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Rooney: QB change does nothing to provide elusive spark for CU Buffs football

Colorado quarterback J.T. Shrout, front, looks to pass the ball as Air Force linebacker Alec Mock covers in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022, at Air Force Academy, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Colorado quarterback J.T. Shrout, front, looks to pass the ball as Air Force linebacker Alec Mock covers in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022, at Air Force Academy, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

AIR FORCE ACADEMY — Given the overcast conditions and perpetual rain that permeated the Air Force Academy on Saturday, it was little surprise Falcon Stadium began to empty steadily at halftime.

It wasn’t the exact same setting as a week earlier, when the Colorado Buffaloes got rolled on their home turf in the 2022 season opener, but the end result was the same: The Buffs didn’t come close to making things interesting enough to keep folks in the seats.

Despite what at times was a more valiant effort from the CU defense, it was an all too familiar script for the Buffs in a 41-10 loss in their first visit to the Academy since 1974. Two games into Year 3 of the Karl Dorrell era, the Buffs remain uncompetitive with no answer at quarterback.

Since the 4-0 start in the shortened and disjoined pandemic season of 2020, Dorrell and the Buffs have gone 4-12. Only one of those 12 losses, last year’s near upset of Texas A&M, has been a one-score game. And given the combined 79-23 score from the first two of what surely are many losses to come this fall, there is no reason to believe relief is in sight for the Buffs or their fans.

“We need a spark,” Dorrell said when asked about his quarterback situation, offering an early entry for the understatement of the year.

Less than two weeks before the season-opening loss against Texas Christian, Dorrell expressed optimism about CU’s offense given the improved depth in the Buffs’ quarterback room. Maybe the depth is improved. The results most assuredly are not.

Turning to JT Shrout did nothing to improve CU’s offensive efficiency after 13 consecutive starts from Brendon Lewis. The wet conditions certainly didn’t help Shrout, but neither did he seize the opportunity, fumbling the ball away on the game’s second play to help spot AFA a seven-point lead just 33 seconds after kickoff. Shrout tossed a costly interception in the second quarter, and if not for drops by AFA defenders, Shrout’s 5-for-21 day easily could have ended with four interceptions instead of just one.

Going into Week 3 of the 2022 season, CU doesn’t have the improved play at the game’s most important position the Buffs expected. Instead it’s more of the same, with more questions and deeper uncertainty than just two weeks ago. Dorrell indicated it will be a week-to-week situation in the competition between Shrout and Lewis, and after watching his team score just two touchdowns in two games — one in garbage time against TCU — Dorrell already is hinting at looking beyond the duo of Shrout and Lewis for answers.

“(Shrout) hasn’t proven anything to think that he’s the guy, so we have to continue to develop that position,” Dorrell said. “Maybe we need to look at some of these younger guys, too. Younger than our younger guys. It is what it is, but it’s a challenge right now.”

A popular football cliché is a team with two quarterbacks is a team with none at all. Like any catch phrase, there are exceptions to that rule (see Michigan for an example of two quarterbacks functioning in tandem). Yet in the case of the Buffs, it pretty much is on the money. CU might have a more crowded quarterback room. But right now the Buffs don’t have a quarterback.

The season prediction of 4-8 from this corner already feels overly optimistic, if a four-win season could ever be described as optimistic. Last year many of the offensive struggles were attributed to inexperience. Last week there were ill-timed penalties and questionable coaching decisions. On Saturday, the weather certainly contributed in some measure to Shrout rarely hitting a target squarely in 21 pass attempts.

Yet while the explanations and excuses change, the results to not. Simply producing a double-digit point total has become a Herculean chore for the Buffs. Until Dorrell discovers that elusive spark, the Buffs will have to get accustomed to stadiums — particularly Folsom Field — sitting largely empty by the time they trudge back to the locker room.

In what surely was a typo, or perhaps an un-updated template from the opening week, the final game book distributed in the Falcon Stadium press box described Saturday’s weather as “sunny.” Maybe it is at the Academy. In Boulder, and specifically at the Champions Center, the outlook is anything but.

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