BOULDER – The Black team rallied to defeat the Gold 21-17 Saturday in Colorado’s annual spring football game, earning fine dining (steaks) for the winners and relegating common table fare (tube steaks) for the losers.
As for head coach Mike MacIntyre, who roamed Folsom Field wearing a headset and scrutinizing both squads and all things for end-of-spring improvement, his dinner menu was predetermined.
“Since I’m not on either team I get steak no matter what,” he said.
According to the Black squad’s Bryce Bobo, who continues to establish himself as a solid stretch-the-field receiving candidate, the Gold squad talked itself into its bad dining experience.
Said Bobo: “The Gold team has been talking all week, calling themselves ‘the money team,’ all that stuff. So coming out with the win, letting them eat hot dogs while we get steak, yeah, it’s a good day for us.”
But who ate in style and who might have left the Dal Ward Athletics Center unsatisfied wasn’t foremost for MacIntyre and his staff at the conclusion of 14 spring practices.
The Buffaloes, 4-8 overall in MacIntyre’s first season, need across-the-board improvement for 2014. Some was accomplished from mid-March through mid-April, more must be done come August. But MacIntyre left the stadium liking most of what he saw Saturday.
“I thought the competition was good,” he said. “I think I saw what I was hoping to see – a couple of good rushes by the defensive ends, some good plays by the receivers. There were good plays on both sides. It was fun to get everybody in and play.”
Asked to specify two or three areas in which he wants to see improvement in August camp, MacIntyre’s immediate response was, “Whooo . . . just two or three?”
He then listed the Buffs returning to the practice field in “great shape – that’s first and foremost.” Then, he wants players who were either injured – that list included a dozen names – or were held out of spring drills for various reasons to be ready to perform. “I want hurt guys healthy,” he said.
And third, “And us not losing any steam over the summer . . . we can’t go back to ground zero, we have to pick up where we left off.”
MacIntyre believes the Buffs “came out of spring confident; they know what we’re trying to do. We’ll add a few more things when we come back in the fall, then we’ve got some freshmen to evaluate early and see how they can help us. That’ll add a dynamic to it, but I’m pleased with their effort and how they’ve worked.”
SEFO IS THE STARTER: So much for summer suspense; MacIntyre said sophomore Sefo Liufau, who completed 19-of-31 passes for 238 yards and two touchdowns (one interception) Saturday, will go into August camp as CU’s starting quarterback. Sophomore Jordan Gehrke (5-of-11, 113 yards, 1 TD) will be Liufau’s backup.
“But I’m not worried about putting Jordan in if something happens to Sefo,” MacIntyre said. “Sefo has done a great job and Jordan’s done a great job. But right now, Sefo would be the starter.”
Offensive coordinator/QB coach Brian Lindgren listed Gehrke’s emergence among the spring’s offensive pluses. “We were kind of unsure how he would pick things up, coming off redshirting,” Lindgren said. “But I was pleased with the way he played (Saturday). He directed some nice drives and has the ability to create, I was fired up about that.”
Liufau, said Lindgren, “has matured; I like his decision making, I think he’s seeing the field better. I’m really happy with those two guys. I think we’ve just got to keep getting them reps and they need to keep progressing over the summer.”
WITHERSPOON A WARRIOR: Ahkello Witherspoon, a junior college transfer, will be hard to overlook as a starting cornerback candidate. The rangy (6-3, 185) sophomore made three unassisted tackles, one interception and broke up four passes – three of them in a final, futile Gold drive.
Defensive coordinator Kent Baer said Witherspoon has “really shown up well” in spring drills. “He’s a young corner, only a sophomore. He had a great one year in junior college. We saw him and knew we liked him. He’s very athletic. For him it was a matter of coming in and seeing how hard we practice, how hard you have to compete to win in this league. It’s not a junior college league. I think in the last couple of weeks he’s gotten better. I’m pleased with what he’s done; he did good today.”
