The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, The Outlook

The Buffs lost their first game of the season Saturday, falling 23-3 at Miami. Inside, some thoughts on the game.

The Good: For the second-consecutive game, the Colorado defense showed the Buffs are much improved from where they were last season, and certainly from where they were prior to Mike Hankwitz's retrun in 2004. CU's defense played well enough to give the team an opportunity to win at Miami.

Senior punter John Torp had an excellent game. He punted seven times for a 47.1 yard average, and put a handful down inside the Miami 20 yard line. Playing in the humidity at sea level, Torp showed an ABC audience his effectiveness has little to do with altitude.

The Colorado offensive line was banged up going in. Guard Brian Daniels and tackle Tyler Polumbus were replaced in the lineup, because of injury, and Edwin Harrison and Gary Moore both made their first career starts. Polumbus would see some action in the game. The line played better than expected under the circumstances. While Klatt was pressured, he only took one sack. The CU running game generated 103 yards. It's the first time in three games a Miami opponent has topped 100 yards on the ground.

Sophomore tailback Byron Ellis had, by far, his best showing to date. Ellis ran strong between the tackles and showed some flashes of being able to cut back and make positive yardage.

The Bad: Joel Klatt showed courage by playing through an early toe injury, but his two interceptions were unforced errors, and proved huge in the game's outcome.

Some of the offensive playcalling was very suspect. On a fourth and short in the first quarter, long before Miami had taken over the game's momentum, Shawn Watson called for a Hugh Charles sweep, playing right into the strength of the speedy Miami defense. It didn't work. In the second half, the Buffalo offense fell into a troublesome habit of completing underneath passes well short of the first-down marker on third downs.

While it wasn't unexpected, the game once again showed the CU offense is not an offense that can physically dominate a good opponent.

The Ugly: Head coach Gary Barnett often talks about the importance of experienced players when it comes to a team's success. This is Barnett's most experienced team in several seasons. There are 15 seniors in the two-deep. Yet the Buffs were flagged 17 times vs. Miami, really an astounding number of mental miscues for a team dominated by upperclassmen.

To a man, the CU players talked about the importance of mental focus going into the Miami game. On his postgame radio interview, Barnett had no answer for the mental letdown.

The Outlook — short-term: The Buffs talked the previous week about how this Miami game would give them an idea of who they are and where they are. At this point, the team looks like it's united, a spirit they'll need as they play three tough games in the next three weeks — at Oklahoma State, vs. Texas A&M and at Texas.

Once again, it's easy to feel positive about the defense after the Miami game. Once again, it's easy to have concern about the offense when it faces above average defenses. How well CU fares in the next three weeks against its South opponents will go a long way toward determining how well it finishes in the North.

The Outlook — longterm: The Miami game also put the spotlight on what seems like a contradiction coming from Dal Ward. On Signing Day last February, Barnett said the 2005 class was a step toward closing the gap between the Buffs and the most talented teams in the Big 12, Oklahoma and Texas. Yet in recent months, Barnett has sung a different tune, talking publicly about how coaching is more important in the college game than talent.

My guess is that Barnett has been talking up the importance of coaching because he's trying to take pressure off his players and put it more on himself and his staff.

One troubling aspect

When it comes to quarterback play, I firmly believe that Klatt is currently the best quarterback CU has. That's after watching all but a handful of CU's spring and August camp practices. Not the most physically gifted, but, by far, the most advanced in terms of running CU's offense the way Watson wants it run. Watson was quoted this week as saying Klatt is the best quarterback he's ever coached in running his offense.

If that is indeed true, some of the implications are troubling. Mainly — this offensive system does not allow itself to be effective enough to compete with top 15 teams year in and year out.

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