Owen McCown wasn’t close to perfect on Saturday.
Colorado’s true freshman quarterback mixed two touchdowns with two costly turnovers and was up and down in the Buffaloes’ 45-17 loss to UCLA.
McCown did well enough, however, for head coach Karl Dorrell to finally commit to a starter.
On Monday, Dorrell said McCown will get his second consecutive start when the Buffs (0-4, 0-1 Pac-12) visit Arizona (2-2, 0-1) on Saturday in Tucson, Ariz. (7:30 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Network).
It is the first time this season that Dorrell has publicly revealed his starting quarterback prior to game day.
“I felt like he had an OK performance,” Dorrell said during his weekly press conference. “Did he make some mistakes? Yeah. A couple of big turnovers that I think led to some scoring opportunities for UCLA. … But I would say his overall body of work was pretty solid. I thought he saw the field pretty well. You saw kind of some youthful things at times, but I don’t think the game was too big for him.”
McCown, who replaced struggling veterans Brendon Lewis and JT Shrout, completed 26-of-42 passes for 258 yards, a touchdown and an interception, while also rushing for a touchdown.
The 258 yards were the most by a CU quarterback since Sam Noyer had the same amount in the 2020 regular season finale against Utah.
“The completion percentage was OK; you want it to be more efficient,” Dorrell said. “But he did have some yards in there and he had a touchdown pass, and he had a touchdown with his legs. So, I was encouraged by that.”
Lewis made his third 13th consecutive start in a season-opening 38-13 loss to TCU, while Shrout got the start in a 41-10 loss at Air Force on a rainy day in Week 2. In Week 3, Shrout started at Minnesota, but he and Lewis alternated series in a 49-7 loss.
McCown made his collegiate debut late in the Minnesota game and played every snap against UCLA. He leads the team with 310 passing yards.
“We’re trying to create better production offensively with efficiency, execution, performance,” Dorrell said. “(McCown) gives us a little bit of a spark to do those things. I think the players like his courageousness when he plays. He does a lot of things with his feet. He tries to make plays off schedule. So those are things that I think a lot of players, his teammates really gravitate to. We’re just gonna continue to build his skill set.”
The first left-hander to start at quarterback for CU since Sal Aunese in 1988, McCown has displayed some exceptional skills. Even in preseason practices, the Buffs liked his talent, but Dorrell expressed concerns about McCown’s slight frame, at 6-foot-2, 175 pounds.
Against UCLA, McCown was sacked five times – a season-high allowed by the Buffs – and was hit several other times as the Bruins came after him.
“It’s a concern,” Dorrell said of McCown’s size. “We don’t want him to (take hits) all the time, because he took some pretty big ones, but it shows his toughness, it shows his ability and his durability to bounce back from those things. … We have to do a better job of protecting him.”
Left tackle Frank Fillip, who had blocked for several quarterbacks during his time at CU, said of McCown: “I think for a true freshman stepping up and taking the job, he did really well. He was definitely very composed. He never seemed to freak out or get nervous or anything. He was just very level-headed the whole time. So I applaud him for that. I think he did a hell of a job today.”
Dorrell said McCown, who didn’t arrive in Boulder until June, has been a quick learner and knows the full offense, which helped him rapidly climb the depth chart. McCown then didn’t waste time after Saturday’s game to get ready for the next one.
“He’s got a game under his belt to study, which he did the day of the game,” Dorrell said. “He was there studying that night. He’s got a great disposition about learning and really digesting the things that he’s made mistakes on and really getting past those things and understanding what are the next steps into making those positive steps.”