Unknowns Present Challenges For Buffs As They Prepare For UNC
BOULDER — Even though the Colorado Buffaloes are finally ready to embark upon a "normal" season, the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic will no doubt be a factor in CU's season opener.
When the Buffs kick it off Friday at 7 p.m. against Northern Colorado at Folsom Field (Pac-12 Networks), Karl Dorrell's team will be facing a team that hasn't played a game in 650 days and one that is under the direction of a new head coach whose only previous coaching experience is at the high school level.
Thus, while Dorrell and his staff have done their best to prepare a scouting report on Ed McCaffrey's Bears — even going as far as to look at McCaffrey's Valor Christian teams — Dorrell is perhaps more concerned with making sure his Buffs keep their focus on things they can control.
"I think the things that are more important for me as I look at it is I want to make sure we function well," Dorrell said. "I don't want pre-snap penalties, guys jumping offsides, alignment offsides. They need to focus on their job and execute what they're supposed to do and make plays."
The Buffs know they will have to make in-game adjustments. No matter how much they have tried to anticipate what the Bears will do, Dorrell knows they will see some new alignments.
"I've mentioned to the team within the last couple days that they (UNC) are going to do some things we haven't practiced," Dorrell said. "I'm sure of it. So we have to just be ready to make the adjustments when needed and take advantage of our opportunities when we get them."
Of course, Dorrell is familiar with McCaffrey. When Dorrell served as wide receivers coach with the Denver Broncos from 2000 to 2002, he coached McCaffrey.
"He was really fun to coach," Dorrell recalled. He was very detailed, very specific, a hard study guy. He was what you would expect most great players to be."
CU coaches also have some tape on the Bears' starting quarterback — McCaffrey's son Dylan, who transferred to UNC from Michigan. Dylan McCaffrey appeared in 10 games for the Wolverines (five in 2018 and five in 2019), completing 18 of 35 pass attempts for 242 yards and three touchdowns.
But still, the information CU coaches have on the Bears is scant. UNC's last game was a 28-21 loss to Cal Poly on Nov. 23, 2019, the last game of a 2-10 season. UNC fired its coach after that game and hired McCaffrey, only to have the pandemic derail the 2020 Big Sky season.
Now, the Bears' roster has 65 players who have yet to suit up in a UNC uniform, as well as a handful of former Buffs who transferred to Northern Colorado. That group includes defensive lineman Tava Finau and defensive back Uryan Hudson.
Dorrell and his staff aren't unfamiliar with playing a team without much information. Last season, thanks to a Covid cancelation against USC, the Buffs scheduled a last-minute game against San Diego State. Despite not having time to institute a complete scouting report, Colorado produced a 20-10 win.
"You have to go into this kind of game doing stuff that you're very comfortable with," Dorrell said. "Knowing you're going to see some unscouted looks from the opponent, you're going to have to rely on your communication and make the right adjustments. I'm sure they'll probably have different looks for the offense, something that we haven't practiced against. We're going to have to get that talked out on the sideline and problem solve as the game goes on."
While Dorrell doesn't want his team looking ahead, he and his players also know the stakes go up rather dramatically next week. CU faces sixth-ranked Texas A&M on Sept. 11 at Empower Field in Denver (1:30 p.m., Fox).
The impending matchup with the Aggies makes it critical that the Buffs produce a good start this week against the Bears.
"It's important for us to start off right," Dorrell said. "We have two other non-conference games that are really significant, too (CU plays host to Minnesota on Sept. 18). It's a very important game for us to get started on the right foot and hopefully create some momentum."