BOULDER – Even with their bowl hopes buried by last weekend’s loss to Southern California, the Colorado Buffaloes shouldn't have to search for a reason to finish strong Saturday at Utah.
A bold finish that adds an exclamation point rather than an uninspired period to 2013 is, according to Mike MacIntyre, the best possible way for the Buffs to close out his first season as CU’s coach.
Trouble was, the Buffs had a very un-bold start to Tuesday morning’s practice – their first in preparing for the Utes. MacIntyre had an immediate answer: Restart the period, get reenergized and get it right.
“I saw us in practice today have a little, I guess, the Thanksgiving lulls,” he said. “Then we restarted a period and they cranked right back up into it . . . I thought that was good for them to restart. But I did see a little lull there for a minute.”
Even under what are not the best of late-November circumstances for the Buffs, said senior safety Parker Orms, the final week of the season is no time to backslide.
“You’ve got to pick it up a little now,” Orms said. “Obviously after USC (a 47-29 loss), heads dropped a little. But as a senior, I’m trying to pick it up and focus this week.”
Part of Tuesday morning’s false start, MacIntyre noted, was due to “playing a really physical football game (against USC). We had a lot more people beat up coming out of this game than any game we’ve played all year.
“That had a little bit to do with it. They can’t worry about being sore; they’ve got to push through it. But they ended up doing that. The last half of practice was really good.”
When work resumes on Wednesday and Thursday mornings, he hopes to avoid any restarts. It’s important, he said, for his players to realize that generating the energy and emotion necessary to win their final game won’t come on Friday’s plane ride to Salt Lake City.
Saturday marks the first time since 1995 that the Buffs have not played somebody (usually Nebraska) on the Friday after Thanksgiving. CU began playing the Cornhuskers on Black Friday in 1996 and has had a Friday game in successive seasons until this year.
When CU joined the Pac-12 Conference three years ago, Utah – primarily because of its proximity across the Rockies and a prior football history – became the Buffs’ “designated” rival in their new league. The game has a few earmarks of a rivalry, said MacIntyre: “It’s the last game of the year and the Pac-12 made it a rivalry.” Still, for a true rivalry to develop, records other than shared a 4-7 overall and 1-7 in conference might help move the process forward.
“Hopefully both of us will be playing for something more next year, and that makes it even more of a rivalry,” he said. “(But) it’s the last game for both teams. It’s kind of one of those games where those seniors in that locker room, some of them will never play football again. So that’s an emotional time for those young men. It’ll be fun for both sides.”
Among the Buffs seniors playing in their final game will be linebacker Derrick Webb, who said the younger CU players must be made to realize “they have to have high energy at practice . . . talking and stuff can help, but when they see you enjoying practice and going hard, they catch on. Seeing the older guys compete makes a difference.”
While freshman running back Michael Adkins II said Colorado State appears to be more of a rivalry game to him than Utah, he added that getting emotionally prepared for the Utes wouldn’t be a problem for him.
“We have to play like we have in all the others and go out and practice like we’ve been practicing,” he said.
Webb also identified CSU as currently more of a rival than Utah. But he added, “We’re still new to the conference. I can see hyping the Utah game in conference and setting it up to be a fiery, competitive game (and) being at least one of our big rivalries.”
MacIntyre characterized Webb as a “true warrior (who) always empties the bucket,” and MacIntyre undoubtedly hopes CU’s younger players pay attention to this advice from Webb on turning the program around: “Don’t wait to change it . . . don’t wait until you’re juniors or seniors. All of the young players should think they need to do it right away. That needs to be the mindset.”
If CU defeats Utah for its fifth win, it would be the most wins by a Buffs team since 2010 (5-7). A fifth ‘W’ also would be four more than CU managed in 2012, and it would be memorable for Webb and the other seniors, noted MacIntyre.
“You always remember your last game and you definitely want to win it,” he said. “That’s important to us. It’s not a do or die type thing, but I think it gives a little momentum going into recruiting and going into the off-season, and you kind of push from there.”
Many coaches contend that capping a season with a win creates a positive carryover for the next season. But MacIntyre said, “I don’t know, I’ve had it work both ways. But I think the whole thing is, when the kids come back the work ethic that’s been established, the sense of responsibility, the sense of caring for each other, the persistent attitude you have to keep going. When you win, it validates what the coaches are saying a little bit quicker.”
Whatever the benefits, they’re preferable to losing a season finale – which each school has experienced. CU and Utah split their first two games as members of the Pac-12, with each winning on the other’s home field. The Buffs won 17-14 in Salt Lake City in 2011, snapping a 24-game out-of-state losing streak, while the Utes won 42-35 last season in Boulder.
NOTABLE: MacIntyre said linebacker Woodson Greer (shoulder) will not be healthy enough to play Saturday. Other players injured against USC, such as linebacker Addison Gillam (back strain), are expected to play . . . . With eight current players graduating in December, CU has room to take that many prospects before February’s annual national letter-of-intent day. That would indicate junior college players, but MacIntyre was hesitant to say CU might go for that many. “We’re recruiting some (JUCOs) and have some visiting over the next couple of weeks,” he said, adding he “had big-time success” with junior college players at San Jose State. “But you have to pick the right guys . . . you have to get to know them.” . . . . Freshmen scout teamers catching MacIntyre’s eye this fall include running back Phillip Lindsay, who is fully recovered from a 2012 knee injury; athletic receiver Bryce Bobo; and defensive ends Markeis Reed and Derek McCartney, both of whom are expected to be near 250 pounds by next summer, said MacIntyre . . . . Utah’s top receiver, Dres Anderson, wears the same number (6) as CU’s Paul Richardson. Both sixes, said MacIntyre, “can fly.” Anderson has 46 catches for 908 yards and seven touchdowns, while Richardson has 79 catches for 1,289 yards and 10 TDs. Anderson averages 82.5 receiving yards, Richardson 117.2 . . . . In reflecting on his CU career, Orms said winning the Buffalo Heart Award last weekend “summed up so much” for him. “It made me feel like I have something to look back on.”