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BOULDER, CO – October 15, 2020: Receiver Maurice Bell hauls in a pass during Colorado football practice. (Courtesy photo/University of Colorado)

What Sam Noyer is doing through the first two games of the Colorado football season is rather remarkable.

Losing a three-year starting QB and replacing him with a player who has never started is supposed to be difficult.

Add in the fact that the player who won the starting job was playing safety last year – a move by former head coach Mel Tucker that made sense then, but looks foolish now – and this year seemed destined to fail.

Well, the Buffaloes are 2-0 and Noyer looks like a star. He was named Pac-12 offensive player of the week on Monday after his performance in a 35-32 win at Stanford.

He isn’t the only veteran making the most of a new opportunity, though.

In this belated edition of the Rewind, we’ll look at a few players that are finally get an opportunity to play and the impact they are making.

Also this week:

  • Noyer and Rice connect for easy touchdown
  • CU run defense makes difference
  • Buffs of the week
  • My AP Top 25

LEADING OFF: Wait paying off

In a college sports world where freshmen sometimes explode onto the scene and become stars right away, we often tend to dismiss those players who don’t excel early in their career. Every year, though, there are players who, through continued development, finally shine later in their career.

Last year, Akil Jones got an opportunity and played well. Tony Brown got a bigger role than ever as a senior and turned that into an NFL shot.

This season, the Buffs have already had a few players like that. A look at the veterans getting their shot:

WR Maurice Bell, junior: He’s flashed his explosiveness during his time at CU when we’ve seen him in open practices, but he’s always been behind talented veterans. During his first three years at CU, he caught just two passes for six yards. He didn’t catch any passes against Stanford, but had five receptions for 43 yards in the opener. Bell has started both games has played the most snaps among receivers.

University of Colorado athletics
BOULDER, CO – October 24, 2020: Safety Isaiah Lewis during Colorado’s scrimmage at Folsom Field. (Courtesy photo/University of Colorado)

S Isaiah Lewis, junior: Prior to this year, I never saw him becoming a main contributor. This is his fourth season at CU and he had played 29 total snaps on defense before this year. Two games in, I’m more than happy to say I was wrong. Lewis, who didn’t even start the opener, has been CU’s best defensive back, and I don’t think it’s really been close. He’s registered seven tackles and five pass breakups and played better than those numbers suggest. Yeah, he could have had an interception or two, but he’s been around the ball and making impact plays two weeks in a row.

OL Chance Lytle, senior: I predicted Lytle would be a starter this year – but I also predicted it would be Tyler, not Chance. Like Lewis, he’s in his fourth season at CU and he had played a grand total of 26 offensive snaps before this year. He didn’t play the opener, but injuries opened the door for him last week. He got his first start and played well at left guard. Not sure if he’ll remain a starter if everyone is healthy, but he at least proved he can step in if needed.

QB Sam Noyer, senior: We all know his story by now. After spending three years as a backup quarterback, he was moved to safety last year by head coach Mel Tucker. Convinced to return to the team this year, Noyer competed for and won the starting quarterback job. Through two games he’s thrown for 512 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 100 yards and three touchdowns.

The fact that Bell, Lewis, Lytle and Noyer are playing – and playing well – this late in their careers is a credit to them, but also to head coach Karl Dorrell and his staff for getting them ready.

“I think it’s both, I really do,” Dorrell said. “I think our coaches are doing a great job of developing our players and I think that’s the biggest part of our success and continued success as we build our program is continue to develop our depth. We try to live with the next man up scenario. We understand that this game is a physical game. You’re going to lose players and you want guys ready to play, so development is critical.”

Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group
STANFORD, CA – NOVEMBER 14: Colorado quarterback Sam Noyer (4) throws a touchdown pass to Brenden Rice in the third quarter against Stanford, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, in Stanford, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

STRONG READ: Noyer finds Rice

Freshman receiver Brenden Rice said he wishes his first touchdown as a college player would have been more of a challenge. He’ll take it, though.

“That was a good first touchdown,” he said, adding that he’s never been so wide open for a pass.

Rice’s 34-yard touchdown pass from Noyer in the third quarter of Saturday’s win at Stanford was pretty easy, but only because of the pre-snap communication between the two (and a breakdown by the Stanford defense).

Leading 21-9, CU had second-and-5 at the Stanford 34 with about nine minutes to play in the quarter. Rice lined up wide to the left and there was no safety over the top of him. The Stanford safety to that side had moved up to within 4 yards of the line of scrimmage.

