Tag Archives: Sefo Liufau

Mike MacIntyre avoids a meltdown as CU loses again

BOULDER — Until Saturday night, we’d never seen Mike MacIntyre like this.

He hasn’t been here that long, so we were bound to see the less sociable side at some point, but when he rushed into the CU defensive meeting room for his post-game session with the inquiring minds Saturday night, he started out as if determined to insert himself into the ESPN coaching meltdown highlight reel.

You know the one. It includes Mike Gundy (“Come after me! I’m a man! I’m 40!”), Steve Spurrier on multiple occasions, even former CU coach Dan Hawkins (“It’s Division I football! It’s the Big 12! It ain’t intramurals!”).

Here’s how MacIntyre began his post-game presser after Arizona beat Colorado 44-20 Saturday night at Folsom Field, effectively ending CU’s chance to become bowl eligible in MacIntyre’s first season, barring some truly incomprehensible outcomes the rest of the way.

MacIntyre, sitting down as reporters approach to deposit their recorders on the table: “All right, ready? Start shooting away, let’s go. I’ll take three questions, I’m outta here.”

Q: You were down 14 points . . . 

A: Yeah . . . 

Q: . . . with 18 minutes to go . . . 

A: Take a chance. See us try to play defense? Next question. Let’s go.

Q: Uh, problem stopping Denker . . .

A: Yeah, we had a problem stopping him. Next one?

Q: You gave up 670 in total offense.

A: Yeah, we did. Exactly. Next one?

You get the idea. Perhaps sensing he was about to create a video clip that could haunt him for years, he calmed down a bit and answered well more than three questions. The entire transcript is below.

MacIntyre had targeted Arizona as a Pac-12 opponent his Colorado team could beat. He said it publicly and he presented it to his team as a challenge. Beat the Wildcats, he said, and the Buffaloes could play meaningful games in November, meaning bowl eligibility would be at stake. With three non-conference wins and a Cal team winless in the Pac-12 coming to Boulder in November, a win over Arizona would leave CU needing just one upset to get to six.

Perhaps MacIntyre put too much stock in his own challenge. When push came to shove, it was the first-year coach, hungry for success his team is not yet ready to deliver, who salted the game away for the visitors from Tucson.

Even without MacIntyre’s premature desperation, CU almost certainly would have lost, and for the same reasons that drove MacIntyre’s desperation: The Buffs couldn’t stop the Wildcats, who put up 670 yards of offense — second-most under coach Rich Rodriguez and third most in school history — 405 of them on the ground.

But that didn’t make MacIntyre’s tactical decisions helpful. The Buffs trailed 24-13 at halftime. Not great, but not nearly as bad as two weeks ago in Tempe, when Arizona State led 47-6 at intermission. The Wildcats came out in the third quarter and drove 66 yards, but the Buffs held them to a field goal. CU responded with a 75-yard touchdown drive to cut the deficit to 27-20. Arizona roared back with a 70-yard drive to extend the lead to 34-20.

CU drove 47 yards to a first-and-goal at the Arizona 7-yard line. After two rushes for three yards and an incomplete pass, the Buffs faced fourth-and-goal at the 4. MacIntyre eschewed the field goal and went for it. Freshman quarterback Sefo Liufau rolled right and threw incomplete into the end zone.

The Buffs stopped the Cats, then found themselves deep in their own territory as the third quarter expired.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, down 14 points with 15 minutes to play, the Buffs ran a fake punt on fourth-and-5 from their own 17. Punter Darragh O’Neill tried to run for the first down. He gained one yard.

Arizona took over on the CU 18. Two plays later, the Buffs’ deficit was 21. And that was that.

“If you see us playing defense, we couldn’t stop ’em,” MacIntyre explained. “Thought it was a good place to try it. He was supposed to read it. We’ve had five on this year and he’s punted all five. We thought we had a chance and he thought he had a chance and didn’t get it.”

The Buffs’ defensive game plan was so focused on Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey that their defenders repeatedly allowed quarterback B.J. Denker to run free. Denker finished with 192 rushing yards, 73 more than Carey.

“We couldn’t tackle the quarterback,” MacIntyre said. “We must have missed him seven times. Probably 200 yards of offense off of missed tackles on the quarterback. We gotta work on tackling better.”

Like a lot of folks in Boulder, MacIntyre wants the Buffs to improve more quickly than they are. It’s understandable. It’s hard not to feel for his players as they try to answer questions, honestly mystified as to their helplessness against Pac-12 opponents. It’s just a play here or there, they keep saying. Even MacIntyre fell back on this canard.

It’s not just a play here or there. MacIntyre is at the start of a major rebuilding project. He took over one of the worst teams in Division I history. It plays in a conference with some of the best offenses in the nation.

