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Grading CU Buffs After Rocky Mountain Showdown

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Colorado's offense and defense clicked in Sunday's Rocky Mountain Showdown, and the Buffs upended Colorado State 41-27 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver. Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images.
Colorado's offense and defense clicked in Sunday's Rocky Mountain Showdown, and the Buffs upended Colorado State 41-27 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver. Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images.

School is back in session and the college football season is under way.

You know what that means. Yep, it’s report-card time.

Colorado, which downed in-state rival Colorado State 41-27 on Sunday in the 85th installment of the Rocky Mountain Showdown, will get graded.

The Buffs’ win snapped an eight-game losing streak dating back to Sept. 22 of last year and gave them a 62-21-2 series lead over their in-state rival from the North.

So without further ado, let’s hand out some grades, shall we?

Offense: A-

After failing a whole bunch of tests and earning a whole bunch of F’s on offense last season, the Buffs moved the ball and moved it well against CSU.

Quarterback Connor Wood, who transferred to CU from Texas in 2011, looked like the poised veteran many thought he would eventually become. Directing first-year coach Mike MacIntyre’s pass-happy pistol offense, the junior completed 33 of 46 passes for 400 yards and three touchdowns. Wood joined Kordell Stewart and Joel Klatt as the only CU quarterbacks to throw for 400 yards or more in a season opener.

Two of Wood’s touchdown strikes went to Paul Richardson, who caught 10 passes total for 208 yards to earn Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week honors. The junior wide receiver now owns two of the program’s four individual 200-yard receiving performances. On Sept. 10, 2011, against Cal in Boulder, Richardson hauled in 11 passes for 284 yards.

Richardson’s presence also opened up opportunities for fellow receivers D.D. Goodson and Nelson Spruce, who combined for 143 yards on 13 catches. One of Goodson’s catches was an over-the-shoulder, 18-yard touchdown reception in the back corner of the end zone that gave CU a 17-3 lead late in the second quarter.

In all, the Buffs gained 513 yards of offense — a huge step up from their 302 yards per game in 2012.

The only reason why the Buffs get an A- here instead of an A is because their running game sputtered a bit. CU managed to gain just 113 yards on the ground on 35 attempts (an average of 3.2 yards per carry). Those numbers will need to increase if the Buffs want to pull off an upset or two against better competition in the Pac-12.

Defense: A-

When the Rams ran, they got stuffed. When the Rams passed, they got stuffed.

For the better part of the night, anyway.

CSU picked up a total of 94 yards on the ground and 201 yards through the air. If you’re counting, that’s 295 total yards. That’s night-and-day improvement for CU. Last year, the Buffs’ defense ranked 121st out of 124 FBS teams after surrendering 489 yards per game.

The Buffs even won the turnover battle. Early in the fourth quarter, with the Rams driving and trailing by just two points, CU defensive end Chidera Uzo-Diribe poked the ball away from running back Kapri Bibbs. Cornerback Greg Henderson scooped it up and sprinted 53 yards to the end zone to swing the momentum back in the Buffs’ favor.

The Buffs also did a good job of keeping everything in front of them. After giving up big play after big play last fall, CU played solid, assignment football. Give a ton of credit to first-year defensive coordinator Kent Baer.

Again, CU gets knocked a few points here because its defensive line didn’t put much pressure on Rams quarterback Garrett Grayson. The Buffs mustered just two sacks, but one of them was a gimme after the snap sailed over Grayson’s head and the junior was chased out of bounds.

To their credit, the Buffs were going up against a talented and experienced Rams offensive front.

Special Teams: C-               

If not for junior placekicker Will Oliver, CU would’ve earned an F in this department.

Oliver was 4-for-4 on field goals, connecting from 22, 41, 44, and 52 yards out. He was also 3-for-3 on extra-point attempts.

But one play in punt coverage and another in kickoff coverage almost cost the Buffs a game that they otherwise dominated.

Early in the third quarter, CSU’s Joe Hansley squeezed Darragh O’Neill’s punt, eluded several would-be CU tacklers and raced down the sideline for a 74-yard touchdown to whittle the Buffs’ lead to 20-17.

On the ensuing kickoff after Oliver’s 44-yarder, the Rams’ Thomas Coffman made a bunch of Buffs miss before he was pushed out of bounds at CU’s 16-yard line. Three plays later, Bibbs scored on a 2-yard plunge to give CSU a 24-23 lead.

Take away those two mistakes and the Buffs may have just earned straight A-’s this week.