales threw for 4,193 yards and 33 TDs (11th nationally) and had a passing efficiency rating of 170.76 (third nationally).
MacIntyre and offensive coordinator/quarterback coach Brian Lindgren are still trying to identify their 2013 starter. Released on Tuesday, the spring’s first “pencil” depth chart showed Wood, Hirschman, Dillon and the injured Jordan Webb (thumb) sharing the No. 1 QB spot. Until he and Lindgren evaluate the scrimmage tape, MacIntyre declined to say if any of the trio competing Friday showed any separation from the pack.
“Sometimes when you’re playing a bunch of different people in the secondary there’s a busted coverage that I could have thrown (a long completion),” he said. “I don’t know if that’s a factor or not, but you can tell that when you watch it on tape. But I thought there were some good throws and some good plays made by the quarterbacks.”
Receivers Paul Richardson, D.D. Goodson, Jeff Thomas, Tyler McCulloch and Keenan Canty each had scoring receptions, with Richardson and Goodson getting a pair each. Also catching TD passes were tight end Scott Fernandez and fullback Jordan Murphy.
Three players made five catches each – Nelson Spruce’s 115 receiving yards topped Goodson (64) and tight end Kyle Slavin (37) – while Richardson’s three receptions produced 125 yards (41.7-yard average). He also had the afternoon’s longest catch – a 75-yard TD pass on Hirschman’s first play from scrimmage. McCulloch made four receptions for 62 yards, Thomas three for 52.
Richardson called his day “decent,” but added he was more focused on the receiving corps as a whole: “I would like to keep our composure up, keep our energy level high in the receiving group. I was just trying to make plays, have fun and congratulate my other guys for making plays and having fun as well. I think we had like seven or eight touchdowns in our receiving corps, so we each had seven or eight touchdowns. That’s the way I look at it.”
Wood and Hirschman both said they believe the position as a whole has improved this spring, and each rated their Friday performance as satisfactory.
Said Hirschman: “I thought I played well; I mean I had four drives that ended in one play.” Entering spring drills, Hirschman said his goals were to “manage stress” better and “improve ball security. That’s a major issue I had last year. When you take care of the ball everything else should work itself out . . . they say if you’re not getting better you’re getting worse. So every day (all the QBs) have tried to improve on something small in our game.”
Wood called MacIntyre’s modified pistol scheme “a great offense to play in. It not only works well with quarterbacks but the simplification of what we’re doing is helping the younger guys and all the veterans . . . I’m playing much more confidently and having more fun out there.”
Part of that, he said, comes from “trying to be process focused about this. This is my fourth offense and my fourth coaching staff. You can’t champ at the bit too much . . . you have to take one install at a time, one day at a time. I think I’ve done a good job with that. I think I had a real good day (Friday), and I just want to build on it.”
Both quarterbacks said the return of Richardson from last season’s knee rehabilitation, Thomas from personal issues and the switch of Goodson from tailback to receiver have injected downfield speed into the offense. Plus, Canty’s quickness and what Hirschman called the deceptive speed of Spruce and McCulloch make this a more formidable group.
“A lot of the concepts we run are similar (to last year), but we have guys this year who can stretch the field with D.D. converting from running back, Jeff being back and Paul being back,” Hirschman said. “But again, we’ve got a lot of West Coast-type plays in our offense and Tyler McCulloch and Nelson Spruce and those guys are outstanding at running those concepts and catching the ball and ducking up and getting what they can. Both of those guys are deceptively fast; they don’t get enough credit for that.”
CU’s defensive players haven’t been able to ignore the offense’s renewed deep threats. “You saw that (Friday),” linebacker Derrick Webb said. “The offense throughout this whole camp has been letting the ball fly. You can tell they think they’ve got guys who can stretch the field. And for the most part they’ve been able to do it . . . they’re doing a good job of catching the ball downfield. That’s going to be a good test for our young DBs. They got some good work (Friday), that’s for sure.”
But on the flip side of an afternoon of successful long throws and catches can be subpar coverage – and MacIntyre recognizes that, too. He believed his secondary “could have made a couple more plays but didn’t.” Yielding that many deep balls, he added, “I’d mark it as terrible. But before (Friday) I thought they were competing and doing well. We had some different secondary guys go down and we were putting young kids, different kids, out there.
“We’ve got corners playing safety, safeties playing corner, safeties playing nickel. That’s hard on them, too. Some of (the deep balls) obviously would have been sacks, so that kind of negates that a little bit. But we made some big catches and some good throws, which is exciting to see.”
BUFF BITS: Friday’s lengthy (98 minutes) scrimmage covered what MacIntyre termed “every situation imaginable, which is good. And we were able to get through some things on the kicking game.” . . . . Will Oliver and Justin Castor shared placement duties, each making six PATs (Castor missed a seventh attempt). Oliver kicked three field goals, Castor one . . . . Receiver Gerald Thomas did not participate in the scrimmage. MacIntyre said the reason was between him and Thomas . . . . The Buffs’ biggest improvement from the first spring scrimmage to this one: “I think we’re a little more accurate in the passing game,” MacIntyre said. “Defensively we didn’t tackle as well as I’d like, but that’s a good sign that some of the guys were making them miss, too.” . . . . Goodson, said MacIntyre, played Friday despite a finger dislocated in Thursday’s practice . . . . Derrick Webb’s overview of the defense: “We’re all still learning. We’ve started to do some things good, but we’re still working on turnovers. Effort-wise, it’s just getting everyone to the ball, getting everybody to run and have great effort. We’re still in the learning stages of the defense. As we continue to get our minds around the defense, we’ve got to play hard while we’re learning. We’re not there yet.” . . . . No surprise given Friday’s air show, but before the spring game (Saturday, April 13, 10:30 a.m.), MacIntyre wants the defense to “cover the deep ball better and tackle better.” Offensively, the goal is to “run the ball more consistently.” Friday’s leading rusher was tailback Josh Ford, who carried eight times for 136 yards, including a long run of 52 yards. Two rushing TDs were scored – one by tailback Christian Powell, the other by Connor Wood on an option run.