Hunger to win fueling CU Buffs

Despite challenges, Colorado defying odds in 2-0 start to season

STANFORD, CALIFORNIA – NOVEMBER 14: Jaylon Jackson #10 of the Colorado Buffaloes fights off the tackle of Jonathan McGill #32 of the Stanford Cardinal during the third quarter of their NCAA football game at Stanford Stadium on November 14, 2020 in Stanford, California. Colorado won the game 35-32. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

STANFORD, Calif. – Coming to a new team, especially late in the hiring process, Karl Dorrell made sure he listened to what his players needed.

Dorrell was announced as the head coach of the Colorado football team on Feb. 23, hired about two months later than most teams make changes, because of Mel Tucker’s sudden departure to Michigan State.

At that time, the Buffs’ players, many of which had gone 5-7 for three years in a row, told Dorrell they were just tired of losing. They were hungry to win.

“They told me that from the very beginning when I was hired here,” Dorrell said after Saturday’s 35-32 win at Stanford. “I’m kind of riding on that wave of thought process and been building on that thought process and for the last nine months.”

So far, so good, as the Buffs (2-0, 2-0 Pac-12) are off to a surprising start to the COVID-19 pandemic-delayed season.

Given that Dorrell was new to the team, hadn’t been a head coach in 13 years, was hired late and didn’t have a chance to even practice with his team until October, national expectations were low. Throw in the fact that the Buffs had no experience at quarterback and lost their best player from 2019 (Laviska Shenault) to the NFL, and this was sure to be a struggle for CU this year.

To this point, however, the Buffs have rallied around challenges and found a way to win their first two games.

“All I do is live and think about these guys and what we can do to get better as a team and try to continue to build this program in a way that we all have expectations for it to be at some point in time,” Dorrell said.

The Buffs certainly are not at that point yet. Although they are averaging 41.5 points per game, they’re giving up 37 per game. They’ve also turned two potential blowouts into nail biters, winning by a total of nine points despite leads of 35-7 in Week 1 against UCLA and 35-16 on Saturday at Stanford.

“I would have loved to have finished the game like we finished it last week, where we had the ball and we took the knee,” Dorrell said. “But, we had the dramatics all the way to the end, unfortunately. The fortunate thing, we got the W, we get to learn from this and we’ll go onto next week.”

It’s all part of the maturation process for a team that is still fairly young in a lot of spots. But, to this point, they’ve bonded together, regardless of age or experience. The age and experience on the field has even changed during the two games, as the Buffs have dealt with several injuries but kept rolling.

“We just play for each other,” junior outside linebacker Carson Wells said. “That’s all it is. We know it’s a next man up mentality. So everybody prepares like they’re the starter so when the starter does go down, you can step in and there’s no slack.”

In a year that hasn’t been a lot of fun for many people, and a year that’s been extremely challenging for college athletes, the Buffs have decided to roll with it and enjoy the moments they get.

“We’ve got something going here, something great going here,” senior quarterback Sam Noyer said. “We’re building something special with coach Dorrell and this team. Everybody’s buying in.

“Guys are having fun out there playing. It’s good to see that again. I haven’t seen that in a couple years and guys are really enjoying being out there on the sideline. Obviously we want to win, but you see it from the fourth string all the way up to the first string, and that’s a good feeling. That’s something that we’re going to continue to see going forward.”

What the rest of the season looks like going forward is unknown. CU will not be playing Arizona State on Saturday due to a COVID-19 outbreak that caused the Sun Devils to cancel their game this past weekend. The Buffs are working to see if another opponent is possible.

“I’m just so pleased with what they’ve done in such a short period of time,” Dorrell said. “They’ve worked really hard. I know you guys have heard me say that, but we haven’t had a lot of time together, in terms of field time working with each other, and they really maximize every day.

“I just have so much admiration for what they want and what they can achieve. … It’s interesting how in this stadium here, all we had was us. It’s just us, and our players on the sideline were very behind each other or encouraging either side of the ball and looking for guys making plays. It was really just a fun team win where the team was really into it.”