Prior to kickoff on Saturday, the Folsom Field video board announced Colorado’s starting lineup. When Owen McCown’s name and picture popped up, there was a collective cheer from the crowd.
The fans were ready for a change at quarterback and, all things considered, it was a positive one. Although McCown didn’t come close to leading CU to a win, he did provide a bit of a spark to the offense in a 45-17 loss to UCLA.
A true freshman from Rusk, Texas, generously listed at 6-foot-2, 175 pounds on the roster, McCown completed 26-of-42 passes for 258 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He also ran for a touchdown and lost a fumble.
“Surprisingly, I really wasn’t that nervous,” said McCown, whose father, Josh, played quarterback in the NFL from 2002-20. “I felt more excitement. Obviously with the first snap going out there, had to take deep breath and really get settled down. (Offensive coordinator Mike) Sanford had some good early calls to get me settled in the game and that really helped.
“I felt like I got into a rhythm early and settled down. I thought I played good, just not good enough. I got too greedy coming out in the second half and that hurt the offense.”
In Week 1, CU gave the starting nod to incumbent Brendon Lewis, while junior JT Shrout played a few series in a 38-13 loss to TCU. In Week 2, Shrout got the start and played the whole game in a 41-10 loss at Air Force. A week ago, Lewis and Shrout rotated every series of a 49-7 loss at Minnesota before McCown made his debut in the final five minutes.
On Saturday, McCown threw for the most yards by a CU quarterback since Sam Noyer also had 258 in the 2020 regular season finale. He also had the offense flowing more so than at any point this season.
McCown, who got to CU in June after high school graduation, was never in the starting competition during the preseason.
“(Before the season) we felt very comfortable with B-Lew and JT as being, really, the top two guys to get the bulk of the work to run the offense,” head coach Karl Dorrell said. “With his progression he made … through training camp, he caught up to everybody. That kind of gave us a little bit of a thought process of maybe he should be our No. 3 going into the season.”
Dorrell didn’t commit to giving McCown another start next Saturday at Arizona, but liked what he saw from the freshman.
“I’ll talk with the offensive staff,” he said. “It’s hard to really say that (he’ll start again) right now after the game, but I was encouraged. I was really encouraged with how he worked out there. … Obviously, we didn’t win, but there’s some positive moments I saw in his play.”
McCown is the first true freshman to start at quarterback for CU since Sefo Liufau in 2013. Overall, seven true freshmen have started at quarterback in CU history, but McCown is the first to get a start within the first four games.
McCown is also the first left-handed quarterback to start for the Buffs since Sal Aunese in 1988.
Backing their coach
Given CU’s struggles, Dorrell’s job status is in question moving forward, but two of his players threw their support behind him.
“I’m not gonna lie, it’s difficult,” tackle Frank Fillip said. “I’ve been through (coaching changes) a couple of times, but I know that from our standpoint, we’re behind him. We love coach Dorrell and we believe in him and we think that we can turn this around.”
Linebacker Josh Chandler-Semedo, who transferred to CU from West Virginia this summer, said, “I came to CU because of coach Dorrell. He has my 1000% faith. Bottom line, he can’t go out there and play. The coaches, they can’t go out there and play. We’re the players.”
The late Rashaan Salaam was honored between the first and second quarters.
CU’s lone Heisman Trophy winner, in 1994, Salaam was honored because of his upcoming induction to the College Football Hall of Fame. Salaam will be CU’s 10th member of the hall of fame when he is officially inducted in December in Las Vegas.
Running backs Alex Fontenot (chest) and Jayle Stacks (shoulder) both missed the game with injuries. During the game, tight end Brady Russell and safety Isaiah Lewis went out with injuries and did not return. … This is the first time since 2012 that CU has had three different starting quarterbacks in the same season. … McCown, receiver Chase Sowell and guard Van Wells all started. It’s the first time CU has had three true freshmen starting on offense since a 2008 game against Iowa State. … True freshman punter Ashton Logan missed the game with an illness, so true freshman walk-on Trent Carrizosa filled in, averaging 46.2 yards on five punts and landing three inside the 20-yard line.