Ralphie Report writer Jack Barsch was kind enough to answer some questions for us to prepare for the Rocky Mountain Showdown.
Sefo Liufau suffered a Lisfranc injury near the end of last season. How has he looked so far in camp and how close to 100% is he?
JB: Sefo Liufau has had a fantastic camp, all things considered. Crisp passes, nice legs, and a great command of the offense so far. It seems as if one of his worst days was on the last public scrimmage, which makes many CU fans nervous, but the Sefo of the last three years is largely the Sefo we are going to get. From all accounts, he is completely 100%, more so than last year. He as dealing with back and shoulder problems last year, but those seemed to have healed nicely and his foot does not seem to worry the team. He should be ready to go. However, like always, you’d like to keep him as clean as possible.
With the return of Josh Tupou and Jeromy Irwin to the lines, how much improvement can we expect to see from them?
JB: I would say both improve, but not necessarily due to the returners. Josh Tupou helps immensely, as he’s a presence that is not easily replicated, but the biggest sign of strength on the defensive line is the depth. CU can rotate about six players and not skip a beat. Tupou is an important cog in a great machine.
On the other side of the line, Jeromy Irwin helps solidify an already experience left side of the line. But the biggest addition this offseason is new OL coach Klayton Adams. Adams brings a fire and a focus on technique that was not previously there. He also hit the reset button on the lineups, so a pretty new O-line should be trotted out on Friday. Irwin is a plus player, so he should perform well, but the largest reason for improvement on the O-line will be the new coach.
Addison Gillam is close to being labeled injury prone if he hasn't already. Is this a make it or break it year for him?
JB: It is completely fair to call Addison Gillam injury-prone. Nearly half of his collegiate career has been nullified due to injury. The nice thing about last year is that the injury happened early, so he can rehab properly and still have an extra year of eligibility if he wants it. I would say that this is a make or break year for him. When healthy, he is a defensive force, and this offseason has been his most impressive in the weight room. The worry with Gillam is the fact that he has not seen very many live hits in practice, so when he plays on Friday, he still may be a bit rusty.
How is the offense expected to flow with 2 Offensive Coordinators?
JB: Well, what’s nice is only one is calling the play. Brian Lindgren remains calling the plays, but Darrin Chiaverini will help design the play package and assist with in-game adjustments. The offense shouldn’t be radically different than last year, but the tempo will be ratcheted up and some spread concepts will make their way into the offense. Lindgren called great plays between the 20s last year, but the red zone offense last year was one of the worst in the country. If CU can get back to average conversion rates in the red zone, the Buffs can probably expect about a 7 point per game jump.
Are there any worries on the team?
JB: There are worries on every team, and yes, that includes the Buffs. While it is a very experienced team, the depth in the secondary is thin at best, and will rely on young players a lot if they need to play snaps. Going back to the other side, the offensive line has a lot of unproven depth and must improve their performance over last year. The running backs still don’t have a proven home-run threat, but that’s a luxury CU hasn’t had for quite some time now. The receivers lost a leading expected contributor in Juwann Winfree, but that unit is so deep that the loss shouldn’t hurt terribly.
Surprise players; offense and defense
JB: For offense, I think Tim Lynott will be one of the best linemen on the team as a redshirt freshman. He’s probably the most naturally talented member on the roster, and he is built like an absolute mauler. Hard to imagine that running backs can go wrong running behind number 56. Bryce Bobo might also surprise with his consistency.
On defense, Ahkello Witherspoon has shown flashes, but he has never put it together. He has had a great fall camp, but he has yet to prove it lining up against another team. Listed as co-starter with Isaiah Oliver, they likely will be on the field quite a bit together, and if he can step up and consistently show the play CU fans know he’s capable of, he should be boon for the D.
JB: CU takes care of business in this one. A win is practically needed for a successful season, the players know it, Coach MacIntyre knows it, now they have to show it. CU is experienced and more talented than they have been in quite some time. The main worry is CSU’s ground game, but if they can’t stop that, it will be a long season regardless.
The Rocky Mountain Showdown is Friday, September 2nd; Game is at Mile High Stadium. Kickoff is set for 6:05pm mountain time on ESPN.