BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — The new puppies named Shy and Sky keep Colorado receiver K.D. Nixon's spirits high.
Lately, the going has been rough.
Off to a 5-0 start and ranked in the polls, the Buffaloes (5-3, 2-3 Pac-12) have suddenly hit a three-game skid that includes blowing a 28-point lead against Oregon State last weekend. The team called a players-only meeting this week to try and salvage their season.
"There were a lot of great things said in that meeting," said quarterback Steven Montez, whose team travels to Arizona (4-5, 3-3) on Friday. "There were a lot of good things said from older guys all the way to younger guys. Younger guys stepped up and said what they thought was going on, how we can fix it and how we can get back on track."
Everything appeared to be trending well for the Buffaloes last Saturday on homecoming. Up 31-3 in the third quarter, the Buffaloes couldn't stop the Beavers from staging a 41-34 overtime win. The loss dropped the Buffaloes farther behind No. 16 Utah (6-2, 4-2, No. 15 CFP) in the Pac-12 South race and prevented them from becoming bowl eligible for the second time under coach Mike MacIntyre.
It's been a disastrous three-week stretch for the Buffaloes after starting 5-0 for the first time since 1998. They've been without Laviska Shenault Jr., one of the top receivers in the country, for the last two games because of a toe injury.
"We've got to have guys step up," MacIntyre said. "This is a tight group of guys. I think that will definitely make a difference. ... (When) hard adversity strikes, brothers stick closer than friends. Hopefully they have a close enough brotherhood they'll stick together and that'll make a big difference."
The task at hand doesn't get any easier this Friday when they face Khalil Tate and the Wildcats. Watching last season's 45-42 loss in Boulder has been a horror film for the Buffaloes. Tate rushed for 327 yards, which was a new FBS rushing record by a quarterback, surpassing the mark of 321 set by Jordan Lynch of Northern Illinois in 2013.
"We all vividly remember him running wild against us, there's no doubt about it," MacIntyre said. "When I turned on the tape and saw No. 14 (Tate), I definitely had nightmares. He's a great athlete."
Memories of Tate hardly being touched, losing a big lead to Oregon State, falling at Southern California and Washington — it's all motivation for Colorado.
"There has been a new attitude," linebacker Nate Landman said. "What happened last week was tough, but we are willing to forget that and move on. This week we are going to have a great game."
That refocused outlook was a byproduct of the meeting held by the players. Landman said it brought them closer together and reminded the team what it was going to take to still accomplish one of their primary goals — winning the Pac-12 title.
MacIntyre certainly appreciated his team orchestrating such a get-together.
"Making sure they weren't pointing fingers is basically what they told me the meeting was all about," MacIntyre said. "I've been on teams that have had player meetings before. I've had teams that haven't had them. I've had teams have them in the spring. I've had teams have them in the winter. I've had teams have them during the season. I think it's good that they got together and talked a little bit about what they want to do."
With Shenault sidelined against the Beavers, Nixon stepped up with 13 catches for 198 yards and two scores. He lamented a couple of passes he couldn't haul in, which is where the two puppies that he and his good friend Shenault brought home played a critical role.
The puppies offered nothing but unwavering support.
"I was sad and disappointed in myself. They made me happy by showing love and jumping up and down," Nixon said. "I'm ready to bounce back."
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