Noyer gave a long look in Rice’s direction before the snap.

“I see the corner peeking (inside),” Rice said. “I’m looking at Sam, like, ‘Sam, check, check, check, check, cat, cat!’ Signaling the corner’s about to come in for the blitz and I was gonna be wide open down the field and saw no safety over the top. I knew nobody could roll over on top of me; it should be a hot ball.”

Dorrell said Noyer “actually pointed at it, too, and gave (Rice) a nod, like, ‘I see he’s coming.’”

STANFORD, CA – NOVEMBER 14: Colorado’s Brenden Rice celebrates his third quarter touchdown aginst Stanford, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, in Stanford, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

Sure enough, the cornerback blitzed, but then Stanford make a mistake. The safety didn’t roll over to Rice. Instead, he covered tight end Matt Lynch – who was already covered by the linebacker. That left two defenders on Lynch and nobody on Rice, who had nobody within eight yards of him when he caught the ball at the 14 and waltzed into the end zone.

“Sam saw it wasn’t capped over there, so when they brought the blitz, I mean, it was an easy throw and catch,” offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini said.

Stanford did blow the coverage, but Chiaverini and Dorrell were both pleased to see Rice and Noyer recognize what was coming.

“It was a great read for both Sam and Brenden to be on the same page,” Dorrell said. “It was a well-executed play.”

Even if the safety did take Rice, the young receiver had a burst off the line of scrimmage that might have left him open anyway.

“As soon as he gets it, throw it. Touchdown. Easy,” Rice said.

It was just the third catch of career, but might wind up being the easiest one he’ll have at CU.

GAME CHANGER: Buffs stuff Jones

During a season-opening loss to Oregon, Stanford running back Austin Jones rushed for 100 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. His day included four runs of at least 10 yards and seven runs over five yards. Four times he was tackled for no gain, but never behind the line of scrimmage.

STANFORD, CA – NOVEMBER 14: A pass intended for Stanford’s Austin Jones (20) is broken up by Colorado’s Joshua Gustav (33), in the fourth quarter, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, at Stanford Stadium in Stanford, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

Against CU, Jones found no room to run. He did score a late 2-yard touchdown, but finished with 9 yards on nine carries. His longest run was 5 yards and three times he was tackled for a loss.

Nate Landman, Carson Wells, Janaz Jordan and others all made nice plays against Jones, but the bottom line was this: when Stanford wanted to run the ball, it couldn’t. CU’s front seven absolutely dominated the Cardinal.

“We really controlled the line of scrimmage from a run game perspective,” Dorrell said.

Stanford quarterback Davis Mills rushed for 36 yards, doing most of that work on three scrambles that picked up 12, 15 and 9 yards. The Stanford running back trio of Jones, Nathaniel Peat and Justus Woods, however, finished with only 34 yards on 15 attempts. A week earlier, that trio had 197 yards on 29 attempts.

BEST OF THE BUFFS: This week’s top CU players

Some of the players that stood out to me in CU’s 35-32 win at Stanford:

  • STANFORD, CALIFORNIA – NOVEMBER 14: La’Vontae Shenault #5 of the Colorado Buffaloes catches a pass over Kendall Williamson #21 of the Stanford Cardinal during the second quarter of their NCAA football game at Stanford Stadium on November 14, 2020 in Stanford, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

    1. QB Sam Noyer: Named Pac-12 offensive player of the week after throwing for 255 yards and two touchdowns and running for 36 yards and two scores.

  • 2. OLB Carson Wells: A beast throughout, Wells finished with five games, one sack, two tackles for loss and three pass breakups
  • 3. WR Dimitri Stanley: Best game of his career, as he caught six passes for 126 yards and a 55-yard touchdown that got the scoring going for the Buffs.
  • 4. DB Isaiah Lewis: Got his first career start and played every snap on defense. Lewis has been impressive this season and against the Cardinal he had four tackles, two pass breakups and a quarterback hurry.
  • 5. RB Jarek Broussard: Another big game for the sophomore, as he ran for 121 yards on 27 carries. He did much of his work late in the game to help the Buffs hold on for the win.
  • 6. LB Nate Landman: Yet another great performance for Landman, especially against the run. He had 17 tackles, one for loss and added a fumble recovery on the last play of the game.
  • 7. DL Terrance Lang: He recorded two tackles, but both were behind the line of scrimmage. He also put pressure on the quarterback throughout the day.
  • 8. RT Frank Fillip: CU highest-rated lineman on Pro Football Focus last week. Fillip is off to a great start to the season.
  • 9. WR LaVontae Shenault: In his first significant action of his career, Shenault caught three passes for 60 yards and also had a good game as a blocker.
  • 10. CB Mekhi Blackmon: Played every snap on defense and was solid in coverage. He gave up only two receptions, while recording four tackles, two breakups and a pair of third-down stops.

