After sputtering on offense for the better part of two games, any observer of Colorado football still retaining any tether to reality probably wasn’t expecting a win Saturday night at Arizona State.
The Buffaloes and their fans were desperate to see progress, or at least some sort of sign of life from the offense, in the Pac-12 Conference opener. And by that rather paltry standard, the trip to Tempe was a success. Yet the 35-13 loss at ASU also revealed a jarring reality for the remainder of the season: the Buffs almost played as well as could be expected, and still watched the opposition brush them away down the stretch like a mild annoyance.
I’ll give the Buffs’ brass credit for this. A much better job was done to put embattled rookie starting quarterback Brendon Lewis in positions to succeed. There were quick throws and the dusting off of the jet sweep, which netted a 26-yard gain by Eaglecrest’s Ty Robinson. Lewis made plays with his legs and the run game experienced a brief but encouraging revival.
Yet the baby steps weren’t nearly enough. I’m not at all criticizing the jet sweep call, as it’s a great way to get athletes in space and give a jolt of confidence to a struggling quarterback. But take that out of Lewis’ final stat line, and the Buffs’ downfield passing attack posted a line of just 6-for-16 for 41 yards.
Think about that. Forty-one yards on passes that traveled beyond the line of scrimmage.
While the Buffs reminded everyone just how far their offense still has to go just to be considered average, they did (also encouragingly) put up a fight on either side of halftime. In fact, the first possession of the third quarter produced CU’s best drive since the start of the Texas A&M game, sprinkling runs by Jarek Broussard and Alex Fontenot around the aforementioned 26-yard play from Robinson. The resulting touchdown pulled CU within 14-10 and was the sort of momentum-grab that can start making any favored host a little nervous.
This time, however, CU’s defense can’t be exonerated from the game-changing turn of events. The momentum captured by that energy-reviving drive lasted all of 3 minutes, 2 seconds of game time. That’s how long it took for ASU to breeze down the field in six plays that covered 71 yards. Get a stop there, and maybe there’s a fighting chance. But after scoring more points the previous two drives than they had over the previous two weeks, the Buffs’ offense was helpless to get anything done through the air.
On CU’s next three drives, despite a pair of first downs picked up on the ground, Lewis attempted to pass six times. He went 1-for-5 for five yards with a sack as ASU pulled away.
This, unfortunately for Buffs Nation, will be the norm. The remainder of 2021 should be considered a developmental year for a roster titled heavily toward freshmen, and not one in which CU can be expected to make any noise in the Pac-12 South.
Nevertheless, there is an opportunity at hand. At this point, not many Pac-12 teams probably feel more downtrodden and beaten than the Buffs, but the once-mighty USC Trojans certainly are one of them. In the past few weeks, the Trojans have been rolled at home by Stanford, fired coach Clay Helton and, on Saturday, suffered their first home loss against upstart Oregon State in 61 years.
The Buffs are 0-14 all-time against USC, which visits Folsom Field on Saturday. Shock the world, and maybe there still is something to fight for in the final half of the season. But if the Buffs struggle just as thoroughly against a Trojans team completely lacking confidence at the moment, then 2021 likely will just keep getting uglier.