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Fast Five: Keys For Buffs In Opener Vs. Northern Colorado

Sep 2, 2021
Buffs QB Brendon Lewis will be making his starting debut while RB Jarek Broussard will be taking aim at another big year.

BOULDER — Finally, "normal" college football makes its return to Boulder this week.

That means Friday night lights, a sizable Folsom Field crowd, cheerleaders, a band, and Ralphie on the run.

It's been too long.

Yes, Karl Dorrell's Colorado Buffaloes did play three home games last year in an abbreviated 2020 season, Dorrell's first as CU's head coach.

But Dorrell freely admitted earlier this week that Friday's season opener against Northern Colorado (7 p.m., Pac-12 Networks) will very much have the feel of his first game at the Buffaloes' helm.

"It will absolutely," Dorrell said. "I'm not going to lie about that. (Last season) we took the field with no one in the stands and it was like a scrimmage on a Saturday. It's definitely going to feel like it's a college game experience with young Ralphie running and fans in the stands. This really is going to feel like it's my first game."

"Young Ralphie," of course, is Ralphie VI, who will be making her college debut as well Friday. But while it might be reasonable to expect some first-game jitters from the CU mascot, that's not what Dorrell wants to see from the Buffaloes wearing helmets.

Rather, Dorrell expects his team to be focused, ready to execute and prepared to build some momentum for what's coming next — a matchup with Texas A&M, the preseason No. 6 team in the nation, on Sept. 11 in Denver.

The Buffaloes are heavy favorites to defeat the Bears, an FCS team that hasn't played a game in 650 days, is playing under a new head coach and has more than 60 players on its roster who have yet to suit up in a UNC uniform.

But there's no doubt Dorrell is looking for more than "just" a win in the opener. He wants to shake off every bit of rust as early as possible and have his team firing on all cylinders as quickly as possible.

"We feel it's important for us to get started on the right foot and hopefully create some momentum," Dorrell said. "I don't want pre-snap penalties, guys jumping offsides … They need to focus on their job and executing what they're supposed to do."

So what will the Buffs be aiming to accomplish Friday? Our weekly Fast Five returns for another season:

1. Establish some offensive rhythm and get QB Brendon Lewis comfortable in a hurry. While there are returning veterans sprinkled up and down the starting lineup on the offensive side, the Buffs will have a freshman quarterback making his first-ever college start (and only his second college appearance).

CU needs to make sure Lewis is supremely comfortable in his new role. That means limiting precarious situations, giving him time to throw and the opportunity to get into the flow. Lewis looked terrific in his first college appearance (the Alamo Bowl), and he certainly won't be seeing the same type of defense he faced when he made a relief appearance against Texas.

But you can bet that UNC will do everything possible to make him uncomfortable and force some early mistakes.

How do the Buffs limit the opportunity for those mistakes to occur? Glad you asked.

2. Run the ball with authority. While the Buffs have solid players at every skill position, there's no doubt their running backs room is the deepest. Not only do they have returning Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year Jarek Broussard, they also have CU's 2019 leading rusher, Alex Fontenot, as well as promising freshman Ashaad Clayton and a host of other talented youngsters.

They also have a relatively experienced offensive line, especially on the interior. Thus, don't be surprised if CU lines up and tries to hammer the Bears into submission early. If the Buffs can establish a power run game right away, it will give them ample opportunity to put Lewis in position to complete some passes, make some plays and get fully comfortable with his role.

3. Put defensive game-changers in position to make big plays. New D-coordinator Chris Wilson has simplified CU's defense to a degree, with one clear goal in mind: take full advantage of the Buffs' best players.

That doesn't mean the Buffs will show a whole lot Friday night. You can bet they'll be saving some of their special packages and schemes for the following week. 

But they will make sure players like Nate Landman, Carson Wells, Mark Perry and Terrance Lang get their chances to disrupt the Bears' offense. If the Buffs can put UNC behind the sticks early and force a series of short possessions, it will play directly into their hands on the offensive side.

4. Get the two-deep players some experience. One of Dorrell's priorities since Day One has been establishing depth. He wants backups ready to produce without a noticeable dropoff.

This opener should provide an opportunity for the Buffs to get young players and newcomers some quality snaps.

Not to say the Bears will be a pushover. Guaranteed, McCaffrey and his crew will give the Buffs some looks they haven't anticipated, and they do have a quality quarterback in Dylan McCaffrey, who transferred in from Michigan.

But this is a game the Buffs should be able to control down the stretch and get some of their starters-in-waiting some game-speed repetitions. Those will be important repetitions down the line.

5. Details, details, details. Did we mention that the Buffs play Texas A&M next week — the first of three games against top 25 foes in a four-week stretch (with Minnesota the only non-ranked opponent)?

That means Friday will be the first and last chance to make sure they have taken care of the little things. No silly mistakes, no free plays for the Bears' offense, no unforced errors on either side of the ball.

As Dorrell said, focus on execution. There will no doubt be some opening jitters and the excitement of finally getting to play in front of a real crowd.

But this game still has to be a business-like affair and the Buffs need to make sure their game is in order.

The road gets a whole lot tougher in a hurry.