In 27 career games, Colorado wide receiver Nelson Spruce has caught passes from four different quarterbacks. That in itself should speak to the inconsistency of the Buffaloes offense since the start of the 2012 season.
But now it finally appears that the Buffs -- and Spruce -- have found their guy in Sefo Liufau. And the results have been electric.
“To finally have some stability at that position is really comforting to an offense,” Spruce said. “It was hard at first because [Liufau] was thrown into the mix and we didn’t really have time to get that chemistry. But now we’ve had an entire offseason and some games to build that chemistry as an entire offense.”
Through four games, Spruce leads the nation with seven touchdown receptions and is third nationally in receiving yards (518) and receptions (24). Dating back to last season, he has a receiving touchdown in six straight games -- the longest streak in the country.
“We have a good bond,” Liufau said of his favorite target. “He’s a safety blanket and he’s a really big-time receiver so you need to get him the ball. You don’t want to take credit away from anyone else, but Spruce is a special player.”
As the Buffs travel to California this week for their second conference game, Spruce looks to continue his streak of games with a receiving touchdown, a school record that he set last week with a 13-catch performance against Hawaii.
“Obviously he’s one of the top receivers in the country. His numbers don’t lie,” said Cal Coach Sonny Dykes, whose team will try to find a way to slow down Spruce. “They do a good job finding creative ways to get him the football. We’ll do some things to get some help on him because he’s good enough where you have to do that. But there will be times in the game when our corners will have to make some plays.”
And it’s there, in one-on-one coverage, that Spruce has been so dangerous.
“The thing I like about him is he really competes hard for the football when it’s in the air,” Dykes said. “That’s the sign of a really good wide receiver.”
The Buffs were left with an offensive hole when receiver Paul Richardson declared for the NFL draft following an outstanding 2013 season. Spruce had been a nice complementary player to Richardson, but made nowhere near the contributions he’s making now.
“I think I was in position to be next in line,” Spruce said. “I’m one of the older guys in a pretty young receiving corps and I’ve got two seasons under my belt.
“I don’t think numbers wise this is what I was expecting. But at the same time, I worked really hard this offseason to put myself in this position and take advantage of any opportunities I’d have. Did I expect it? No. But at the same time I’m not really surprised.”
His coach isn’t surprised, either. For the eight months, Mike MacIntyre has been telling anybody who will listen that Spruce was poised for a breakout season after totaling 99 catches and seven touchdowns in his first two years.
“I’ve always felt he was good, and I was saying it all fall and at media days I think he’s a first-team Pac-12 receiver,” MacIntyre said. “I think where Nelson has gotten better is we’re moving him around more places so he has more opportunities to catch the ball. He’s gotten better at his route running, though I thought it was pretty good before. His speed has gotten a little bit better. He’s been able to pull away from guys and make some of those catches. He’s always had really strong hands and catches the ball when people are on him.”
Spruce certainly appears to be on that all-conference track. Heading into this week he leads the Pac-12 in almost every major receiving category.
“The numbers really aren’t something I worry about,” Spruce said. “It’s nice to be mentioned with some of the great receivers who have come through here. But we just want to win football games. We talk about getting to a bowl game. I think getting to a .500 year and a bowl game would be huge for us.”