Colorado had plenty of reasons for optimism following Saturday’s 10-7 loss to then-No. 5 Texas A&M at Empower Field at Mile High in Denver.
Although heavy underdogs coming in, the Buffs were just as physical as the Aggies and served notice that their defense could be fairly nasty this season.
The offense, however, is cause for concern.
“We’ve got to have better performance on the offensive side and I’m sure we’ll continue to grow and mature with that with the new quarterback and everything,” head coach Karl Dorrell said following the loss to the Aggies.
On Saturday, Dorrell’s Buffs (1-1) will face Minnesota (1-1) at Folsom Field (11:30 a.m., TV: Pac-12 Networks) as they try to get the offense, engineered by freshman quarterback Brendon Lewis, going.
A&M, of course, deserves some credit. The Aggies had one of the best defensive teams in the country in 2020 and they return most of those players. Several of them will play on Sundays in the near future.
Nevertheless, the Buffs’ offense was almost nonexistent in the second half, gaining 54 yards on 21 plays.
“I just think they were beating us, one guy every time,” tight end Brady Russell said. “I don’t know who was losing; probably me sometimes. We couldn’t come and have 11 people working on the same page all the time. I don’t think there’s any one thing you can blame it on.”
As is typically the case, the Buffs were inches away from changing the narrative a bit on offense and perhaps winning the game.
Early in the third quarter, the Buffs had a nice play call when running back Alex Fontenot gained 10 yards on a third-and-7 pass from Lewis. That play was nullified, however, with a questionable offensive pass interference call on receiver Montana Lemonious-Craig. Instead of a first down, CU had third-and-19 and wound up punting.
On its next possession, CU got aggressive and Lewis threw deep to Daniel Arias, who had the ball in his hands for what would have been about a 40-yard gain to the A&M 40. “I should have caught that,” Arias said after the game. He couldn’t hold on, however, and CU punted three plays later.
Late in the first half, Lewis was stuffed at the line on fourth-and-1 from the A&M 5-yard line. The ball was marked about a foot short and CU turned the ball over on downs.
It’s that sequence at the 5-yard line that might bother CU and its fans the most. The Buffs had an exceptional drive going and faced third-and-1 from just outside the 5, calling a QB sneak with Lewis, who actually gained about two feet. When they called the same play again on fourth down, A&M stacked about 1,200 pounds of linemen at the point of attack. Lewis had no chance.
Dorrell doesn’t second-guess the decision to go for the first down — rather than kick a field goal for a 10-0 lead — and was adamant he would do that again. But, he added, “It may not be the same call (next time).”
He was also quick to point out, “I don’t want to scrutinize that as being a difference in the game. It really wasn’t. There was a number of plays that could have been the difference in the game.”
He’s right, and the Buffs’ offense hasn’t been sharp in either of the first two games.
Although CU did put 35 points and 281 rushing yards on the board in a 35-7 win against Northern Colorado on Sept. 3, it wasn’t a great performance against an overmatched opponent.
Lewis, a freshman who had never started a game before this year, has exceptional talent, but he’s off to a slow start in the passing game. Through two games, he has completed 23-of-40 passes for 191 yards, one touchdown and one interception. CU hasn’t had as few as 191 passing yards in a two-game stretch since late in the 2006 season.
There is more talent on offense now than there was in 2006, but these Buffs haven’t found a rhythm yet.
“I think we just need to execute better,” Lewis said. “We have all the tools and all the weapons and (offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini) calls a good game, so we’ve just got to execute more and get the ball down the field.”
The message from several players after the game was similar: the plan was sound, but the execution was not.
“We’ve got a lot to fix — a lot in every area,” Dorrell said.
“We’re not where we need to be right now. … We’ve got to get better and for us to be the team that we need to be we must get better in a hurry.”
CU’s game at Arizona State on Sept. 25 will kick off at 8:30 p.m. MT. It will be televised nationally on either ESPN2 or ESPNU.
CU opponent glance: Minnesota Golden Gophers
Game time: Saturday, 11 a.m., at Folsom Field in Boulder
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Coach: PJ Fleck, 5th season (27-20; 57-42 career)
Last week: Beat Miami-Ohio, 31-26, at home
Notable: This is Minnesota’s first road game of the season. … During the past two years, the Gophers have been solid on the road, going 6-3. All three losses came by four points or less with two in overtime. … The Gophers lost leading rusher Mohamed Ibrahim to a season-ending injury after an opening night 45-31 loss to Ohio State. His replacement, Treyson Potts, rushed for 178 yards and two touchdowns in the win against Miami-Ohio on Saturday. … Now in his fourth season as the starter, quarterback Tanner Morgan has thrown for 6,345 yards and 49 touchdowns, with only 18 interceptions, in his career. … Minnesota returned 20 starters from last year, 10 on each side of the ball. … Prior to being hired at Minnesota in 2017, Fleck coached Western Michigan from 2013-16. He took the Broncos to a 13-1 record and No. 15 ranking in 2016. … CU is 3-0 all-time against the Gophers. The two teams last played on Sept. 19, 1992, in Boulder, with CU winning 21-20.