BOULDER – As Mike MacIntyre and his defensive staff watched the rerun of Colorado’s 59-7 weekend whipping at Washington, they counted whiff after whiff after whiff after whiff after whiff after whiff after whiff after whiff after whiff after whiff after whiff after whiff after whiff after whiff after whiff after whiff after whiff after whiff after whiff after whiff after whiff after whiff after whiff after whiff after whiff after whiff after whiff after whiff after whiff after whiff after whiff after whiff after whiff after whiff after whiff after whiff after whiff.
By my count (and you’re allowed to check my addition) that’s 37 whiffs, which matches CU’s missed tackle total provided by MacIntyre on Tuesday. That could be a school, conference and modern day NCAA record, but it most assuredly and most disturbingly was a MacIntyre personal mark.
“I’ve never been a part of that – ever,” he said. “The most I’ve ever been a part of was like 20. If you get above 10, you’re in trouble.”
And, yes, the Buffs were eyebrow-deep in the stuff Saturday night on the shores of Lake Washington. The Huskies amassed 628 yards in total offense and 28 first downs. It was the fifth Pac-12 Conference game this season that saw CU surrender 500-plus yards in total offense, with two opponents (Arizona, UW) topping 600-plus and one (Oregon) topping 700.
MacIntyre said there is a difference if three defenders miss a runner in the backfield and he stumbles for a couple of yards. “It’s when you miss them out in the open field and all of a sudden a five-yard catch goes to 30 yards,” he said. “There’s a huge difference.”
On a particular Washington outside run, MacIntyre counted five CU defenders who whiffed but allegedly were in decent position to make the tackle. Instead, the play went for a 57-yard gain – and it was by the Huskies backup tailback, not starter Bishop Sankey, who ran 23 times for 143 yards and a touchdown before sitting out the final quarter.
If tackling was suspect in most of the runabouts/blowouts, it all came to an inglorious crescendo in Seattle. “We haven’t had it really creep up that bad,” MacIntyre said, promising the Buffs will work toward rectifying it for Saturday’s home game against California (3:30 p.m., Folsom Field, Pac-12 Network).
Part of every Tuesday’s practice routine is tackling, but MacIntyre said a portion of Wednesday’s practice also would be devoted to one of football’s two age-old basics – blocking being the other. But here’s the problem with having to emphasize that in mid-November: it’s the point of the season where players are battling bumps, bruises and worse that might or might not have been with them since August.
Getting maniacally physical in practice at this time of year usually is counterproductive. “You have to make sure they’re ready for Saturday,” MacIntyre said. “Usually you change up your practice routine a little bit. We’ll change it up this week again. If you keep doing the same old same old and get the same results, if you don’t change something, that’s not very good coaching. So we’re changing it, working at it . . . and we’ll change again and try to find another way.”
Missed defensive assignments against the UW offense, said MacIntyre was “not as astronomical as the missed tackles . . . it didn’t cause a lot of the missed tackles. We didn’t close, didn’t make the plays like we needed to. And they (UW) made the plays. We just have to keep working. They spread us out good and got us in open space some, which is what this team (Cal) will do Saturday. They’ve got some quick athletes; you have to be able to tackle in open space, know where your leverage is and everybody has to close on the ball and have eyes on the ball.”
A reporter asked MacIntyre about the overall speed of his defense, essentially if the Buffs lacked enough speed to put themselves in position to make tackles in such a warp-speed league. MacIntyre wouldn’t go there. He answered: “That’s kind of an insinuating question.”
But linebacker Woodson Greer, who missed the UW game with a stinger but is hopeful of playing this weekend, claimed the Buffs are “a pretty fast defense . . . it’s not like people are running around us. I think we’re keeping up with the offenses we play.”
Greer said MacIntyre told the team that good tackling boils down to “70 percent mindset and 30 percent skills.” Greer theorized that maybe it’s a mindset problem for the Buffs.
But back to the question that MacIntyre termed “insinuating.” Here’s where he went with that one: The coaches must coach better, the players must play better – read: tackle more efficiently – and together they all must “figure out what we can do . . . the offenses in this league, they change week to week to week. It’s a difficult situation and we’ll just keep working at it. That’s all you can do.
“We have to play solid football all the time, the way offenses are in our league. Outside of our league we’ve done pretty good. All the offenses in our league are putting up good numbers. Every once in a while there might be an aberration but most Saturdays they’re putting up a lot of good numbers.
“We’ve got to get better, more consistent. We’ve got to coach things a little bit better, kids have to play a little harder (and) better. If there was one answer, maybe we could fix it. There’s kind of a multitude of different things we have to fix.”
MacIntyre is spot on about the potency of Pac-12 offenses. For better or worse (and it apparently has been the latter), the Buffs entered the conference at a time – 2011 – when it was on the launch pad offensively. Current NCAA statistics show four Pac-12 schools – Oregon (2), Washington (10), Arizona State (17) and Oregon State (25) – among the national top 25 in total offense.
The conference has long lived by the pass and this season it’s living very well, thank you. Among the NCAA’s top 25 passing offenses are six Pac-12 members – Oregon State (2), Washington State (7), Cal (8), ASU (18), Oregon (20) and UW (25).
CU has lost to four of the six, with Cal on deck.
RARE FOLSOM FAVORITES: For the first time this season in Pac-12 play, the Buffs enter a game favored to win. They are 0-6 in the conference this season and have lost 14 consecutive Pac-12 games after closing 2012 with an eight-game league losing streak.
Being favored doesn’t mean diddly, said CU quarterback Sefo Liufau: “It doesn’t really matter to me if we’re ever favored or not favored in a game. We treat the game the same way. Like I said before, it’s kind of like a championship game and you want to play your best in every game.”
Added MacIntyre: “If kids aren’t thinking they can win every Saturday, then we’re doing the wrong thing and not getting the point across. This game is no different from any other Pac-12 game to us, period. Or any other football game we play, for that matter.
“We need to make sure in every game we show up the exact same way. We didn’t do that as well Saturday (at UW) but I felt like we have all the other times. I wish I could put my finger on it.”
THOSE CRAZY BAY AREA NIGHTS: When Cal conducted the coaching search last winter that eventually landed Sonny Dykes in Berkeley, MacIntyre’s name also was being mentioned prominently.
Being the Bay Area and MacIntyre being at San Jose State, he might have had a casual interest. He said it never went beyond that on either side, but it still was a hectic period.
“I had five calls from five schools in one night,” he said. “I’d never had five girls call me in high school – I wasn’t used to it.”
NOTABLE: MacIntyre said the Buffs practiced well on Tuesday morning. Receiver Paul Richardson (ankle) was held out but likely will practice Wednesday. Safety Parker Orms (stinger) remained sore and wore a blue non-contact jersey. His status will be monitored daily . . . . MacIntyre said defensive back Yuri Wright, who is redshirting, has improved his skill level and increased his weight to 175 – up from 163 when MacIntyre and his staff arrived. “He’s got seven more (pounds) to go,” MacIntyre said. “I’m very proud of him.” . . . . Liufau characterized CU’s step back in Seattle as “pretty big . . . obviously it was frustrating that we didn’t perform well. We’ll go back to practice, see our mistakes and try and fix those.” . . . . CU true freshman Ryan Severson has returned 27 kickoffs – third most in the league behind Cal’s Khalif Muhammad (35) and OSU’s Victor Bolden (33). Said MacIntyre: “I keep waiting for Severson’s parents to call me for child abuse.”