BOULDER – In football, as it is with so many of those ubiquitous self-help programs, admitting a problem is always the first step toward correcting it.
Mike MacIntyre’s Colorado Buffaloes faced a number of issues in 2013. When faced with the direct question on Monday, MacIntyre chose to pinpoint the biggest of those concerns he believes impeded his team’s progress last year.
“One of our big areas (of concern) was the red zone on both sides of the football,” said MacIntyre. “We need to make the other team kick more field goals and score fewer touchdowns. I know that’s simplistic but that’s the truth. So, that has been our really big area of emphasis so far.”
MacIntyre’s motivation towards correcting those issues is one that seems more than justified. Last year, the Buffs’ defense allowed 43 touchdowns in 64 opponent red zone trips. No other team in the conference allowed more than 30.
“In today’s football, with the way the ball moves up and down so fast, you have limit teams,” MacIntyre said. “The old days of winning with 300 yards and 13 points doesn’t really happen much anymore. So, you have to realize that you’re going to give up a few yards and you can’t get so frustrated offensively or defensively. You just need to be able to make stops in the red zone and cause more turnovers in that area.”
MacIntyre knows that this pass-happy football era means that the defensive backfield is usually the most harassed unit on the field. In recognition of that trend, MacIntyre has spent most of the off-season thus far trying to upgrade a pass defense whose struggles were a key determining factor in last year’s defensive red zone problems.
Three of the team’s more high-profile recruits are defensive backs including highly-touted JUCO-transfer Akhello Witherspoon. And with the return of starter Terrel Smith and key contributor Josh Moten, two players who sat out with significant injuries last year, MacIntyre thinks some very healthy competition among that unit will be one of the biggest positives that will come out of the spring.
“So far it has been really good competition (among the defensive backs),” said MacIntyre. “They’re working hard and they’re competing. I’ve noticed that they’re competing hard and when we put pads on it will go to another level. Anytime you’ve got competition and you have to look over your right shoulder and look over your left shoulder then you’ve got a good football team because you know that guy can beat you out. We need to get more of that but I feel like we have quite a bit of that in our secondary right now. There’s a lot of good competition there. In our league, you need to be able to play well back there because are some many talented receivers.”
MacIntyre has always had a keen eye for talent in the secondary. He spent the majority of his playing career roaming that area as a free safety at Georgia Tech and Vanderbilt so, he usually finds himself drawn to watching that group during practice. MacIntyre believes that the attention he continually shows them not only gives him a chance to more accurately evaluate their talent, but it also indirectly helps to raise their level of play.
“We have really young defensive backs, so we’re trying to get more eyes on more people,” said MacIntyre. “That way we can coach them and they can coach them and they can catch up quicker. If you’re getting coached all the time and you know you’re getting seen all the time, then your intensity goes up and we’re able to correct stuff on the move quicker. Hopefully they don’t make the same mistake over and over. Hopefully they correct it and they start learning from it so that’s what we’re doing now.”