PULLMAN – The future is now for the Colorado football team, or at least, it’s visible.
The decision to burn freshman Sefo Liufau’s redshirt in the middle of the season will usher the Buffaloes toward 2014 while dedicating this season to getting the young quarterback some experience.
In the first quarter against Arizona State on Saturday the freshman led a 64-yard drive that culminated with a 10-yard touchdown pass. The score only momentarily cooled the Sun Devils, whose 54-13 win was yet another volley fired against CU’s sinking season.
But while the grisly result was practically banal in this predictably bad season for the Buffaloes (2-3, 0-3), the play at quarterback was assuredly not. While Liufau – who attended high school at Tacoma’s Bellarmine Prep – threw a pair of interceptions in his first collegiate game, he also completed 18 of 26 passes, while hinting at the athleticism that has his coach comparing him to the ultimate standard.
“He’s more like – and I’m not saying he’s this guy – but he’s more like an Andrew Luck, who can throw it but he surprises you how well he can run, if that makes sense,” coach Mike MacIntyre said. “I wouldn’t say he’s a dual-threat guy, I wouldn’t say he’s a pocket guy. But he can run, he has that capability and he’s a big kid.”
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Liufau will make the first start of his career this weekend against undefeated Charleston Southern (7-0). While CSU won’t have the talent of ASU, they’ll certainly be able to capitalize on rookie mistakes, even if they aren’t necessarily Liufau’s fault.
“He had a tipped pass [against ASU] that led to the first interception and on the other interception a receiver busted a route … So I think both interceptions really, truly weren’t his fault,” MacIntyre said. “But they still fall on the quarterback.”
If Liufau excels against CSU it will give Colorado fans a glimpse into a potentially brighter future, one that can’t come soon enough.
Easy transition for Phillips
Hitting a crucial field goal with 300-pound behemoths crashing towards him isn’t going to faze Utah’s Andy Phillips. After all, no football player measures up to the mountains he’s conquered. The freshman – who never played organized football before this season – is a former U.S. Alpine Skier. And he was pretty good at it, earning a pair of third-place finishes in the Nor-Am Cup races, and placing fifth in the slalom at the 2007 World Junior Championships.
Still, his best sport may be football. The freshman played like an All-American in the first half of the season, making all 11 of his field goal attempts, and all 27 of his extra points. The mental fortitude and self confidence that enabled him to race down mountains at breakneck speed has translated well to the pressures of making a critical kick in front of thousands of fans. In the Utes’ 27-21 upset over Stanford last weekend, Phillips made field goals of 23 and 48 yards to provide Utah with just enough cushion to hold off the Cardinal.
“It was kind of a novelty early in the season. Great story and made for good copy,” coach Kyle Whittingham said. “But through the first half the season all he’s done is make every kick … just tough as nails. And I think one of the things that really separates him, makes him such a great kicker is his mental toughness. And I think a lot of that is derived from his time on the slopes.”
Competition fuels Mannion
It’s been a banner year for Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion. Not only does the junior lead the Pac-12 in passing yards with more than 2,500, he’s thrown only three interceptions to go with his 25 touchdown passes. Despite those impressive numbers, Mannion was never a lock to be the starter this season.
“The competition was very real. Cody Vaz had played a lot of good football for us, a senior quarterback and another guy that’s a good worker and had a lot of experience in our system,” coach Mike Riley said. “We felt like having those guys get equal turns and holding off our decision was good for both of their preparation for the season. And it was real competition and you hope that both guys will rise.”