With Opening Win In Books, Buffs Turn Attention To Stanford
BOULDER — Upon further review, Colorado coach Karl Dorrell still liked what he saw from his Buffaloes in their 48-42 season-opening win over UCLA on Saturday at Folsom Field.
But after spending the weekend watching film, Dorrell also made it clear in his weekly Monday press conference that the Buffs have plenty on which to improve, especially if they want to head to Stanford on Saturday (1:30 p.m., ESPN2) and come away with a win on their first road trip of the year.
The Cardinal is coming off a 35-14 loss at Oregon, a game that could have been much closer had Stanford kicker Jet Toner not missed four field goal attempts.
"It was a pretty good performance for the first game," Dorrell said of a contest in which the Buffs led 35-7 in the second quarter before fighting off a UCLA rally with some crucial plays down the stretch. "We definitely have a lot of issues to correct in all phases. We're looking forward to another opportunity this weekend. Hopefully have a great week of practice and get ready for another game."
Dorrell no doubt saw plenty to like from his team in his CU head coaching debut. The Buffs boasted a balanced offense (264 yards rushing, 261 passing), an opportunistic defense (three takeaways, plus one from special teams) and perhaps most importantly, the ability to withstand some adversity and regain control of the game in crunch time.
That is a trait that should serve the Buffs well as the season unfolds.
"We had to make some plays, particularly in the second half when UCLA made a pretty strong charge to get back into the football game," Dorrell said. "I thought our team did a nice job of responding and getting themselves back in control."
Those responses by the Buffs included a pair of fourth-down stops by the defense in the late third and early fourth quarters and three scoring drives by the offense on CU's last four possessions.
Now, the Buffs have to take the next step and clean up some of the mistakes as they prepare for a Cardinal team that has consistently been among the Pac-12 elite during head coach David Shaw's tenure. Shaw is in his 10th season at the Stanford helm and is coming off his only losing season in that stretch, a 4-8 mark last year that included a 16-13 loss to the Buffaloes in Boulder.
"It's not the same Stanford team you saw last year," Dorrell stressed. "It's a new and improved team. We have our hands full in terms of what we did last week and moving forward into this week."
STEFANOU RETIRES: Two days after the University of Colorado's season-opening win over UCLA, senior placekicker James Stefanou has decided to retire from the game.
Stefanou, 33 and the oldest player in the NCAA this season, spoke with head coach Karl Dorrell and informed him that was retiring from football immediately.
"James feels that he can no longer physically perform as well as he would like and has decided to end his career," Dorrell said. "He has been a valuable member of the team for three years, and we understand why he has made this choice. We certainly wish him nothing but the best."
As a freshman in 2017, Stefanou was the second oldest player overall in the FBS, but the oldest freshman; he assumed the mantle of being the oldest collegian in the game in 2018, was back as the second-oldest in 2019 and in 2020, again the oldest.
He ends his career as one of the most accurate kickers in CU history, as he is first in extra point percentage (.990), fourth in field goal percentage (.694) and third in combined kick percentage (.891). He finishes with the third most PAT kicks made (97) and the fifth-most field goals (34). He also finishes eighth all-time on CU's scoring chart with 199 points, the fourth-most by a kicker.
Stefanou made good on all five of his PAT kicks but missed two field goals (one blocked) in his final game, CU's 48-42 win over UCLA in Boulder on Saturday night.
BROUSSARD HONORED: CU sophomore running back Jarek Broussard, who ran for 187 yards and three scores in his collegiate debut, was named Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week on Monday. His yardage total was the most ever by a Buff in a collegiate debut and the most by any Pac-12 player in their debut since 2011.
Broussard also received weekly honorable mention honors from the Earl Campbell Award committee.
Defensive honors went to Arizona State linebacker Merlin Robertson, who had a fumble recovery and interception against USC. ASU's Michael Turk won special teams honors after punting five times for a 51.6-yard average.
HIGH EXPECTATIONS: While CU's outstanding offensive production may have come as a surprise to those outside the program — especially considering the Buffs had a new starting quarterback and new running back — Dorrell said the effort didn't exceed his expectations.
