Brendon Lewis is not even close to the entire problem with the Colorado Buffaloes’ offense.
This has been a systemic failure from the top down, and it all was on display at Folsom Field on Saturday as the Buffs staggered through another lopsided defeat, this time falling 37-14 to a USC team that limped into Boulder before extending its all-time mark to 15-0 against CU.
Like last week’s loss at Arizona State, the glimmers of hope were too few and far between for the Buffs to make themselves a serious threat to the Trojans. Sure, there were bright spots. Maybe more than we witnessed over the past three games. Because of that, there will be a temptation for head coach Karl Dorrell and his staff to point at those slight successes as the signs of progress the Buffs have desperately sought heading into the bye week.
That would be a huge mistake.
Clinging to matters like Lewis’ career-best 162 passing yards would be like slapping a glitzy coat of paint on a house with a crumbling foundation. It looks more appealing, but the entire operation still is falling apart. And if Dorrell and the Buffs don’t use the bye week to address the offensive malaise, either by relieving offensive coordinator/receivers coach Darrin Chiaverini of his play-calling duties or relieving him of his job altogether, CU will just be running out the clock on the 2021 season.
Before Buffs fans flood my inbox for the sin of even a slight defense of Lewis, let me reiterate that he clearly is a young quarterback who at this point is in over his head. He doesn’t see the field well, holds the ball too long, and has a limited comfort zone within the sort of offensive schemes that might possibly spell success for him.
Yet to blame all the Buffs’ offensive shortcomings on the quarterback overlooks a porous offensive line and an offensive approach that often seems at odds with itself. That leads back to Dorrell and Chiaverini, and all those shortcomings were on display early before the Trojans pulled away.
On the Buffs’ opening drive, Lewis misfired on a swing pass to Jarek Broussard that may not have gone anywhere anyway. Two plays later Lewis was sacked on third down after a missed block against what, for the most part, was a standard four-man rush by the Trojans throughout the game.
On the next series fans likely were up in arms when Lewis held on to the ball and suffered a second-down sack that led to a three-and-out. What they may not have seen was the Buffs’ primary two receivers taking themselves out of the play by colliding into each other over the middle of the field.
On CU’s next possession there was a glimmer of what Lewis actually can do well at this early stage of his development, as a play-action pass led to a nice 18-yard reception by Daniel Arias on a comeback route. The momentum was short-lived. A holding penalty on right tackle Frank Fillip led to another second-down sack of Lewis in which the quarterback was under fire before his receivers could even break into their routes. Even when the Buffs did execute well, it often was in spite of themselves; Dmitri Stanley hauled in a short reception in the third quarter when the Buffs had two receivers at the exact same spot on the field.
If the offensive line could pass block as well as Dorrell can plow through on-field cameras after a loss, as he did by shoving aside a CBS4 camera while jogging off the field on Saturday, the Buffs would be in better shape. Instead, they go into a bye apparently still seeking answers in places where they have found none so far.
For the second week in a row, Dorrell inexplicably gave zero snaps to true freshman backup quarterback Drew Carter. Afterward Dorrell explained, “If (Lewis) doesn’t start to play well and we pull him, what’s that going to do to his confidence?” It’s a fair point, but ignores what being under constant fire, and hearing the boos from your home crowd, can do to a young quarterback’s psyche.
And regardless, Carter is just one more ill-timed missed block away from having to replace Lewis anyway. I don’t care if Carter has mastered all of three plays in the playbook. At some point, he has to be told to go in and run the heck out of those three plays. After USC took its final 37-14 lead, CU had two more meaningless fourth-quarter possessions that added window dressing to Lewis’ final stats, but instead could have been better served letting Carter get his feet wet. Two of the first three plays on both of those drives were handoffs up the middle. The guess here is Carter could’ve handled those handoffs just fine. And if not, the Buffs are in even bigger trouble than we thought.
Midseason changes aren’t a path any coach wants to embark upon, but it’s not as bad as doing the same things over and over and over and expecting different results. The bye week offers Dorrell and the Buffs a chance to regroup before a very winnable game against Arizona.
Give Carter reps. Change play-callers. Shake up the staff. Do something, anything, to spark the futile status quo. If not, the Buffs are just waving the white flag on 2021.