BOULDER — It’s not something you see every day, a major college football program starting true freshmen at quarterback and tailback. In fact, at the University of Colorado, the number of times it happened before today was zero.
You might say CU does not have a major college football program, especially if you’re on Twitter, but coach Mike MacIntyre’s resort to quarterback Sefo Liufau, who turns 19 in ten days, and tailback Michael Adkins II, who won’t turn 19 until next spring, at least gave the oft-trampled Buffaloes a sense of direction.
Against a school called Charleston Southern University, shoehorned into the schedule to replace the Fresno State game canceled in September because of flooding in Boulder, Liufau and Adkins got to gather confidence during a 43-10 victory against a slightly lower level of competition (what used to be called Division I-AA and is now identified by the acronym for a euphemism).
Gather they did. Liufau didn’t blow the doors off — 14 completions in 20 pass attempts for 198 yards and a touchdown — but he showed beguiling maturity and flashes of intriguing talent. Adkins blew the doors off — 13 carries for 137 yards and four touchdowns.
“I think he’s a very good player,” MacIntyre said of the tailback from San Diego. “He has power, he has speed, he has vision, and he’s very bright. That one run he made today over on the sidelines when it looked like it was all clogged up and he just crept in there, broke two tackles and then outran everybody to me was a really impressive run and I was excited to see that.”
Liufau’s play was less dominant, but almost as promising. Once, in the second quarter, a Buccaneers pass rusher was approximately 2.1 milliseconds from sending Liufau into another dimension when he dumped the ball just over the line of scrimmage to junior receiver Paul Richardson, the Buffs’ best player. He took care of the remaining real estate on what went down as a 60-yard touchdown pass.
“They try to keep everything pretty simple for him to build his confidence, and then we threw some things in there to challenge his IQ and he responded well,” Richardson said of the freshman quarterback.
Another time, in the fourth, the pass rush was coming straight up the gut and Liufau was back-pedaling in retreat. Somehow, with all his momentum going the wrong way, he managed to get enough on a long out to Nelson Spruce to gain 10 yards and a first down.
“He’s able to move in the pocket and still be accurate,” MacIntyre said. “He did a good job of throwing the ball away a few times today, and didn’t really force the ball. He did some good things; he just needs to keep improving with the rest of the guys.”
The reality remains that the Buffs have yet to be competitive in a Pac-12 Conference game, having lost the three they’ve played by a combined score of 155-46. And now that the interlude of the makeup game is over, it’s back to the conference schedule. With three non-conference victories, they have to win three of their six remaining Pac-12 games to become eligible for a postseason bowl game.
MacIntyre referred to a more modest goal, pointing out that if CU manages to beat Arizona in Boulder next week, it would play meaningful games in November, suggesting that even having a shot at bowl eligibility would be better than playing out the string again. This is true, of course, but an indication of how far the program has fallen.
Playing a succession of upper-classmen transfers at quarterback over the past couple of seasons has given the program a directionless feel and made you wonder why CU couldn’t recruit a quarterback of its own. Watching Marcus Mariota lead the No. 2-ranked Oregon Ducks into Boulder a couple of weeks ago made you appreciate what it’s like to have a talented underclassman at quarterback.
The Buffs have plenty of other issues, including keeping Pac-12 opponents below their current average of 51.7 points a game against them. Beating Charleston Southern doesn’t mean much more for a Pac-12 team than beating Central Arkansas, or Colorado State, for that matter. Those are the Buffs’ three victories. For the record, MacIntyre said Charleston Southern was better than Central Arkansas.
Adkins won’t take over all the rushing duties, mainly because they’d wear him out. Christian Powell, last year’s freshman tailback, offers a bigger, less elusive but more powerful change up, and junior Tony Jones, demoted behind successive freshmen, made the most of his four carries late in today’s game, turning them into 37 yards.
But MacIntyre, in his first season at CU, is making it clear that Adkins and Liufau, along with freshman linebacker Addison Gillam, are the beginnings of a new core going forward. They have talent and higher ceilings than their predecessors. In other words, they offer hope that better times are coming.