SAN ANTONIO – Even before kickoff on Tuesday night, the Colorado football team was fighting an uphill battle.
For various reasons, including injuries and COVID-19 protocol, the Buffaloes had just 49 scholarship players available for the Valero Alamo Bowl, a 55-23 loss to No. 20 Texas.
Although the Pac-12 set a minimum threshold of 53 scholarship players to play a game, teams have the option to play anyway. CU met the positional requirements of at least one quarterback, seven offensive linemen and four defensive linemen.
Asked if there was a point in which he thought CU might not be able to play, Buffs’ head coach Karl Dorrell said, “I don’t make that decision. That’s the people – the medical people, our doctors, the (athletic director), all that stuff. I just try to do the best I can with what I have.”
CU does not release specifics on players affected by COVID-19, but Dorrell said in the days leading up to the game that the Buffs had been impacted by the virus.
“We did lose some depth in certain areas, but everybody’s dealt with that over the course of the season and it’s kind of one of those things that we continue to battle,” Dorrell said.
During the regular season, CU stayed relatively healthy. The Buffs had three games canceled, but all due to COVID-19 issues with other programs.
While it’s unknown which players were out due to COVID-19 on Tuesday, the Buffs were missing several players who were not previously known to have injuries, including: defensive backs Nigel Bethel, Mark Perry and Jaylen Striker; defensive linemen Terrance Lang and Jalen Sami; linebackers Devin Grant, Marvin Ham II and Mister Williams; offensive linemen Josh Jynes and Valentin Senn; and tight end Alec Pell.
Star backer Chris Miller was out, as well, after tweeting last week he was dealing with COVID-19 symptoms.
In addition, the Buffs were without several injured players: linebacker Nate Landman, tight end Brady Russell, guards Chance Lytle and Kanan Ray and defensive lineman Lloyd Murray Jr.
Receiver La’Vontae Shenault was suspended for the game, while freshmen Ashaad Clayton and Keith Miller III opted out of the bowl game.
Despite being shorthanded, the Buffs had enough players to pass their last round of COVID-19 testing on Tuesday morning so they could play the Longhorns.
After getting tested nearly every day for the past three months, the Buffs won’t have to get tested again until returning in January for the spring semester.
“It’s like the end of the tunnel of all this stuff we’ve been managing and monitoring for day to day purposes,” Dorrell said last week. “As soon as this game’s over, hopefully with a victory, and we can put this year behind us, I’d like to exhale.”
True freshman Brendon Lewis made his long-awaited debut on Tuesday.
The dual-threat quarterback from Melissa, Tex., came into the game at No. 2 on the depth chart after junior Tyler Lytle left the team and entered the transfer portal.
Lewis entered the game with 12 minutes, 9 seconds to play in the second quarter and led the Buffs on a touchdown drive.
After two Lewis possessions, senior Sam Noyer returned to the game, but was replaced by Lewis for good late in the third with the Buffs trailing 34-10. Lewis led two more touchdown drives.
For the game, Lewis completed 6-of-10 passes for 95 yards and ran nine times for 73 yard and a touchdown.
“To be honest, he probably was the bright note of tonight,” Dorrell said.
Although the defense gave up 55 points, outside linebacker Carson Wells turned in another exceptional performance.
Wells finished with six tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. He also took home the Alamo Bowl sportsmanship trophy.
Wells registered at least 2.5 tackles for loss in each of the last five games, racking up 16 in that stretch.
Moment of silence
During the break between the first and second quarters, the Alamodome held a moment of silence for late Utah running back Ty Jordan. Players and coaches on both teams stood on their own sidelines and locked arms during the silence.
A true freshman from Mesquite, Tex., Jordan was killed in an accidental shooting on Saturday in Denton, Tex.
Jordan was the Pac-12 offensive freshman of the year this season, finishing with 597 yards and six touchdowns.
Texas kicker Cameron Dicker nailed a 53-yard field goal in the first half that was the longest in the 28-year history of the Alamo Bowl. … Attendance was 10,822. It was just the second time this season that CU played in front of fans. The Buffs had 554 friends and family at the season opener on Nov. 7 against UCLA. … Texas leads the all-time series with CU, 12-7. … The Buffs also saw their bowl record fall to 12-18 with a fourth consecutive bowl loss. … Senior tight end Matt Lynch made his first career start for CU, while Lewis, receiver Alex Smith and defensive lineman Justin Jackson saw their first action as Buffs. … Freshman receiver Montana Lemonious-Craig caught his first career pass, for 15 yards.