“Good-on-good” has been the phrase of the week in Boulder.
While many football teams use bye weeks as a chance to rest and recover Colorado Buffaloes head coach Mel Tucker has something else in mind.
“We did some scout work, but a lot of it was good-on-good,” Tucker said after Wednesday’s practice. “It was very competitive and the guys were into it. We kept score, so that kind of juiced it up a little bit.”
You don’t hear about teams keeping score in practice very often, and even less-so during what’s traditionally been a down week in Boulder.
Good-on-good is Tucker’s way of saying the starting offense — or something very similar to it — was taking on the starting defense for most of the day. Good players versus good players, rather than starters against scout team players like you see in practices during the season.
This week is essentially another week of fall camp. The Buffs are no longer working on Franklin Field, their home for in-season practices, instead they are working at the complex north of Folsom, where three full football fields are set up. They’re playing full-speed and Tucker has even said there could be game reps on the line if depth guys show up to play.
“That’s something I like about Coach Tucker: the bye week is not just a week to lift your feet up,” sophomore linebacker Jon Van Diest told DNVR. “Everyone’s really just been putting their work in.”
It’s commonplace for NFL players to use their bye week as an excuse to spend a weekend on an island somewhere or take a hunting trip. The Buffs have no such plans.
Freshman running back Jaren Mangham will celebrate his birthday this week, but that’s it. Sophomore running back Alex Fontenot is hoping to sleep more. Senior tackle Arlington Hambright has no plans. Van Diest wants to spend some time with his girlfriend and family, and then catch the Arizona-UCLA game, of course.
“That’s all the plans I need,” Van Diest said.
Through the first four weeks of the season, Colorado’s defense hasn’t quite gelled like it needs to down the stretch. Tucker has said the defense will keep improving throughout the season and the final product won’t be on display for awhile.
Van Diest acknowledges that there’s still work to be done, but there’s one key reason he believes this defense will step up.
“The best part of our defense is that, if we get scored on, we know we’re okay. It’s stuff we can change to get better at and fix it,” he said. “It’s not what the offense is doing. We’re not less talented. We’re not less physical. We can make some adjustments and we’ll be good. What we’ve gotta do is just do our job and we’ll be fine.”
Van Diest has a point. Saying the Buffs defense has been outmatched by its opponents is an oversimplification. Almost every time it’s been beaten for a big gain or a touchdown, the problem has been a defender making a mistake instead of an offensive player simply being too talented to contain.
To make that jump, each individual defender must improve his decision-making. For Van Diest, that means learning more about the game. He uses senior Nate Landman as an example of what he’s trying to become; a cerebral run-stuffer who knows what everybody is supposed to do on his side of the ball and how to read what’s going on on the other side.
“Then it’s not thinking, just playing, reacting,” Van Diest said.
That’s where Van Diest’s mind is at during the bye week. But before he can spend more time developing his body he has to get it fully healthy. Like most of the guys on the roster, Van Diest has a nagging injury or two.
During Saturday night’s game against Arizona State, wide receiver Laviska Shenault and defensive lineman Mustafa Johnson sustained injuries and didn’t return to the field. We still don’t know the full extent of the injuries but head coach Mel Tucker said again on Wednesday that he will try to provide an update on their statuses later this week.
At least five other Buffs left Saturday’s game, although all of them returned before its conclusion.
With the injuries starting to pile up, you’d think Colorado would slow things down for a week to let the kids heal. That’s not Mel Tucker’s M.O. and the guys seem alright with that.
Fontenot left the game briefly on Saturday. Although he returned to the action later on, that bump or bruise probably hadn’t full healed. But Fontenot doesn’t want any time off during the bye week and he’s happy Tucker hasn’t slowed things down.
“I think that’s honestly good for us so we don’t get complacent, lazy,” Fontenot told DNVR.
For a Buffs offense that finally sprung to life this weekend, that makes sense. They’ve built up some momentum and don’t want to let it go. The biggest improvement was the explosiveness it showed early in the game.
“Our first half offense is a lot better,” Fontenot said. “That’s what coach really wanted. That’s what he was harping on.”
Why did it improve?
“I honestly couldn’t say. Stuff is just clicking.”
But even if Fontenot doesn’t want the offense to lose its rhythm, he must be tempted to take a few practice snaps off, right? The battle wounds add up quickly for running backs and there won’t be another break this long until mid-November.
Fontenot doesn’t care. In fact, he was actually disappointed the Buffs didn’t wear full pads on Wednesday.
“Me, personally, I like getting the work,” Fontenot said. “If I’m just in a helmet and nothing else, I feel like I can’t do all the things I want to do.”
That’s the sentiment throughout the locker room.
As tempting as it may be to take a week of rest in the middle of a grind that began in early August, Colorado isn’t succumbing to the pressure. Instead, Colorado is keeping its mind on what it wants to become.
“The goal of a good football team is to get better as the season goes on,” Van Diest said. “That’s what we’ve been doing this week.”
Becoming a better football team starts next Saturday when the Buffs attempt to leverage an extra week of work into a win. While the Arizona Wildcats are still focused on UCLA, Colorado is already watching film of the Cats.
“It’s pretty much like we’re playing Arizona this week,” Van Diest said. “We just have more time.”