Earlier this week I talked with Jack Barsch (@JackBarsch), writer for the SBN blog The Ralphie Report regarding the Colorado football team. For the second year in a row I have had the pleasure of trading questions with Jack. Here's what we learned in our Q&A:
UWDP: Quarterback Steven Montez has been good so far this season completing almost 70% of his passes for a nice 8.5 yards per attempt average. How would you assess his play in the first three games?
Jack Barsch: Montez has done almost exactly what is expected of him. He has shown flashes of brilliance, especially on the run, but he also has shown some qualities that show how young he plays. His arm is a rocket and his legs can make plays, but he takes himself out of the pocket a lot and is too willing to take a deep sack rather than throw it away or take a short sack. He has taken CU out of field goal range a few times this year. But that’s the negative. The positive is the magic he creates. He can extend plays, throw balls into tight windows, and uses the middle of the field more than any CU QB since Cody Hawkins. If he starts consistently connecting on the deep ball, he will be an upper-tier QB in the conference.
UWDP: Shay Fields, Devin Ross and Bryce Bobo all return from last season and lead a strong Buffs’ receiving corps, each with over 40 catches and 500 yards in 2016. They are all off to a good start this season as well. Remind us how each are utilized in the CU offense and about any other receiving weapons in the Colorado arsenal. How has the pass protection been?
Jack: Two very different answers. The WRs are varied and fun. Shay Fields is the “#1” receiver in this offense, if one exists. He can win short and win long, and his speed makes him the main target for deep balls. Devin Ross is mostly in the slot, but his speed is game-breaking as well. He will hit the slants and get targeted for screens and flat patterns, and will gain most of his yards after the catch. Bryce Bobo is the biggest of the three, and he plays like it. If you need five hard yards, throw it to Bryce. If you need ridiculous one-handed catches, throw it to Bryce. As for others, there are plenty. Jay MacIntyre is the 4th receiver on the field, and he usually plays in the slot. He is great at getting open on 3rd down, and is mainly used in short crossing routes. After that, we don’t know how the coaching staff will use the reserves, as they haven’t seen the field much. Juwann Winfree and Johnny Huntley are both big-bodied targets and freshmen KD Nixon and Laviska Shenault are exciting.
*Sigh* now let’s get to the pass protection.. The offensive line in general has been somewhat disappointing, and that applies to the pass protection. The passing down sack rate, according to Bill Connelly, is 14.7%. Which is bad. I don’t expect that Washington will do worse than that.
UWDP: Phillip Lindsay is once again “the Man” for the Buffs this season with 378 yards and a 5.3 YPC average. Is he even better than last year? Is Montez much of a threat to run & who else can we expect to have an impact rushing the football? How has the offensive line performed in the running game?
Jack: It’s too early to say if Lindsay is better than last year. He has played three schools where he hasn’t had to carry the offense and the main goal was to not get hurt. He has a heavy usage rate and a nice YPC, but he hasn’t run with the same violence yet. I’m sure that he is going to get physical starting this week. Lindsay certainly hasn’t regressed. As for Montez, CU won’t run him as much as they ran Sefo last year, but he may be more of a threat on the run. He’s quite a bit faster and usually runs when the play breaks down, meaning he has more potential for big games. Really, Montez and Lindsay are the names to worry about.
Again, the offensive line has been a disappointment thus far. The 6th year captain and anchor, LT Jeromy Irwin, was suspended for the first two games and they have been shuffling lineups over the last 120 minutes of game time. It seems as if the whole unit has been a little slower and less nasty this year. This extends to running the ball. The push off the line has been lackluster. I should end this by saying that they did clean it up quite a bit by the end of the UNC game, but it’s hard to glean insight from an FCS game.
UWDP: How would you rate the special teams and the CU kicking game? It looks like Colorado has settled on a placekicker in James Stefanou after using a committee in 2016. Who are the top kick returners? How has the coverage been for the Buffaloes?
Jack: Special teams has been a revelation for CU. It is a complete turnaround from the last few seasons. Every kickoff is in the back of the end zone, James Stefanou is consistent and full of potential (due to his age of 30, he may be a one and done), and the coverage teams have done alright. Believe it or not, CU has not had the chance to return a kick yet, so who knows about the kick returners? Isaiah Oliver is a good punt returner, but he’s a better corner, so they might shuffle back there. I would recommend that they don’t kick to Date Pettis.
UWDP: Colorado and Washington are once again atop the defensive rankings in the Pac 12 despite both teams losing top-tier talent. What is the key to the Buffs’ defensive rebuild and who are some defenders to watch?
Jack: Well, quite frankly, the key is that there hasn’t been a rebuild. Coach MacIntyre has a scheme he recruits to, so the players fit the positions, and the new staff understand how he wants it taught. That’s why there was a misleading amount of experience on the roster and why they may have started faster than people anticipated. Jim Leavitt may be gone, but the concepts and the players have stayed relatively consistent.
Isaiah Oliver is must see TV at corner. He may be a better natural CB than any of the draftees that CU had last year, and he is an athletic freak. Watch out for one of my favorite guys, LB Drew Lewis. He used to be a Washington Husky before going to junior college, so it’s safe to say he’s amped for this game and he’s had a stellar season thus far. Finally, S Evan Worthington didn’t play last year, but he’s back as a redshirt junior and he’s an athletic marvel. 6’3, 200 with speed to burn and power to throw around. He’ll be everywhere.
UWDP: No one outside of Boulder was expecting much of a season from Colorado. You lose a lot of guys, everyone assumes you will suck. Mike MacIntyre is proving he can reload. What are your expectations for the Buffs in Pac-12 play?
Jack: Man, who is this everyone that assumes that CU will suck? That hurts, guys. I know we don’t have the best Pac-12 record, but South Division Champs should mean something. I would expect Mike MacIntyre to win more than he loses in conference play this year. While some Buff fans are rightfully disappointed in some aspects of the team the past few weeks, they really haven’t shown who they are yet. They have the talent and coaching to get to a positive conference record, especially given the soft underbelly of the schedule they play. If he gets to 7-5, I’ll be contented that the rebuild is going well. If he gets to 8-4 or better I’ll be confident.
UWDP: What is your prediction for Saturday night?
Jack: Folsom Field, night game, good attendance, all of these are recipes for an upset. A mercurial QB also helps. But Washington has the best coach in the conference, a top QB, and another salty defense. Those travel well. Washington will overwhelm with their talent on the lines and win.
Thank you Jack for taking the time to give our readers some insight on the 2017 edition of the Colorado Buffaloes. Be sure to check out The Ralphie Report for more on the game from the CU point of view.
To read my answers to Jack’s questions, click here.