BOULDER — After two games and two losses by an average of 28 points, Colorado Buffaloes coach Karl Dorrell didn’t mince words.
In his postgame press conference following Saturday’s 41-10 loss at Air Force, Dorrell said, “We have a tremendous amount of work to do … the coaches and myself, we all take responsibility for it.”
Saturday’s defeat at Falcon Stadium bore some similarity to Colorado’s season-opening 38-13 loss to TCU. Despite some early mistakes, the Buffs were in the game in the third quarter — and then they weren’t. CU failed to take advantage when opportunity knocked, and the Falcons were more than happy to slam the door.
Our takeaways from Week 2:
1. Inability to convert crucial short-yardage situations. Despite two early turnovers that put the Buffs in a 20-0 hole, Colorado had a chance to close the gap to 20-17 early in the third quarter and make it anyone’s ballgame.
But a first-and-goal at the Air Force 2-yard line produced a fumble on second down, an AFA recovery and an empty trip to the red zone. Colorado then failed to convert a fourth-and-2 in Air Force territory on its next possession — with the score still 20-10 — and later in the game came up short on fourth-and-3 when quarterback J.T. Shrout slid too early with the first down marker well within his reach.
Saturday was not a one-time aberration. The Buffs were 0-for-3 on fourth-down tries the previous week, including a try deep in TCU territory early in the game that would have given CU some terrific early momentum.
Granted, had the Buffs been able to convert at the goal line Saturday, there’s no guarantee the game would have turned out differently. But it no doubt would have been at least interesting to see how Colorado would have responded had the Buffs been able to narrow the deficit to three and apply a little more pressure to the Falcons.
2. Still no answer at quarterback. The Buffs went with Shrout the entire game Saturday, ending a streak of 13 consecutive starts for Brendon Lewis.
But the change didn’t inject much life into the CU offense. The Buffs had just one drive that went for longer than 26 yards, a 71-yard touchdown march in the second quarter when Colorado’s running game suddenly found life. After that, however, the Buffs never really established anything resembling a rhythm again.
By no means was the limited production all on the shoulders of Shrout. CU didn’t handle the wet conditions particularly well. Colorado receivers had their hands on a half-dozen passes that fell incomplete — with one tip leading to an interception. It also appeared that Shrout, who hadn’t had any extended playing time in roughly two years, is also still finding his touch in the short game.
“We’re going to have to find someone that can give us a spark,” Dorrell said. “We have to continue to develop that position. Maybe we need to look at some of these younger guys, too.”
(Historical side note here that means nothing more than the guy writing this is old: Thirty years ago — Sept. 19, 1992 — the Buffs traveled to Minnesota and trailed 17-0 early in the third quarter. QB Kordell Stewart did not play because of an injury and backup Duke Tobin was struggling. CU completed just two passes in the first half and had minus-8 yards rushing. Buffs coach Bill McCartney then yanked the redshirt off true freshman Koy Detmer. The Texas prep product came in and rallied Colorado to a 21-20 victory, throwing a 49-yard touchdown pass to Michael Westbrook and a 24-yard TD pass to Charles E. Johnson for the game winner. Detmer finished 11-for-18 for 184 yards and two touchdowns, and was named the Big Eight Offensive Player of the Week. One other note from the game: Colorado’s wide receivers coach that night was Karl Dorrell.)
3. CU’s defense gave the Buffs a chance. Yes, the Falcons scored 41 points and rang up 435 yards rushing. But Colorado also forced three AFA turnovers and with 10:40 left in the third quarter, the Buffs were 2 yards away from making it a 20-17 ballgame.
Colorado’s defense also had a solid first half against TCU, shutting the Horned Frogs offense out for the first two quarters and giving the Buffs a chance to be in that game.
Linebacker Quinn Perry is quickly becoming a force. He finished with 17 tackles against AFA, including one for loss. Fellow LB Josh Chandler-Semedo had 10 stops and it’s likely that safety Trevor Woods would have finished in double digits had he not been ejected early in the third quarter for targeting. He finished with eight tackles, including one for loss, and had a big hit that produced an AFA fumble and led to a Colorado field goal.
Also promising was the play of second-year freshman defensive lineman Tyas Martin. The 6-4, 340-pounder finished with four tackles and gave CU some needed depth in the trenches.
4. Air Force is very experienced and very good. That was a veteran bunch the Buffaloes faced Saturday, with seniors up and down the starting lineup. Nobody is going to be surprised if the Falcons run the table in the Mountain West and put themselves in position for at least a New Year’s Day bowl.
5. The Buffaloes are young. Dorrell bristles at the thought of using this as an excuse, but truth is, the Buffs are wet behind the ears in plenty of places. CU has 90 underclassmen on the roster (60 freshmen and 30 sophomores).
It’s not an alibi for Colorado’s performance thus far. You play the hand you are dealt.
But for two straight weeks, the Buffs have been in the game in the second half, then watched it quickly get out of hand. Young players have to learn how to play through adversity — and right now, the vast majority of CU’s roster is undergoing a very painful learning curve.
6. The schedule doesn’t get any easier. Next weekend, the Buffs travel to Minnesota, who has been receiving Top 25 votes. After that, it’s a home game with UCLA, which is spending its non-conference time tuning up against Bowling Green, Alabama State and South Alabama.
Again, it’s the hand Dorrell’s team has been dealt. You won’t hear any excuses coming from the UCHealth Champions Center.
But the Buffs have to figure out a way to finish some of those critical early drives and take advantage of opportunities when they arise.
“When we had a chance to capitalize, we didn’t follow through,” Dorrell said. “We didn’t finish. We have work to do.”