Dorrell Says Players 'Hungry For Win'
BOULDER — Saturday afternoon, nearly a year after their last contest — 343 days, to be exact — the Colorado Buffaloes will step onto Folsom Field and play a game.
Kickoff against UCLA in Karl Dorrell's debut as CU's head coach is set for 5:05 p.m. (ESPN2).
It has been, safe to say, the most bizarre year in Buffs football history. It has included a late coaching change (Dorrell was hired Feb. 23), a pandemic that shut down the sports world for months (including CU's spring ball session), a truncated summer session, an indecisive Pac-12 that couldn't decide whether to have a season or not, and the continuing saga of the coronavirus that has changed the way sports are practiced and played.
But the Buffs will finally get to kick off a season Saturday — albeit in front of only a handful of family members instead of a full Folsom — on a weekend that originally would have sported their ninth game of the year.
It's about time.
"I'm excited about getting a chance to play this year and I think our players are too, even with all the circumstances and ups and downs and scheduling changes and cancelations," Dorrell said in a Tuesday morning press conference (conducted, of course, via Zoom). "All those different things that have occurred over the last seven or eight months … It's just good to get to do the things you really love to do, which is coach and play the game of football."
Dorrell's first game as CU's head coach comes against the school for which he starred as a wide receiver, then later became its head coach. In another twist, he will be on the same field where he made his head coaching debut — as UCLA's head coach in 2003, when the Bruins also kicked off their season in Boulder.
But, Dorrell said, this game is about the Buffs players, a group that has hung together throughout the obstacles presented by the pandemic.
"It all starts with the first one," he said. "We want to go out there and play well and make this a progressive season that we get better week after week after week."
When Dorrell took the job, he became CU's third head coach in as many seasons. But instead of a team worried about change and fretting over the unknown, Dorrell discovered a locker room full of players who simply wanted to become a high-level program after three consecutive 5-7 finishes.
They just needed someone they could trust who could help them get there.
"They are eager to show themselves they can compete and play well in this conference," he said. "I'm excited for them. They're hungry to win. They don't want to be mediocre anymore. They want to be successful. They want to be considered to be one of the better programs in this conference. There's plenty of motivation. These guys are eager to play and go out there and compete."
CHALLENGE FOR DEFENSE: Thanks to the shortened seven-game Pac-12 schedule, there are no "warmup" games on this year's slate.
Instead, the Buffs face a conference foe in the opener, a team that boasts a seasoned, quality quarterback in junior Dorian Thompson-Robinson. The Buffs are 1-1 against Thompson-Robinson, collecting a win in Boulder 2018 before losing last season on the Bruins' home turf.
"He's a dynamic player, obviously a tremendous athlete," Dorrell said of the player who threw for 2,701 yards and 21 touchdowns last year and also ran for 198 yards and four scores. "I think what's underrated is that he's a very accurate thrower. He can throw the deep ball very well and make it seem effortless. His escapability and what he does playing that position, he's one of the better ones in our conference."
Robinson was an efficient 21-for-28 for 226 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in last year's 31-14 win over the Buffs. He has the ability to extend plays, and can give defense's fits with his running ability.
"We're going to have to play the width of the field," Dorrell said. "He's going to be able to do off-schedule things and we're going to have to make sure we're in position to make some plays. That's going to be difficult to do against a player of his caliber. We're ready for the challenge and we're excited about playing and proving that we made progress from last year to this year."
BROUSSARD OPPORTUNITY: After missing the entire 2019 season because of an ACL injury — the second of his career — Buffs sophomore Jarek Broussard will get the starting nod at running back this week.
While part of that designation comes because of an injury to returning starter Alex Fontenot, Dorrell stressed that Broussard did enough in camp to earn the spot.
"What a great story he has been for us," Dorrell said. "He came into camp and really continually got better day after day after day. Didn't miss a practice, just stayed in great health. He had a couple scrimmages where he just played very, very soundly and did some very efficient things as a runner. Really good in protection. He's strong and has great balance."
Broussard is listed at 5-foot-9, 185 pounds, but showed in camp the ability to run inside and out. Running backs coach Darian Hagan said Broussard has the ability to take it to the house from anywhere on the field, and has also played well in pass protection.
"He overcame two ACL surgeries and now he's going to start the game for us Saturday," Dorrell said. "I'm just so excited for him because that's a pretty tough road to overcome. He really had to work hard to get into this position. He deserves it. He had the most consistency in camp."
DEPTH CHART NOTES: Along with Broussard, several other Buffs are ready to get their first career Division I starts. The group includes senior quarterback Sam Noyer, junior wide receiver Daniel Arias, true freshman cornerback Christian Gonzalez and junior outside linebacker Guy Thomas.
Gonzalez has been impressive since the day he arrived. Even over the summer, CU coaches talked about him possibly being a starter this fall, and he did nothing to change that opinion in training camp.
"Consistency, playing well and making plays," Dorrell said of the traits Gonzalez showed in camp. "He's one of those rare kids that really came in and digested our system and really was able to perform and do the things that contribute to him having that kind of success … He's a talented kid. He's going to be a good player. He's got great size and speed. He has the right mindset in terms of at least the core of what he needs from his development and he's going to continue to get better as he gets older. He just came in and was able to digest the information a lot of freshmen have struggled with."
There are several other true freshmen sprinkled throughout the two-deep of the depth chart, including wide receiver Brendan Rice and punt returner Chris Carpenter. Redshirt freshmen listed No. 2 include Jake Wiley at left tackle, Valentin Senn at right tackle, Joshka Gustav at outside linebacker, Marvin Ham II at inside linebacker and Lloyd Murray at nose tackle.
Also making their collegiate debuts will be long snapper Travis Drosos and punter Josh Watts.
QUICK HITS: The last time the Buffs opened the season against a conference opponent was 1961, when they beat Oklahoma State, 24-0, in Boulder. … Dorrell is looking to become CU's third straight head coach to win his Buffs debut … The Buffs do not have a player on their roster who has started a college game at quarterback. The four players who have attempted a pass in a college game — Noyer, Tyler Lytle, K.D. Nixon and Matt Lynch — are a combined 28-for-51 for 283 yards and two touchdowns. It's the first time since 2007 that the Buffs don't have a quarterback with at least one prior start … This will be CU's latest season opener since 1918, when the Buffs' first game came on Nov. 16. The reason for the delay that year? An influenza pandemic.