In watching Sam Noyer lead the Colorado Buffaloes through the first two weeks of the season, it’s natural to wonder what has clicked for the fifth-year senior and first-year starter.
The most obvious question, however, is this: What was Mel Tucker thinking?
Noyer, named CU’s starting quarterback a week before the season opener, has led the Buffs to a surprising 2-0 start. He was honored as Pac-12 offensive player of the week on Monday and is the highest-rated quarterback in the conference so far this season, according to Pro Football Focus.
Just 15 months ago, Tucker, who was CU’s head coach in 2019, decided Noyer was better suited to play safety – and even then, just barely. Noyer played just 24 snaps on defense.
With new coaches this year, Noyer is leading an offense that leads the Pac-12 in scoring, at 41.5 points per game.
“I always knew that Sam had the skill set to be a top quarterback,” CU offensive coordinator/receivers coach Darrin Chiaverini said.
Tucker and last year’s offensive coordinator, Jay Johnson, apparently didn’t see it, as it didn’t take them long in fall camp to move Noyer to the other side of the ball.
In their defense, CU did have senior Steven Montez, a three-year starter, running the show last year. Montez had ups and downs, but graduated after last season as the program’s all-time leading passer and is now on the practice squad with the NFL’s Washington Football Team.
Before Tucker and Johnson bolted for Michigan State in February, however, Noyer wasn’t in their plans. Noyer entered the NCAA transfer portal, as did freshman Blake Stenstrom. Tucker and Johnson were ready to let junior Tyler Lytle and true freshman Brendon Lewis battle for the job.
Why didn’t Tucker and Johnson bother to give Noyer a shot?
Chiaverini, who has been at CU throughout Noyer’s career, believes the offense he’s directing suits Noyer better than the scheme Johnson ran.
“There’s no question it does,” Chiaverini said. “I make the reads easy, I make the way we operate easy. I try to control the tempo of the game with how I call it. It’s quarterback friendly.”
Noyer struggled with Johnson’s offense, but he wasn’t alone. Despite having two full years of starting experience under his belt, Montez had a career-low passer rating of 130.1 in 2019 and the Buffs averaged just 23.5 points per game – their lowest average since 2012.
“Last year we had a lot of checks (at the line of scrimmage),” Chiaverini said. “I think that’s probably why we had a lot of pre-snap penalties, because of that.”
Quarterbacks had a lot of responsibility in Johnson’s offense, but Chiaverini said he’s made life easier on them – and Noyer has thrived.
“I try to make it easy on their eyes,” Chiaverini said. “We don’t have a ton of checks. We check some things, but we don’t check everything. … I try to stay away from that. I try to play it a little more tempo, a little more rhythm and try to make it easy on the quarterback as far as what he’s actually looking at.
“I always knew that Sam could throw it, I knew Sam could run it, and I knew Sam was a smart kid. I have a good feel for the personnel of this offense just because I’ve been here for five years and I’ve recruited a lot of these players and so that’s a benefit for me.”
After Tucker left, CU hired Karl Dorrell as head coach on Feb. 23. One of Dorrell’s first moves was to promote Chiaverini to offensive coordinator. As OC, one of Chiaverini’s first moves was to get Noyer out of the transfer portal and back to Boulder.
“I told him that I’m not guaranteeing you the spot,” Chiaverini said. “I said, ‘You have to come earn the spot, but you’re gonna have an opportunity to compete to be the starting quarterback at Colorado.’ I told Tyler the same thing. I said this is an open competition and whoever plays the best in camp is going to get the nod.”
Chiaverini and Dorrell have repeatedly said both Noyer and Lytle played well in camp and that competition for the job was tight.
Noyer won the job and has backed it up to this point. He has a 156.2 quarterback rating and has completed 63.6 percent of his passes for 512 yards and three touchdowns, with one interception, while adding 100 yards and three touchdowns as a runner.
Dorrell has just one complaint, as he’s watched Noyer plow into defenders or try to leap over them.
“The karate kick, that jump kick, I’ve got to get that fixed,” Dorrell said.
That’s part of Noyer’s game, though, and Dorrell is pleased with the first two performances overall.
“I love the kid because he is a competitor, and he’s trying to do the right things,” Dorrell said. “He’s minimizing his mistakes from one week to the next.
“I’m really impressed with what he’s done these first two weeks.”