A fake punt on your own 17 does not help. Down 14 with a full quarter to play, it sends a signal of desperation to your players. When I asked MacIntyre if he regretted that decision in hindsight, his answer was firm and immediate: “No. Do not.”

The mirage of bowl eligibility should now fade and the Buffs will go back to focusing on the details, trying to get better each week. To achieve competitiveness in the Pac-12 is going to take a while. That’s not the fault of anybody now involved with the program. But trying to rush the process by getting desperate will not help.

Here’s a full transcript of MacIntyre’s post-game presser:

MacIntyre: All right, ready? Start shooting away, let’s go. I’ll take three questions, I’m outta here.

Q: You were down 14 points . . . 

A: Yeah . . . 

Q: . . . with 18 minutes to go . . . 

A: Take a chance. See us try to play defense? Next question. Let’s go.

Q: Uh, problem stopping Denker . . .

A: Yeah, we had a problem stopping him. Next one?

Q: You gave up 670 in total offense.

A: Yeah, we did. Exactly. Next one?

Q: Why are you in such a hurry?

A: Because I’m ready to get out of here. We played our hearts out. We gotta play better.

Q: How do you feel Sefo played?

A: I thought he did good. Missed a couple guys he coulda hit. And we had a couple out there he could have made, but I thought he did some good things. He’ll keep improving.

Q: Why’d you fake the punt?

A: Because if you see us playing defense, we couldn’t stop ’em. Thought it was a good place to try it. He was supposed to read it. We’ve had five on this year and he’s punted all five. We thought we had a chance and he thought he had a chance and didn’t get it.

Q: How concerned are you about your defense?

A: Very concerned. Playing as hard as they can play.

Q: Jered (Bell, the junior free safety) said they have the talent, they’re just not executing. Do you feel that’s true?

A: There’s part of that, yes. We gotta do a better job of coaching ’em and just keep fighting. There’s great offenses in this league.

Q: Does this one hurt you a little bit more than some of the others?

A: Oh, definitely. 100 percent.

Q: Seemed like there was a lot of pressure on Sefo tonight . . . 

A: Yeah, there’s been pressure on him every time he’s stepped back there.

Q: Why does it hurt more than the others?

A: Cause we can beat that team.

Q: Why do you feel like you didn’t?

A: We didn’t tackle ’em. We couldn’t tackle the quarterback. We must have missed him seven times. Probably 200 yards of offense off of missed tackles on the quarterback. We gotta work on tackling better.

Q: Obviously it hurts to lose, but this game was a step in the right direction in conference play. Do you feel that way?

A: No. We shoulda won the game.

Q: Did you do anything special to stop Carey and that made it harder to stop Denker?

A: Yeah, we stopped Carey pretty good. We had one he bounced outside and we didn’t play our . . . we shoulda stayed outside, he wouldn’t have gained that yard, and then he ran over us a few times, and he’s going to do that. He does that against everybody. Just very disappointed we didn’t do a better job against Denker. He did a good job, B.J., he threw the ball better than I’ve ever seen him throw in every game I’ve ever watched him play. So he came through, he really did. He did a great job. Their quarterback did a great job.

Q: You said they played as hard as they can play, yet you seem disappointed in the effort or outcome or . . .

A: Yeah, I’m very disappointed in the outcome.

Q: When the offense got in Arizona territory, why were there so many struggles of getting seven as opposed to just three?

A: We just couldn’t get it in. I’ll have to go back and look at it. We left a few out there we had chances at.

Q: How happy have you been with the tackling so far this year?

A: I mean, I think we’ve improved from the film I watched last year and from spring practice and early in fall. We just didn’t . . . he made us miss tonight and I’ve seen him make people miss before, it was just very frustrating for our kids.

Q: In hindsight, do you regret not kicking the field goal . . . 

A: No. The guy was open. We had a chance. We just couldn’t get it to him.

Q: In hindsight, do you regret the fake punt?

A: No. Do not.

Q: Did you see the same thing you saw against Oregon from the defense when you ran that trick play to (junior receiver Paul) Richardson?

A: Yeah, but we did it different than that one. It was a different formation. And they lined up differently than they had been, too. That kind of threw us off. But PRich did a good job. We had worked on if that happened, throw it out of bounds.

Q: How is he?

A: I think he’s fine. He said he was fine. Hopefully it doesn’t swell up or something tonight.

Q: How disconcerting is it, just the lack of success against . . . 

A: Very disconcerting. Very disconcerting. We keep improving, we’ve just got to do it. Very disconcerting. We’ve just got to keep fighting and keep moving forward. It’s just disheartening for the kids, you know? We’re battling right there and just . . . a few plays here or there.

Q: Is that similar to your first year at San Jose State?

