For the first time since 2019 and for the first time under Ed McCaffrey, Northern Colorado will be playing a home football game this Saturday at Nottingham Field in Greeley.
It’s been a tale of two very different games against two very different opponents for the former standout Broncos wide receiver that’s joined by two of his sons, Dylan (starting quarterback) and Max (offensive coordinator) on his Bears squad.
After a 35-7 loss against CU at Folsom Field in Week 1, UNC rolled to a 45-13 win against Houston Baptist last weekend.
“I’m extremely proud of our guys,” McCaffrey said this week. “They responded well to the loss the week before. We went toe to toe with CU for most of that game and kinda got worn out a little bit. But I was so proud of their effort and we made some plays against a pretty good football team. But you never know as a football coach and as a team how you’re going to respond after a loss in a game you were building for a long time, and man, our guys came out on fire. [They] really came ready to play. I thought our coaches did an excellent job calling the game on both sides of the ball and our players did an even better job of executing.”
It was McCaffrey’s first win as a college coach, as he took over the UNC program in December 2019 after coaching at Valor Christian High School.
But McCaffrey wasn’t focused on any personal accomplishments this week. He’s back to work with his young team full of transfers and players just getting their first college action this season as they prepare for their matchup with Lamar on Saturday at 3 p.m.
Last week’s big win over Houston Baptist allowed McCaffrey and his staff to get a large number of players on the field and learn plenty about the talent they have on the roster.
“During the course of the year, you rely on a lot of different players in all three phases,” McCaffrey said. “It’s great to have the luxury of getting a lead and getting a lot of players incorporated into the game. We had a lot of guys who had never played a college football game before, in this last game. They responded well, they played well. It wasn’t perfect, mistakes were made, but it’s better to get them out of the way now so we’re ready moving forward.”
The standouts from that win over Houston Baptist were running back Gene Sledge Jr., who rushed 84 yards and had two touchdowns, as well as defensive lineman David Hoage, who was named Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week after he recorded three sacks and recovered a fumble.
Saturday’s game against Lamar is the Bears’ last before Big Sky conference games begin on Sept. 25 at home against Northern Arizona. One thing’s for sure, though — don’t expect to see a cookie cutter game plan at any time under McCaffrey.
“My philosophy has been, you don’t need balance in a game, ever,” McCaffrey said. “You can throw every time, you can run every time, you can play the same coverage every time. It really depends on who you’re playing. The important thing is you can be diverse if you need to be. That’s what’s important.”
Starting quarterback Dylan McCaffrey left last week’s game after taking what Ed called an “incredibly illegal hit out of bounds,” but it wasn’t because Dylan asked to be removed from the game. The decision was a precautionary one as UNC had a big enough lead at the time, so McCaffrey felt comfortable enough to bring in backup Conner Martin for the rest of the game after Dylan was already sore coming into the night.
“[Dylan] played more games in that CU game than he did in his entire career at Michigan,” McCaffrey said. “When you haven’t really played a full four quarters in four years, you forget what it feels like. He was really sore [after CU] and then he took an incredibly illegal hit out of bounds, which was a pretty dirty play. He just came up a little sore and he was a little sore going into the game. We had a lead at that point so there was no need to play him [more]. He did not ask to come out. No need to risk Dylan and his health, we need him for later in the year, not for the second half of a game that we have a significant lead in.”