"We have a high standard," he said. "We have good coaches, good players. Our players have done a great job with their training and with their time studying our system that allowed us to be productive. If anything, it helped our players realize that we played well offensively and on defense most of the game. But there's still a lot that we can fix and get better at. Their mindset right now is to continue to build on what we did, clean it up to be a little better for next week and be ready to play another great game against another good opponent."
BIG PLAYS: One thing the Buffs will be stressing this week is reducing the number of explosive plays yielded by the defense. While CU knew Bruins quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson would produce his share of big plays, the Buffs gave up seven plays of 20 yards or longer against UCLA that accounted for 254 yards — more than half of the Bruins' total yardage count (478).
"We're going to shore up a lot of those issues," Dorrell said. "I know we had some coverage mistakes in a couple of places that allowed some big plays. We're going to address those issues and try to get those things fixed for this coming week. There's no question Stanford has seen all of that. We have a pretty good agenda in front of us to try to get a lot of things cleaned up."
SIMPLE PLAN: After tight end Brady Russell led the Buffs in receiving yards with 5 catches for 77 yards Saturday, Dorrell was asked whether he thought that might become a staple of the CU attack.
"Our systematic approach offensively is really a simple thing — it's for Sam (Noyer) to throw to the open guy," Dorrell said. "Brady had a really good game for the first game out. It could turn out to be another great game in game No. 2. It could be a receiver this week that has a big game and Brady may have only one or two catches."
But Dorrell did acknowledge that he likes the tight end to be involved in more than just blocking, as it creates more balance — and thus more problems for the opposing defense.
"It's great to have our tight ends involved," he said. "I know that in recent history we haven't had a lot of tight end involvement in the passing game, so we want to create that type of balance, being able to throw to our backs, tight ends and receivers."
PHYSICAL NOYER: While quarterback Sam Noyer's rushing ability — 64 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries — no doubt provided a spark for the Buffs, Dorrell said he's talked to his signal caller about being a little more judicious in his decision-making. Noyer attempted to leap defenders and took hits straight on several times in the game.
"Being the really good leader that he is, he wanted to play hard and play inspired," Dorrell said. "(But) I would say I don't want him to do that all the time every week. That's usually not natural for the quarterback position. I would like him to be a little smarter in handling those situations. When he's in a place where he's not going to gain anymore yards, get himself down and get on to the next play."
FIRST LOOK STANFORD: The Cardinal played without starting quarterback David Mills last weekend, as well as wide receiver Connor Wedington and defensive lineman Trey LaBounty. All three were out due to Covid-19 testing protocols.
But backup quarterback Jack West did complete 13 of 19 passes for 154 yards and freshman Tanner McKee came on to throw for 62 yards. The Cardinal also got 100 yards rushing and two touchdowns from running back Austin Jones.
"They're a good team," Dorrell said. "They don't look like the same team I saw last year. I'm sure the starter, he's probably back this week to play and I would assume he's probably going to play pretty well. Like any of those David Shaw offenses he's had in the past, he's had real good quarterbacks who manage the game well."
Indeed, Shaw's offense hasn't made many dramatic changes in his tenure at Stanford. The Cardinal usually have a big, bruising offensive line, a punishing running attack and a steady quarterback.
Defensively, Stanford gave up 269 yards on the ground and 227 passing to the Ducks.
COVID CHALLENGES: Speaking of the issues presented by the coronavirus, Dorrell said the ever-present circumstances have changed how programs operate.
"You have to treat each day of the week as if anything and everything can happen," he said. "That's the thing that's a little unusual. In a normal season, you're really locked in and doing your game planning and things like that. Now that we have tests every day and you're crossing your fingers about who's going to be infected by it, who is the contact tracing going to affect … There's so much more on the coaches' plates right now other than football. But I'm pleased we're playing the game. Our coaches and players need this. We're just glad we're playing."
Saturday's road trip will also present some additional issues with which the Buffs must deal, as they must meet California testing and tracing requirements.
"Covid is ruling everything that we do moving forward every day," Dorrell said. "We had a healthy week last week … Now that we're going to a road game, that presents another set of issues that we haven't experienced yet. There's definitely some extra testing protocol that's related to this game. We're just hopeful that we can continue to play, continue to stay healthy and move forward to Week 2 of the season."