Buffs Pound Out Win Over Northern Colorado
BOULDER — Karl Dorrell's Colorado Buffaloes overcame a slow start Friday night to grind out a 35-7 win over Northern Colorado in both teams' season opener at Folsom Field.
While new CU mascot Ralphie VI had a successful debut in front of an enthusiastic crowd of 44,153, the Buffs offense struggled to find its footing early. But they finally put two scores on the board in the second quarter while the defense produced a first-half shutout, then added 21 points in the second half to wrap up the win.
CU's Jarek Broussard ran 15 times for 94 yards and a touchdown as Colorado dominated the game on the ground. The Buffs finished with 383 yards total offense, including an overwhelming 281-20 edge on the ground as four different CU running backs found the end zone. CU freshman quarterback Brendon Lewis completed 10 of 15 attempts for 102 yards and a touchdown in his starting debut, and he also ran for 44 yards.
Defensively, the Buffs held UNC to 253 total yards. CU finished with six tackles for loss, including sacks from Na'im Rodman, Jalen Sami and Guy Thomas; and Mekhi Blackmon had an interception in the end zone to styming a UNC drive late in the first half.
"Good to come out with a win," Dorrell said after the game. "It was a hard game because we didn't know much about the team. Their defensive scheme was completely different from what they've done, so that was a little bit of a challenge for us offensively in the first half. In the second half, after we figured out what they were doing, we had a little bit more handle on controlling the line of scrimmage and getting some effective runs. We had some good series and good drives for touchdowns."
One big downside to the night proved to be penalties, as CU was flagged for 12 miscues for 117 yards, including four unsportsmanlike conduct penalties or personal fouls.
"That's uncharacteristic of teams I coach," Dorrell said. "That's not team football. If we continue down that path it's going to hurt us all season long. We have to fix it. We have to play within our system and do things using better judgment and playing more disciplined."
HOW IT HAPPENED: Both teams struggled offensively in the first half before CU finally found its footing early in the second quarter.
Thanks to a UNC penalty that kept a Buffs drive alive at the Bears 38, the Buffs took advantage of the opportunity to get to the end zone. Lewis hit tight end Brady Russell with a 7-yard pass, Broussard burst up the middle for a 12-yard gain and two plays later, Broussard capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run. Cole Becker's PAT gave CU a 7-0 lead with 13:51 to go in the first half.
CU's defense continued to keep the Bears bottled up and forced two more UNC punts before the Buffs struck again.
Colorado drove 56 yards in five plays for its second touchdown and a 14-0 lead. Broussard provided a big play with a 30-yard run down the left sideline before Lewis then found Montana Lemonious-Craig in the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown throw. Lewis extended the play by rolling to his right and waiting for Lemonious-Craig to get open in the end zone and the freshman receiver made a nice sliding catch, just staying in-bounds in the process for his first collegiate touchdown.
CU's defense then turned away UNC's most productive drive of the half. The Bears moved from their own 25 to the Colorado 15, only to see UNC quarterback Dylan McCaffrey overthrow his receiver, giving CU's Mekhi Blackmon an interception in the end zone.
Colorado then ran out the clock to take a 14-0 lead into intermission.
The Buffs took control for good midway through the third quarter with a time-consuming body blow drive. After Becker hit the crossbar on a 53-yard field-goal try on CU's first possession of the half, the Buffs took their next possession and hammered out their third scoring drive of the night.
Starting from its own 10-yard line, Colorado drove 90 yards in 16 plays for a touchdown, using 7:25 off the clock in the process. The Buffs stayed on the ground for nearly the entire drive, recording seven first downs on the march. Alex Fontenot performed the bulk of the work, carrying six times for 32 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown run to cap the drive for a 21-0 lead.
"We ran the ball OK," Dorrell said. "I felt we adjusted for things in the second half that got us to be more productive and have a little more consistency. Coverage-wise it was challenging. They really took a page from the San Diego State game (last year). But I'm proud of the coaches and the players with how they responded in the second half."
UNC finally got on the board on its next possession, going 75 yards in seven plays. The Buffs helped the Bears on the drive with two costly penalties, including an unsportsmanlike conduct flag on fourth down. Northern Colorado finally reached the end zone when McCaffrey connected with Washington State transfer Kassidy Woods for a 34-yard touchdown pass to cut CU's lead to 21-7 at the end of the third quarter.
The Buffs, however, quickly answered. After a nice kick return by Brenden Rice to the CU 46, the Buffs went 64 yards in six plays for a touchdown. Ashaad Clayton finished the drive with a 1-yard scoring run for a 28-7 Colorado lead.
The Buffs then tacked on another touchdown to their total midway through the quarter after the defense held at midfield on fourth down. Deion Smith ran for 21 yards, Lewis connected with La'Vontae Shenault on a 23-yard pass and Smith then ran 7 yards for CU's fifth touchdown of the night and a 35-7 lead. Smith became the fourth Buffs running back to score in the game and it was the first touchdown of his career.
TURNING POINT: After both offenses struggled in the first quarter, CU caught a break when the Bears were called for a late hit on CU's Lewis after he threw incomplete on third down. The Buffs then used five plays to go 23 yards for their first touchdown of the night and Colorado was in control the rest of the evening.
WHAT IT MEANS: The win gave CU a sixth straight season opening win and Dorrell his second with the Buffs. Colorado also can now take a little momentum into next week's game against Texas A&M.
KEY STATISTICS: The Buffs outgained UNC on the ground by a whopping 281-20 margin … Broussard averaged 6.3 yards per carry … Four different CU running backs scored touchdowns … Eight different Buffs caught passes in the game.
NEXT UP: The Buffs make the short trip to Denver next Saturday to play host to Texas A&M, ranked sixth in the preseason polls, in a 1:30 p.m. game at Empower Field.