STAT OF THE WEEK: 25-2

That’s the play distribution for the Buffs in the fourth quarter this season: 25 runs, 2 passes.  CU has taken double-digit leads into the fourth quarter in both games and relied on the run game to finish things off. Noyer went 1-for-2 for 38 yards early in the fourth quarter vs. UCLA. Since then, their last 20 fourth quarter plays have been runs (including three kneel downs vs. UCLA). Broussard has carried the ball on 15 of those plays, for 60 yards.

MY TOP 25 BALLOT

Here’s the ballot I submitted to the Associated Press for this week’s Top 25:

1. Alabama

2. Ohio State

3. Notre Dame

4. Clemson

5. Cincinnati

6. BYU

7. Texas A&M

8. Florida

9. Miami

10. Indiana

11. Oregon

12. Wisconsin

13. Oklahoma State

14. Oklahoma

15. Georgia

16. Marshall

17. Auburn

18. Coastal Carolina

19. Liberty

20. Texas

21. Louisiana

22. Northwestern

23. Iowa State

24. Tulsa

25. San Jose State

STANFORD, CALIFORNIA – NOVEMBER 14: Head coaches Karl Dorrell of the Colorado Buffaloes and David Shaw of the Stanford Cardinal greet each other at mid field during warm ups prior to the start of their NCAA football game at Stanford Stadium on November 14, 2020 in Stanford, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

QUOTES OF THE WEEK

Head coach Karl Dorrell on a late-game pass interference call (he didn’t specify who it was against, but Mekhi Blackmon was flagged in the end zone with about 3 minutes left: “I disagree with the pass interference call late in the game on that last drive that they made. I felt that the receiver was pulling on my corner as much as anything and they called pass interference against us, which I quickly don’t understand.” (Dorrell told Mark Johnson on his radio show Thursday that he submitted a couple pass interference calls to the Pac-12 and that he was told the wrong calls were made.)

Dorrell when asked if the Buffs took their foot off the gas in the fourth quarter when leading 35-16: “I wouldn’t say we were taking our foot off the gas. I wanted to eat some clock and we had a pretty comfortable lead. I hate using that word, ‘comfortable,’ but we had a good lead at a certain point in the game where you needed to try to get (Stanford’s David Shaw) to burn his time outs, which eventually that’s what happened.  When you have a lead like what we had, which is two or three scores and it’s about 11, 10 minutes left in the quarter,  you want the other side to start burning their timeouts, just because  those are the saving factors for them when time gets low. We were fortunate enough to get them burned out. They still created some drives and scored and had a couple two point conversions, but at least we had one more chance with the ball with them having no timeouts. We didn’t get a first down (on the last drive), which would have iced the game. We wanted to run the ball three times so we could keep the clock moving. You saw that we did have a timeout for ourselves to call on that fourth down so I could try to take as much time off of the clock and try to pin them deep.”

Dorrell when asked if the Buffs are worthy of the Top 25: “I’m really trying to get better as a team. My focus is on this team. I’m gonna let all the voters and all that stuff … that’s their job. My job is to continue to try to produce winning games, week after week.”

QB Sam Noyer on working with offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini: “Coach Chiaverini has done a great job. He’s a motivator. He’s a very strong motivator and he does a great job of preparing us throughout the week, and going into the game and so does coach (Danny) Langsdorf. Coach Langsdorf does a really good job with the quarterback room and the offense overall. Both those guys together do a really great job.”

OLB Carson Wells on playing in an empty Stanford Stadium: “You just gotta bring your own energy. That comes with a mindset. We knew that coming in from last week. We had 500 people last week (for the home opener at Folsom Field), that’s not much more. It didn’t make a difference. We just know we had to bring our own energy and come out and start fast.”

THIS WEEK: Sitting out

With Saturday’s game against Arizona State being canceled, the Buffs likely won’t be playing this week. Going into Friday, the only chance of getting a game is if another Pac-12 is canceled, and it appears that all the others are on track to play.