A mid-season coaching change at offensive line has done wonders for the Colorado Buffaloes, but it’s not the only reason for the resurgence on offense.
In the past two weeks, the Buffaloes’ once-inept offense has looked creative, sometimes explosive, and productive.
Credit the improvements and changes by the offensive line. Credit the improvements and renewed confidence of quarterback Brendon Lewis. But also credit head coach Karl Dorrell, offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini and the rest of the staff for shaking up the playbook.
“We’re grabbing for anything and everything,” Dorrell said on Monday as the Buffs (3-6, 2-4 Pac-12) began preparations for a matchup with UCLA (5-4, 3-3) on Saturday in Los Angeles (7 p.m., TV: Pac-12 Network).
The Buffs were desperate after producing just six touchdowns and 57 points on offense during a six-game stretch from Games 2-7 (9.5 per game). In the past two games, they have scored eight touchdowns and 66 points (33 per game).
“We’re trying to have productive offense,” Dorrell said. “What I really orchestrated our offensive staff to do is to really be more critical of our players in their strengths and weaknesses. We don’t want to put our guys in positions to do things or ask them to do things that maybe is not their strong point.”
A few weeks ago, the staff looked at each position group and, Dorrell said, they asked, “What is best for our offensive line, given the type of athletes we have there? What’s best for our tight ends, our running backs? What type of runs are best for our running backs? What’s best, obviously for B-Lew that he’s comfortable with? So there’s a lot of really detailed work about trying to find the best elements of all the positions and meld it together.”
It’s also important to find the strengths and weaknesses of the coaching staff, and the game plans the past two weeks have looked different than it did early in the season. There have been more receiver and running back screens, more tempo and a few other wrinkles.
“It’s everyone included,” Dorrell said of the staff adjusting. “I mean, it’s coaches coaching better, play-calling better, players being in position to do things that they can do very confidently.
“It’s just the whole dynamics of the offense. We really had to sit down and kind of bear our soul, so to speak, to what we think our strengths are, both as what we’re coaching along with the stuff we’re asking our players to do.”
Changing up the dynamics has created a bit more unpredictability with the offense.
A key play early in Saturday’s 37-34 double-overtime win against Oregon State was a third-and-1 at the Beavers’ 46-yard line. All year, the Buffs have handed off to running backs or used a Lewis sneak to try to get the first down. But, on that play, tight end Matt Lynch, a former quarterback, went in motion, turned and went back in motion the other way before quickly jumping under center, taking the snap and pushing forward for 3 yards.
It’s a play CU used with former receiver Jay MacIntyre in 2016 when Chiaverini was the co-offensive coordinator with Brian Lindgren — now OSU’s offensive coordinator.
“There is those elements of you are studying other people and trying to find some ways to create some creativity in your offense,” Dorrell said. “With Matt being a former quarterback, we know he can take a snap, and he’s 250 pounds, instead of B-Lew being at 205 or 210 pounds. So we decided to incorporate something … so that he’s driving behind the center with a little more weight that can get the first down.
“Those types of things, just a little bit of a different play on a sneak or reverse or double passes or things like that, that energizes the team because they like creativity. They like to try to create some big plays and so it was a positive addition for us.”
On the next play, Lewis threw a 43-yard touchdown to Daniel Arias to give the Buffs a 10-0 lead.
The creativity on offense has also led to more runs by receiver Brenden Rice; a play-action run for a touchdown by Lewis in overtime; and a flea-flicker that drew a pass interference penalty.
A combination of line changes, Lewis’ growth, some creativity with game planning — and better execution from players — has created a good, balanced attack, and some confidence as the Buffs go into the final three games.
“Early in the season, there wasn’t a lot of respect (from defenses) on the passing game, because there wasn’t a lot of productivity,” Dorrell said. “The last two games are showing a trend in a different direction, in a positive direction.
“Our guys are confident that they can make those plays against anybody, so there is a different air to it, for sure. We’re going to ride that wave as long as we can.”