Rooney: No answers in sight for struggling CU Buffs

Offensive woes reaching historical lows

Colorado head coach Karl Dorrell during the game against California on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, in Berkeley, Calif.(Tyler Davis/University of Colorado)
Colorado head coach Karl Dorrell during the game against California on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, in Berkeley, Calif.(Tyler Davis/University of Colorado)
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The question posed to Karl Dorrell was a rather obvious one for anyone who has watched even a quarter of what has been a mostly dreadful 2021 Colorado football season.

What in the world is going on with the offensive line?

“Can’t quite put a finger on that,” Dorrell said after the Buffaloes limped through another woeful offensive performance in a 26-3 loss at Cal. “I’m trying to figure that out. We’re going to have to really look at that and see what’s going on there.”

The look-out-below loss in Berkeley was made doubly troubling by the tone of these postgame remarks by Dorrell. Seven games into a 2021 season sitting at 2-5, with offensive line woes troubling the Buffs the entire season, and the Buffs’ brass apparently is at a loss as to how to fix things.

That’s after finally enjoying a regular set of spring drills, preseason practice, seven game weeks and an extra bye week thrown in for good measure. And working with a unit along the offensive line that, for the most part, has been filled by veteran players. Minnesota burned the Buffs up front with stunts in game three. Cal did the same five weeks later. While the offensive line is just one of a grocery list of problems that ail the Buffs, CU fans have every right to wonder that if Dorrell and his staff haven’t been able to even identify the problems up front, what faith should they have that this coaching staff can fix that, or any, of the team’s issues?

A team that has produced stomach-churning offense all season reached new lows on Saturday. At halftime, Cal owned eight tackles for loss and Buffs quarterback Brendon Lewis had thrown five incompletions in 31 plays. That means a full 41.9 of those first-half plays either went nowhere or backward.

Amazingly, that percentage increased as the game plodded forward. Through CU’s first two possessions of the second half, that percentage was up to 44.7 percent (10 Cal tackles for loss, seven incomplete passes in 38 plays) and ended at 45.7 percent (12 Cal tackles for loss, nine incomplete passes in 46 plays).

Think about that. About 46 percent of the plays the Buffs ran went either nowhere or backward. When you’re done choking that down, think on this one: CU ran all of 15 plays — 15! — in the entire second half. That total includes the let’s-get-the-heck-out of here handoff on the final play. Cal ran 14 plays during a single drive in the first half. The Buffs posted all of 13 yards of total offense in the second half…and 14 of those came on their first play of the third quarter, a 14-yard pass to Brady Russell.

The next 14 plays “netted” minus-1 yard.

In case you were wondering, the last time the Buffs had three games scoring single digits or less in a season was the 1-11 team of 2012. That team at least had the decency to post two of those lowly scores against top-15 teams, with the other occurring against a Washington team that finished 7-6. While these Buffs can say they were held to seven points by No. 5, at the time, Texas A&M, they also were shut out at home by Minnesota (now 5-2, though they returned from Boulder to lose at home against Bowling Green) before managing three points against a Cal team that entered the game 1-5.

The Buffs still have five games left in which to notch their fourth single-digit scoring effort of the season. The bet here is they make it. The last time CU posted four single-digit scoring games in a season? It was 1981, in a 3-8 year that marked the end of Chuck Fairbanks’ coaching reign and began the long, slow, national championship climb under coach Bill McCartney.

McCartney, though, was shrewd enough to change things that weren’t working, even if it took a few years for him to shift to the option attack that would alter CU football history. In a different era, Dorrell won’t be given the same multi-year leeway.

A season and a half into Dorrell’s tenure, the program is trending in the wrong direction. And apparently with no answers in sight.