Witherspoon believes he’s adjusted well to his new level of competition. “I knew coming in there was a lot of room to improve,” he said. “I feel a little bit of success from day one when I came to practice to right now. Day in day out it’s been hard work mentally and physically. It just feels good.”
When the Gold offense and Liufau appeared to be targeting him on the afternoon’s final series, Witherspoon said he remembered advice from MacIntyre.
“Coach ‘Mac’ always says just be in a position to compete, and if that’s what you do then you have a chance,” Witherspoon said. “If you’re not competing and you don’t give the effort when it’s critical, that’s when you get beat.”
He said he believes his chances of earning a starting corner spot in August are good: “I feel like I’ve made improvement and established who I am as a cornerback. I feel like moving forward I have a pretty good chance.”
MacIntyre said Witherspoon has “got really good athletic ability. He keeps getting his feet wet in more ways than one, getting more and more comfortable. I was pleased with that . . . he’s done a really good job.”
BOBO GETS BETTER, BETTER: The redshirt freshman began establishing himself early in spring work as a stretch-the-field contender to replace Paul Richardson and his work Saturday did nothing to tarnish that image.
The 6-2, 190-pound Bobo caught 5 passes for 132 yards and a 67-yard TD from Gehrke. Bobo also had a 43-yard reception from No. 3 QB Trent Sessions that set up a Black TD.
Along with Bobo, fellow redshirt freshman Elijah Dunston and true frosh Lee Walker (3-41 yards, 1 TD), CU’s receiving corps has some promising new hands.
“Bryce has been doing that all spring,” MacIntyre said. “We’ve seen him make those plays but it’s exciting to see him make them today. He has the ability to help us next fall. And it’s good to see Lee Walker . . . he came in January and maybe he got acclimated in the last half of spring.”
With Richardson awaiting next month’s NFL Draft, the Buffs need to identify one or more playmakers. MacIntyre said his green but talented wideouts have “the speed, the athleticism to be able to make plays. Of course, they’re young, so they’re going to have their ups and downs, but I definitely think they have the athleticism to do it.”
Bobo assessed his spring work like this: “I think I did pretty good . . . I did what I was supposed to do. I made plays (and) I think I made a statement as a wide receiver on the team.”
He said he needs to polish his route-running and believes he “could have given a little more effort in some areas. But overall I think it was pretty productive for me . . . I’m starting to know my role.”
FROM THE COORDINATORS’ CORNERS: Lindgren’s first thought went to improvement in the running game, but he also mentioned the spring emergence of Bobo as a “player who can step in and make some plays for us.”
The Gold team’s Tony Jones rushed 13 times for 88 yards, while Malcolm Creer carried six times for 39 yards and one of two fourth-quarter scores for the Black squad. Fullback Jordan Murphy scored the other Black running TD on a 1-yard dive.
Lindgren said the Buffs’ red zone work on offense and on third down had progressed throughout the spring. Overall on Saturday, said Lindgren, “We did a decent job in the 2-minute drill . . . Sefo got a couple of opportunities, but he took a sack in the first one that I wasn’t fired up about. I was pleased with how the receivers and everybody were on the same page. We were able to move the ball, but weren’t to finish the drives. But I thought the operation was pretty clean.”
Baer said his unit was “miles ahead” of where it was last spring. “A year ago it took a long time for these kids to understand how we practice, how hard we practice, the number of reps we get, what it takes to be good. Now, we’ve still got a long way to go, but we’re miles ahead of where we were a year ago – we really are.”
Baer said his defense’s tackling now is “definitely better,” most noticeably in finishing tackles. “I like it when defenses start turning people around. I don’t think we did that much last year. I saw some of that today. I’m pleased with it.”
CU’s defenders, he said, have “bought in. We’ve still got a long, long way to go, but I was pleased with how hard we played today . . . that’s probably one of the biggest things we’ve improved in.”
