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Rooney: Opening night Folsom party a welcome sight for CU Buffs

Karl Dorrell with much to correct before facing No. 6 Texas A&M

University of Colorado Boulder mascot Ralphie ...
Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer
University of Colorado Boulder mascot Ralphie VI runs across the field for the first time before a game against University of Northern Colorado on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colo.
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Ralphie VI took center stage and Folsom Field was full of Buffaloes fans once again.

For one night, all was right again in the world of CU Buffs football. After a season that almost didn’t happen, played on a shortened schedule on fields lorded over by empty seats, Buffs fans might have been giddy enough to pack the joint just to watch CU get thumped by Alabama or Clemson.

Instead they got the debut of a new Ralphie, the starting debut of a new quarterback, the first in-front-of–the-fans coaching appearance by Karl Dorrell, and a resounding 35-7 win against Northern Colorado.

Now the real work begins.

It was a festive Friday night at Folsom, and that alone was worth the price of admission after the COVID-19 pandemic trials of the past year and a half. But the schedule gets nastier in a hurry for the Buffs, beginning with the week two showdown against No. 6 Texas A&M in Denver, and CU will need to quickly correct the mistakes made by a quarterback who showed his age and an overall lack of discipline that led to 12 penalties accounting for 118 yards.

That flag-fest surpassed any penalty total the Buffs posted last year, when those sorts of mistakes might have been more understandable for a first-year coach who had to get to know his new team virtually during the start of the pandemic. Twice in the first half CU wide receivers were flagged for false starts. On UNC’s lone touchdown drive, a fourth-down unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and a third-down pass interference call on the Buffs kept the Bears’ drive alive.

Maybe the festive atmosphere, which was the polar opposite of what the Buffs encountered last year, made for more than normal opening-night jitters. CU fans better hope so. Because there might not be another team on the schedule against whom the Buffs can get away with making those sorts of mass miscues.

“They know what’s in front of us; our team knows. The penalties will definitely take you out of the game. That’s what we discussed at halftime,” Dorrell said afterward.

“If we continue down that path, it’s going to hurt us all season long. We’ve got to fix it. We’ve got to play within our system and do things with using better judgment and play with more discipline. Those are the characteristics we’re all about. The thing that’s clouded this whole night was that I’m so disappointed in the penalties.”

As for quarterback Brendon Lewis, it was a solid but certainly not spectacular starting debut, offering perhaps a predictable mix of potential and frustration. At times Lewis looked uncertain in the pocket, either failing to pull the trigger on open targets or using his legs to bail out of a play prematurely. An errant connection to a wide-open Daniel Arias on what would have been a sure touchdown in the second half was the sort of throw Lewis and the Buffs can’t afford to miss against better foes.

Still, personally I’ll take a young quarterback erring on the side of caution than one throwing caution to the wind by forcing passes into coverage. Lewis did none of that. He avoided turnovers and used his athleticism to make positive gains and, on a few occasions, get out of trouble long enough to throw the ball away. His first career touchdown pass, rolling right and ad-libbing out of the pocket before delivering a strike to Montana Lemonious-Craig, offered a tantalizing glimpse of Lewis’ potential.

Lewis only has a game and a half of college playing experience under his belt, the bulk of that against an FCS-level foe. Whether the Buffs clean up their sloppy play in general is a viable question going forward. Lewis improving isn’t.

A win is a win, and a fan based starved to resume the party at Folsom was treated to a memorable Friday night. Yet Dorrell and his staff have much to clean up if the Buffs want that party to continue.