As a competitor, Karl Dorrell can’t stand losing.
Colorado’s head football coach showed some fire after an Alamo Bowl loss to Texas in December. He showed it again two weeks ago when his Buffaloes came within a couple of minutes of knocking off the then-No. 5 Texas A&M Aggies.
“Damn right, I’m optimistic,” he said defiantly after a 10-7 loss to A&M on Sept. 11 that seemed to signal this could be a solid year for the Buffs, who were heavy underdogs that day. “I told you all along, we’re a better team than you think. I told you that. And I still believe that.”
Dorrell wasn’t as defiant on Saturday night in Tempe, Ariz., when he sat down on a platform, grabbed a microphone and answered questions following a 35-13 loss to Arizona State.
“We’ve got to be big men and grow up and try to get some things fixed in a hurry so we can be productive,” he said.
As bad as the loss was, it was actually a step forward for a team that really hasn’t been better than people thought. The Buffs (1-3, 0-1 Pac-12) were widely projected to finish fifth in the Pac-12 South division and they don’t look capable of exceeding expectations.
On Saturday, CU hosts Southern California (2-2, 1-2), which is 14-0 all-time against the Buffs. An Oct. 16 home date with Arizona (0-4, 0-1), which has lost 16 straight, might be the only remaining game in which the Buffs will be favored.
It’s been a dramatic fall for a team that left Tucson, Ariz., on Dec. 5 with a 4-0 record during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
That 4-0 start propelled Dorrell to being named Pac-12 coach of the year, running back Jarek Broussard to earning Pac-12 offensive player of the year honors and quarterback Sam Noyer getting second-team all-conference recognition.
Since that 4-0 start, Dorrell and the Buffs are 1-5. Broussard has just 188 rushing yards in four games this season and hasn’t hit the 100-yard mark since the win in Tucson (in fact, he has 94 yards in the last three games combined). And, Noyer, whom the Buffs could desperately use right now, is riding the bench at Oregon State.
Despite the rough road they’ve traveled so far this season, the Buffs are trying to remain positive as the calendar flips to October this week.
“Losing is always tough, but especially being the competitors that we are,” safety Mark Perry said. “That’s what drives us being competitors. We’re not just gonna lay down. We’re gonna keep fighting. We’re gonna keep scratching and clawing to get out of this. The only people that we can look at is the people in that building, and we’re the ones that have to fix it and we’ve got to deal with it.”
Running back Alex Fontenot, who rushed for 65 yards and a touchdown against ASU, said the Buffs have no choice but the keep working through the disappointment.
“We’ve just got to get back to work next week and on to the next weekend and just don’t dwell on this,” he said. “It’s never hard to stay positive because there’s always a new opponent, new people and stuff (to work on). So it’s really just going into next week with a clear mindset and just going and doing our thing.”
The Buffs at least came away from Tempe feeling a bit better about their offense. After 24 consecutive possessions and eight consecutive quarters without a point, CU scored three times against the Sun Devils and moved the ball better than they had since the opener against Northern Colorado.
Dorrell, while maybe not as defiant as he was after the A&M game, still has a measure of optimism.
“I think we’re pretty close,” he said. “I don’t think we’re that far away. I just told them that in the locker room. We just have to play smarter. We’ve got to make sure we’re locked in on what we need to do. I told those guys we’ve made some mistakes, they’ve got to own up to their mistakes and get better so those things don’t happen again.
“We’re all kind of going through what I call trial by fire right now and we’ll come out of it OK. If we keep our head and our attitude the way it should be we’ll come out of this OK.”