Buffs Upbeat Despite 0-2 Start

Inside, notes from Wednesday, including Dan Hawkins' read on team morale, quarterback Bernard Jackson's confidence level, special teams and more.

• Thou Shalt Not Let the Ball Drop on Punts Inside the 10…Not!: Dan Hawkins came to Boulder with a track record of pushing the envelope on special teams. Although the Colorado special teams haven't quite been special through two games, he sees that changing soon.

As he's said after each of the two losses, minor communication miscues have gotten in the way of big plays on special teams. An example: Punt returner Stephone Robinson made a fair catch of a punt vs. CSU that Hawkins said he should've tried to return. The reason Robinson fair caught the ball, it turns out, is because the ball was near the CU sidelines and he heard someone yell out to fair catch from the bench. Apparently, that was part of the strategy in year's past. But no more.

"Obviously, that's something they've done before, but we don't do that," Hawkins said.

One Robinson got right, according to his head coach, was a return that went against the unwritten rule of punt returning. Robinson found himself backed up well inside the 10-yard-line, and rather than let the ball bounce into the end zone — as most are taught to do — Robinson, seeing he had some room, caught the ball and raced up the sideline for a 36-yard return.

"We want him to be aggressive with the thing," Hawkins said. "If he feels like he has a chance to go, then go. We've kind of done away with that whole 10-yard rule. I don't know where that came from anyway. I think that was maybe the 11th Commandment. And everybody stuck with it."

Hawkins thinks the special teams are finding their groove in other areas, as well, including redshirt-freshman punter Matthew DiLallo, who Hawkins said is gaining confidence now that he's the guy.

• Still Smiling: One thing that's striking about being at CU practices this week is that coaches and players are upbeat despite the 0-2 record. Though the coaching by the staff remains intense, it's of a positive nature. That's by design. Hawkins and his staff vow to coach with the same intense, yet positive approach, win or lose.

"That's the secret, brother," Hawkins said Wednesday when asked about it. "You're going to come rolling in here one day and we're 8-0 and ranked 10th in the county and I'm gonna go, ‘Remember when we were 0-2?' It's the same deal."

• More Positives: Hawkins said the team's energy at practice Tuesday and Wednesday "was awesome." And there were signs that some of the communication issues were starting to get straightened out.

"Even just today I see little tiny signs of guys making the signals right, and guys getting the checks right and substituting right," Hawkins said. "You can start seeing that thing coming together. It's gonna happen. Now we've got to go on and hit that field goal without them getting a timeout (as the Buffs failed to do vs. CSU), get the spike done in the amount of time we have left.

"Then the guys are gonna go, ‘OK.' And then that gap closes. It's gonna have to because the teams we've got coming, there's not a lot of room for big gaps."

And Hawkins said they're not simplifying things in order to make things easier. Instead, it's push, push, push up the learning curve.

"You've got to coach to win," he said. "I think it'd be real easy to cower back in a corner and just do minimal stuff and make sure we don't mess it up. But we've got to keep coaching and keep coming."

• B-Jack Emerging? One player Hawkins pointed out that's gaining confidence is quarterback Bernard Jackson. Hawkins said he's seen a difference in the junior this week after he was named the starter prior to Saturday's game.

"I see the team kind of gravitating to that as well," Hawkins said of Jackson's emergence. "We're starting to take on a little bit more of a personality and feeling more cohesive about (the fact) he's the guy. He feels better and I think they feel better."

• Injury Note: Hawkins said sophomore cornerback Gardner McKay (ankle) practiced again Wednesday and should play Saturday, giving the Buffs another pair of legs against Arizona State's potent passing attack.


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