A: I don’t know. So long ago.

Q: You sparked the offense with some personnel changes. How do you spark the defense?

A: We just keep working at it. We’ve made personnel changes there too. Just got to keep working, keep fighting and keep pushing. Find ways to keep trying to help ’em. I thought we did a few things tonight to help ’em and they just made some more plays than we did.


CU hands its offense over to 18-year-olds

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.


Tangled up in Ducks

BOULDER — When Mark Helfrich left Dan Hawkins’ football staff at the University of Colorado following the 2008 season to join Chip Kelly’s staff at the University of Oregon, there was speculation he was frustrated by a bad offense he was powerless to change.

Nobody said anything on the record, of course, because this dance is well-rehearsed by now and it’s all agreed: Every former employer was awesome and every future employer is providing a cherished opportunity.

Like many of the issues surrounding the CU program at the time, this one had to do with Hawkins and his desire to have his son, Cody, play quarterback. Helfrich knew where major college football offenses were going, and Cody Hawkins, a wonderful kid and mediocre football player, was not it.

Three years earlier, Hawkins made Helfrich the youngest offensive coordinator in Division I football. (I don’t use the initials that replaced the divisions because I don’t know what they mean and you don’t either.) Helfrich was 32 when Hawkins persuaded him to leave Arizona State, where he was quarterbacks coach, to become CU’s offensive coordinator.

Helfrich was a protege of Dirk Koetter, who had been offensive coordinator at Oregon when Helfrich was a graduate assistant. When Koetter got the head job at Boise State, he brought Helfrich with him to coach quarterbacks. When Koetter moved on to Arizona State, again Helfrich moved with him. But the opportunity to be a coordinator in a major conference at 32 was quite rare, and Hawkins had followed Koetter at Boise State, so it was all in the family.

Unfortunately, it was a little too all in the family during the Hawkins era at CU. It was probably true that the younger Hawkins was the best quarterback on the roster, but that was a sad rationale. A coach looking for a bigger, stronger, faster or more athletic quarterback would have been more aggressive than the elder Hawkins in recruiting competition.

Helfrich had already worked with some pretty good quarterbacks — Bart Hendricks at Boise State and Andrew Walter at Arizona State — and it is not hard to believe that he could see, like most people, how limited the upside was on Cody Hawkins and any offense built around him.

In fact, it’s possible Helfrich saw something of himself in the younger Hawkins, and that this insight helped him see Cody was in over his head. An Oregon native, Helfrich was a small but accomplished high school quarterback who chose Southern Oregon and a prodigious NAIA career over an offer to walk on at Oregon, where he knew he probably would have spent his career on the bench.

So Helfrich’s choice in 2009 was to continue coordinating a bad Colorado offense that was hard to improve given the limitations at the most important position, or move back to Oregon and work under Kelly, an offensive coordinator of such repute that Oregon reportedly kicked head coach Mike Bellotti upstairs to create the head coaching vacancy Kelly craved.

As a newly-minted head coach, Kelly wanted Helfrich as his offensive coordinator. And he wanted to do lots of interesting, innovative things. For Helfrich, it probably wasn’t that tough a call. He thanked Hawkins, packed his bags and went home.

Kelly moved on to the NFL this season. He’s the new coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, who were just pulverized by the Broncos to drop to 1-3, but that’s another story. Kelly reportedly lobbied for Helfrich to succeed him. He may not have needed to. The OC moving up is an Oregon tradition, dating back to Bellotti under Rich Brooks.

So, in the year he turns 40 (later this month), Helfrich ascended to one of the best jobs in college football — head coach at Oregon. He is in charge of a program that will have no financial restraints so long as Phil Knight is alive. He is part of a tradition of innovative offensive football. Each of the Ducks’ last three coaches — Bellotti, Kelly and Helfrich — was the offensive coordinator under his predecessor.

A year ago, Helfrich was in his fourth and final season as Kelly’s coordinator when the Ducks beat CU 70-14 in Eugene, a game not as close as the score might indicate. It was 56-0 at halftime.

Saturday, the Ducks came to Boulder and beat the Buffs 57-16. From a purely arithmetic point of view, that’s about 15 points of progress for the Buffs. They even led for a minute. Actually, a minute and 49 seconds on the game clock the first time, a minute and 34 seconds the second and final time. Oregon does everything fast.

The Ducks demonstrated yet again how important the whole quarterback thing is. Helfrich called his guy, sophomore Marcus Mariota, “a stud,” which is exactly right. If you were going to build an elite college quarterback from scratch, you would build a 6-foot-4-inch, 210-pound athlete with a rocket arm, runner’s legs and a brain that figures out really fast when it’s time for which. Oh, and you might give him some Samoan blood, given the disproportionate number of great football players that tiny island and its descendants have produced.