Baer and MacIntyre wanted a closer look Saturday at the defensive end play, and Baer pointed to spring improvement by ends Tyler Henington and Derek McCartney. “Henington (two tackles, one QB sack) looked like he gave those guys fits,” Baer said, adding McCartney “had a great spring.”
He also said De’Jon Wilson performed well, boosting competition at the position. “Competition makes you better,” Baer said. “When you have nobody pushing you, you become a little lackadaisical . . . those guys are competing hard.”
BACK TO HIS NORMAL DUTIES? MacIntyre, a former defensive back and secondary coach, spent the spring coaching the Buffs’ DBs – so much so that regular corners coach Andy LaRussa switched to helping coach defensive ends for the spring.
Asked if he would return to being a head coach come August, MacIntyre answered, “I always coach . . . I can’t stay away from it. And that’s nothing against our coaching staff, it’s just my personality. I’ll still work with the corners early in camp.”
After camp, “I’ll back away a little bit (but) still be involved in every phase, maybe not as much with the corners as I am in spring.”
He said LaRussa’s tenure helping Jim Jeffcoat (tackles) with the D-line “depends on how far our ends have come. We’ll evaluate that at that time. When you have more eyes and more people in meetings you can be a little better at it.”
After further evaluation, it will be up to Baer and MacIntyre to make a determination.
HALFTIME FACILITIES CEREMONY: CU President Bruce Benson, Chancellor Phil DiStefano, Athletic Director Rick George and student-athletes Clare Wise (skiing) and Juda Parker (football) participated in a ceremonial ground-breaking event at halftime for the school’s new facilities project. Actual ground-breaking on the $143 million project is scheduled for May 12.
The CU Board of Regents approved the facilities upgrades in December, but required that one-third of the funds for the project be privately raised prior to construction. No tuition money or tax dollars will go toward the project. DiStefano and George will provide a fundraising update to the regents at their meetings later this month (April 29-30).
After starting work last August, George set a goal of raising $47.6 million to serve as seed money for the project, with the balance to come from bonds. Significant progress has been made toward meeting George’s goal.
ALIVE AND KICKING: Sophomore transfer Diego Gonzalez, of Guadalupe, Nuevo Leon Mexico, made his Folsom Field placekicking debut for the Gold squad. Gonzalez, whose strong left leg impressed CU coaches last season, kicked a first-quarter PAT before missing wide right on a 47-yard field goal attempt in the second quarter. With incumbent kicker and three-year letterman Will Oliver back for his senior season, Gonzalez might be relegated to kick-off duty this fall.
Also debuting at Folsom as a kicker was freshman Chris Graham, who booted a 39-yard field goal in the third quarter to give the Gold team a 10-7 lead. Graham, from Burlingame, Calif., also kicked a fourth-quarter PAT after Liufau’s TD pass to Lee Walker, pushing the Gold squad up 17-7.
In his only duty Saturday, Oliver, who accounted for a team-best 81 points last fall (30-of-30 PATs, 17-of-24 FGs), kicked a pair of fourth-quarter extra points after Jordan Murphy’s 1-yard TD and Malcolm Creer’s 6-yard run that gave the Black team a 21-17 lead.
I KNOW THAT VOICE: Saturday’s press box play-by-play announcing was handled by CU junior hoopster Spencer Dinwiddie, who worked the game as part of an Athletic Media Relations class assignment. The class, which also includes Dinwiddie’s backcourt mate Askia Booker, is taught by longtime CU Director of Athletic Media Relations Dave Plati. For the record, Dinwiddie did a credible, colorful PA job and appeared to enjoy himself. But as for Saturday’s job factoring into his future in any way . . . probably not.
NOTEWORTHY: Saturday’s attendance was 6,350 . . . . The last of CU’s 15 spring practices will be conducted on Monday morning and will amount to a player-run dress rehearsal for the Buffs’ voluntary summer workouts.