Getting back to business: Cal football prepares for reeling Colorado on Senior Day

Karen Chow/Senior Staff

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On Sunday, Nov. 18, Colorado receiver Jay MacIntyre took to social media shortly after the news that his father, Mike, had been relieved of his duties as the Buffaloes’ head coach.

“As I look at this picture I see my coach, who happens to be my dad in the background running down the sidelines with his hands in the air. A coach who cared for his players deeply and changed the whole entire culture of Colorado football…”

The Mike MacIntyre era in Boulder peaked with a 2016 Pac-12 South title and an appearance in the annual Pac-12 championship game. Its downfall, however, came in 2018, when the Buffaloes kicked off the year 5-0 before a six-game losing skid derailed early hopes of another Pac-12 title run.

That’s where Colorado stands today — at 5-6, having fired its head coach while still one game shy of bowl eligibility, heading into its season finale Saturday to face a Cal team fresh off a second bye week after the 121st Big Game was postponed to Dec. 1.

“They had a chance to rest their mind, bodies and come out and get back going again,” head coach Justin Wilcox said of his players. “Our focus shifted Friday afternoon to Colorado, and we’re giving them our attention, and that’s where it belongs.”

But while all signs point toward the nail in the coffin on the Buffaloes’ horrific fall from a No. 19 AP ranking just last month, there’s still life on this Colorado roster. Former Virginia Tech workhorse Travon McMillian is just 49 yards shy of his second career 1,000-yard campaign, having accomplished the same feat in 2015 with the Hokies.

The transfer rattled off 100-plus-yard games on the ground in four of the Buffaloes’ first five contests, all Colorado wins. But in the past three weeks combined, he’s gotten free for just 173 total rushing yards, albeit in games in which passing became the norm once Colorado fell behind big.

The Buffaloes’ offense was virtually nonexistent in blowout losses to Washington State and Utah, with McMillian representing the only two Colorado scores since a Nov. 2 loss on the road at Arizona. In last week’s 30-7 defeat by the Pac-12 South champion Utes, starting quarterback Steven Montez exited with an ankle injury, leaving his status in doubt for Saturday’s game against Cal.

Should Montez be sidelined, sophomore Sam Noyer and redshirt freshman Tyler Lytle are both candidates to take aim at Cal’s seemingly unstoppable defense — both backups received playing time last weekend after Montez’s exit. Regardless of who takes the reins under center, they will have the services of sophomore wideout Laviska Shenault Jr., who has burst onto the scene for 946 receiving yards and six scores in just eight games of action.

The 6’2” Texan ranks third in the Pac-12, trailing only Oregon’s Dillon Mitchell and Arizona State’s N’Keal Harry in receiving yards — no doubt a name circled in red pen on the secondary’s scouting report throughout this week.

“Colorado started the year 5-0, and they have some really good football players,” Wilcox said. “We’ve got a ton of respect for them, and we know what they’re capable of doing.”

While Colorado’s offense seeks to rally around Shenault’s explosiveness, the Cal defense is likely dying to make some live-action plays for the first time in two weeks. The last time the Bears took the field, fans were awestruck by a defensive shutout in the second half of Cal’s 15-14 win over USC, while quarterback Chase Garbers received a vote of confidence by playing the entirety of the contest.

That Saturday evening in Los Angeles saw the Bears record all of their points within an eight-minute span, a testament to the gritty nature of the team’s all-important sixth win. Defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter is a semifinalist for the Broyles Award, annually presented to the nation’s top assistant. Co-captain linebacker Jordan Kunaszyk is a semifinalist for the Lott Trophy, given to college football’s top defensive player. To say this defense is clicking on all cylinders is an understatement.

If Montez is unable to go for the Mike MacIntyre-less Buffaloes, there’s no reason to doubt Cal’s ability to minimize the explosiveness of its opponent’s weapons — and put Colorado’s once-promising season to bed once and for all.

Josh Yuen is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @joshcal2020.