This time there was no Folsom Magic. There was no homecoming miracle, no unlikely storming onto the pitch with fans giddy with that rare thrill of victory.
With the fall days getting darker and nights colder, it was the one that showed the sobering truth just how far the Colorado football team is from competing in the Pac-12 conference. .
Interim head coach Mike Sanford has been working on campus this week, visiting fraternities and telling the media how he hopes to coax the same kind of home magic that helped the Buffs finally earn the first win of the season there. two weeks ago in a jubilant scene at Folsom Field.
Instead, the Buffs suffered a 42-34 loss to Arizona State on Saturday night, a verdict that not only denied CU a second win, but brought the Buffs closer and closer to what looks increasingly to a 1-11 season at Boulder.
The thing about this one was that the Buffs weren’t playing horribly. Certainly not great, but nothing jumped off the pitch as to why the Buffs lost. CU only committed one turnover. The Buffs were charged with only 30 penalty yards. Deion Smith came back from an injury scare to power a decent rushing offense and help CU reach season-record totals in points and yards. Freshman wide receiver Jordyn Tyson continued to show he was a talent to build on if he stayed, logging 115 yards on five receptions and posting the sixth-longest punt return in program history with a score. 88 yards late in the fourth quarter.
Defensively, there were shoddy tackles, and the Buffs allowed a quarterback making his first start, Trenton Bourguet, to go 32 for 43 for 435 yards. But the unit tightened the screws after halftime, allowing just 14 points after giving up 28 in the first half to at least keep the Buffs in the fight.
For a one-win team, there could be signs the Buffs are at least making slight steps forward in a losing season. Still, the hard truth is that the Buffs have been completely outclassed by another ASU team that’s also going nowhere, is unstable at quarterback and works under an interim head coach. The biggest difference between CU and ASU was that the Sun Devils’ unproven junior quarterback completed about 75% of his passes for 435 yards while JT Shrout — the Buffs’ unproven but more experienced junior quarterback — completed about 75% of his passes for 435 yards. in fact saw his season completion percentage drop an under-par 44.8 to 43.1.
Admittedly, Saturday’s loss wasn’t entirely on Shrout’s shoulders, but this gap illustrates the talent gap between the Buffs and their peers, even in the lower regions of the Pac-12 rankings. Everything anyone needs to know about the confidence the CU coaching staff has in the quarterback situation can be seen in the second down and at least 10 play calls. The Buffs had eight such cases on Saturday and called games in progress six times.
That talent gap will look like a canyon when the Oregon No. 8 visits next week. Sanford deserves credit for making football fun again in the Buffs’ locker room – no small feat, considering how CU played in their 0-5 start. Still, Saturday’s result all but ended Sanford’s slim hope of forging a path into serious consideration for the job on a permanent basis.
The win over Cal two weeks ago was a moment, no doubt, but the rest of the season is likely to provide an even more shocking reality check than what was on display against ASU. After the home game against the Ducks, CU played back-to-back weeks on the road at No. 10 USC and Washington before finally ending the miserable season against No. 14 Utah.
If Sanford somehow manages to make one of these games fun, maybe a permanent gig wouldn’t be such a stretch. More likely, however, is that November will continue to illustrate the depths of the rebuilding project that awaits CU’s next football leader.