Rooney: Brendon Lewis, CU Buffs say enough is enough in thrashing of Arizona

Buffs regroup for momentary respite with shutout win

BOULDER, CO - Oct. 15, 2021:University ...
University of Colorado, Boulder’s Brendon Lewis escapes Arizona’s Gunner Maldonado during the NCAA football game on October 16, 2021. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

It was about halfway through a postgame interview with Jarek Broussard, just outside a loud and giddy Colorado locker room, when something finally went wrong for the Buffaloes.

In mid-sentence, the portable backdrop used for postgame player interviews suddenly collapsed, nearly clipping Broussard from behind. It proved to be a harmless accident. Yet in the first half of a 2021 football season that has been mostly ugly, when a slight mechanical glitch counts as the worst thing that happened on a given Saturday at Folsom Field, you know it was a rare great day for the Buffs.

While the promised subtle changes may not have been anything more than taking on lowly Arizona instead of USC, the Buffs nonetheless vented a month’s worth of frustrations on Saturday, getting consecutive touchdowns on special teams and defense before the CU offense finally displayed a level of efficiency absent all season in a 34-0 beatdown of the Wildcats.

It was a much-needed performance for the Buffs and head coach Karl Dorrell, who might have been staring at the very real possibility of going winless this season against FBS-level foes if they couldn’t dispatch an Arizona team that extended its program-record losing streak to 18 games.

We’ll see exactly how “fixed” the Buffs are when they visit Cal next week. Take nothing away from the Buffs, but they ran into an offense that, as improbable as it sounds, makes CU’s 34 points-in-four games struggles seem quaint by comparison. (Arizona’s first and second down calls on a first-and-goal situation from the one late in the first half, a quarterback sneak and toss sweep, were as boggling as anything we’ve seen from the CU catalog this season. That sequence, like the Buffs’ failed and-goal situation against Texas A&M, changed the course of the game.)

But a win is a win, and a shutout win at home within the conference no doubt is cause for celebration. Yet if there was an omen that might serve the Buffs well down the stretch, it was letting the training wheels off embattled quarterback Brendon Lewis in the second half.

Dorrell has defended keeping Lewis on the field late in recent lopsided losses by saying he didn’t want to damage the young quarterback’s confidence. On Saturday, in somewhat reverse fashion, that approach might finally have paid dividends.

Once the back-to-back blocked punt and interception return touchdowns gave the Buffs a 20-0 lead, and perhaps inspired by watching the gross futility of Arizona’s offense, Dorrell and offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini at long last saw fit to open things up for Lewis in the pass game. With his finally line giving time, Lewis dropped a couple of absolute dimes for touchdowns, first to Brenden Rice on a 62-yard bomb, and again on a corner route to Dmitri Stanley. Those were the biggest strikes in a second half showing that saw Lewis go 8-for-12 for 149 yards (overall, Lewis finished 12-for-19 with 248 yards).

The true test of Lewis’ progress, of course, will be if he can execute similarly when his contributions are crucial, and not when it serves merely as celebratory icing in a game already decided. That’s not meant as another hit upon Lewis. The young man has absorbed crushing blows on and off the field for the past month, but on Saturday he finally stood tall, delivered strikes, and enjoyed the last laugh.

Like Lewis individually, CU’s progress can only be measured with a consistency of effort. If there are Buffs fans that believe Saturday’s thrashing of the Mildcats will be a springboard to a run at a bowl berth, I suggest taking a deep breath and maybe going outside to rake the leaves in quiet contemplation. That said, the most winnable game on the remaining schedule probably is next week’s visit to Cal.

Regardless if the Buffs win or lose in Berkeley, if Lewis can build on Saturday’s effort and CU can put points on the board without performing as if first downs are the enemy, then the subtle changes supposedly in action on Saturday will show last week’s bye was a productive work week.

Any reclamation story has to start somewhere. A shutout win is a great launching point.