BOULDER - It's no secret the Colorado Buffaloes offense has struggled this season; with drops, overthrown passes and interceptions marring what should have been an explosive year for the receiving corps. The return of seniors Devin Ross, Shay Fields and Bryce Bobo raised expectations to an all-time high for the infamous 'Black Out Boyz,' but game after game, the passing offense has fallen short.
Ross, a dynamic slot receiver who had a breakout season in 2016, is in his final year at CU. He has NFL aspirations that could become a reality in April, but a lack of production offensively is hindering the next-level potential for all of the Buffs wideouts. The frustration in the air in Boulder is palpable.
For Ross, it comes down to every person on the offense giving 100 percent to their assignment on every snap. And according to him, that's not what's happening.
"Everybody's not doing their job on every play," Ross said. "Like every play, there's one or two people doing their job wrong and those are the people that can cause us to be gaining five yards or losing two yards. We have to consistently do our jobs on every play, all 11 people, and that's what's key about offense on any team. You have to be able to execute and we haven't done it as well as we did last year so far."
There are a myriad of issues that can cause an offense to stumble, from play-calling to communication to chemistry, and Ross believes the Buffs are struggling in more than one of those areas.
"I feel like it's a little bit of all that, honestly," he said. "I feel like emotions fly in the game and our coaches make different choices and we all make different choices so it's pretty hard at first. Since the beginning of the season, we've been a little flustered and just not acting like ourselves. We just need to get back to normal, get back to what we're used to and I feel like we can do that easily."
In the wake of a breakout season, Ross has been largely quiet in the passing game this year. In 2016, he racked up 765 yards and five touchdowns on 66 targets. This season, he has managed only 327 yards and a single score on 23 catches at the halfway mark.
Against Arizona, Ross had only one target and no receptions, snapping a streak of 20 consecutive games with at least one catch. Part of that can be attributed to the success the Buffs found on the ground in week six, as Phil Lindsay broke free for nearly 300 yards. Ross' snaps were limited as CU used their tight ends as extra blockers to open up the run game.
"I'm not struggling to get open at all," Ross said of his performance against Arizona. "Last week we did a lot of 12 personnel, which is two tight ends and no receivers, like no slot receivers, so myself and Jay weren't in the mix as much. Because Phil had a good advantage against that defense so we just wanted to use him in that game."
After the loss to the Wildcats, the Buffs were visibly disappointed. Ross took to Twitter, posting simply "FEED 2" in all caps. With so much on the line as Ross fights for a shot at the NFL next year, his reaction is certainly understandable.
"I was a little frustrated after the game because it's my senior year and I have to do whatever I can to try to get to the next level, so I just want to produce as much as possible," Ross said. "After having the year I had last year, I want to be able to produce even more this year and I haven't had that opportunity yet so I'm just waiting for that. I'm not really pointing anybody out, it's just a personal thing that I want to get the ball more and I want to be able to feel like I'm helping the team, that's all it is."
Ross is not alone in his frustration with the passing game. All three of the Buffs senior wideouts are below 350 yards and none have scored more than three touchdowns through six games. After a 2016 season in which the Buffs regained the national spotlight and an offseason that touted the 'Black Out Boyz' as one of the best receiving corps in the nation, 2017 has fallen far short of expectations.
"At this point last year all of our receivers were doing really good and our quarterbacks were ballin' out so it's definitely frustrating for us," Ross said. "But that's a part of football, it's part of the game - you get frustrated, you have adversity. It's just how you react and we have to keep reacting every week and coming out to practice every week and going hard and just hope for better results on Saturday."
In an offense with so much talent, targets are not guaranteed. Ross just has to continue to take advantage of every opportunity that comes his way as he fights for a shot at an NFL roster.
"There's no way I can make sure that I get the ball," Ross said. "All I can really do is trust our game plan and if there's plays for me I have to make sure I'm going full speed and make the play when it comes my way. The more plays you make, the more balls you'll get and that's just how the offense works."
Everyone on the offense is looking for a solution. With six games left, most against daunting Pac-12 opponents, the Buffs have to get something going if they want to make another run at a bowl game and prove the 'Rise' is still real in Boulder. For all of their struggles thus far, CU's receivers still have a full half of a season to right the ship, and all of the motivation in the world to get things clicking.
"I feel like every week we are progressing and getting better," Ross said confidently. "We did pretty good last week and I think this week we can finally break out and have a full game as an offense and a defense."