“He’s such a great person, first and foremost, and then he’s, oh, by the way, an incredible football player,” Helfrich said. “The stuff he does in practice, we look at each other and kind of shake our head. And that shows up in games. That’s the neat part about him, about (running back) De’Anthony (Thomas), about some of our best defensive players, is they’re great practice players. Not good practice players, but great practice players. And that’s infectious.

“Physically, he’s very gifted. Obviously, his size, his speed, his release, his timing, his knowledge, he’s a smart guy, he’s a tough guy. Is that enough? He’s a superlative machine.”

The Buffs, on the other hand, are trying to preserve yet another redshirt year. Last year, you might remember, it was not worth burning Shane Dillon’s redshirt year on a lost season. Dillon is no longer with the program. In fact, his experience at CU so turned him off to football he now wants to play basketball. In retrospect, it might have been worth burning his redshirt year to see if he could improve on the most dreadful season CU football has seen.

This year, it is not worth burning Sefo Liufau’s redshirt year. Liufau is the prized first-year recruit of CU coach Mike MacIntyre, a 6-4, 215-pound high school star of, yes, Samoan descent.

For a minute there, before CU began its conference schedule, it looked as if junior Connor Wood, a transfer from Texas during the short-lived Jon Embree era, could bridge the gap adequately.

But Wood was not good Saturday, and he suffered in comparison to Mariota, who was sensational. The respective stat lines are a close enough approximation. Mariota completed 16 of 27 passes for 355 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. He also carried seven times for 49 yards and two touchdowns. His afternoon was finished before the fourth quarter began. Wood completed 11 of 33 for 205 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. His net rushing yardage was minus 8.

Granted, there are talent gaps between these rosters at many positions, but in Paul Richardson the Buffs have one of the most talented receivers in the country, so it’s not as if Wood has no weapons. At some point, the excuses have to stop.

The performance at quarterback was the key difference in the game, and allowed Oregon to turn it into a blowout as quickly as it did. The Buffs’ defense gave them a chance even after MacIntyre elected to begin the game with an onside kick. Granted, you need some wrinkles if you’re going to beat the Ducks, but giving Mariota the ball at midfield to start the game might be out-thinking yourself.

Nevertheless, CU forced a three-and-out and Wood drove the offense into field goal range — the big play a 55-yard pass to Richardson — and a short-lived 3-0 lead. One minute, 49 seconds later by the game clock, Mariota scored the first of his seven touchdowns — two rushing, five passing. The Buffs responded with a beautifully conceived option pass off a reverse, in which Richardson, split wide left, came in motion to the right, took a pitch from running back Michael Adkins and lofted a pass to a wide-open D.D. Goodson in the right flat, who rambled 75 yards to give CU a 10-8 lead.

This was the first time this season an opponent led Oregon twice. So that’s something. But not much. By the end of the first quarter, the Ducks led 29-10. At halftime, it was 43-16. In the Oregon locker room, they were not happy.

“We kind of challenged them at halftime,” Helfrich said. “Other than the scoreboard, we didn’t play our way in the first half, and who knows (why) that is. I don’t know if it’s altitude or thinking about something else or whatever it may have been, we responded well, and that’s encouraging.”

Oregon shut down the CU offense in the second half, and for the first time this season, MacIntyre’s team looked nearly as helpless as Embree’s team of a year ago. MacIntyre said he saw improvement in Wood from the week before at Oregon State and you can only hope he said that because he has to. If Wood doesn’t improve a lot more, and soon, CU will have to decide whether it is willing to be the Pac-12’s punch line for yet another season in the interest of some prospective four-year career that may or may not work out as planned.

Meanwhile, Oregon is rolling, averaging almost 60 points a game, giving up fewer than 12. I asked Helfrich if his team is where he wants it to be.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “We’re 5-0, and that’s our best statistic. We haven’t played remotely to what we can in any phase in any game. So that’s encouraging. The guys that we have on this team know that. They’re excited to get better and excited to come to work and get ready on Monday.”

If anybody in the CU administration really wants to know what has happened to the program since Hawkins was hired in 2006, he or she should place a call to Helfrich and find out how the program lost one of the most impressive young coaches in the game today.

Maybe he would have gone home anyway. That would certainly be the movie-of-the-week narrative. But Helfrich had already demonstrated a coach’s nomadic instinct for the best way forward, moving from Eugene to Boise to Tempe to Boulder. Maybe Hawkins’ nepotism is part of the answer. Maybe there were other factors.

Helfrich’s decision to go back to Oregon and Saturday’s game have one thing in common: The Ducks had a much better quarterback than the Buffs both times. So long as CU is willing to live with this, its football program will not appear on any map.