Dorrell, Buffs Look Forward To Opportunity Vs. No. 5 A&M
BOULDER — When the Colorado Buffaloes came up short against Texas in last season's Alamo Bowl, head coach Karl Dorrell called the game a measuring stick for his program.
Now comes the next one, a 1:30 p.m. Saturday matchup with fifth-ranked Texas A&M at Empower Field in Denver (Fox).
"It's a great opportunity," Dorrell said. "It's a highly ranked team that's been successful for several years. It's a great measuring stick for us to compete with a ranked opponent and those are really great challenges you want to have your team face. Those are the opportunities we want to get ourselves to be in, so we're embracing the challenge of what this is going to be."
The 1-0 Aggies, coming off a 41-10 win over Kent State in their season opener, no doubt provide a challenge for the 1-0 Buffs, who knocked off Northern Colorado, 35-7, in their opener.
A&M boasts powerful big men in the trenches on both sides of the ball, a talented array of skill position players and an urge to improve on last year's 8-1 finish and Orange Bowl victory (the Aggies' only loss came at the hands of Alabama).
But while it is no doubt a big opportunity for the Buffaloes, it is by no means the end-all to the season. No matter what happens Saturday, CU will still have 10 regular season games remaining, including a nine-game Pac-12 schedule.
That means they want to go into this game striking a balance between the opportunity at hand and not attaching too much importance to one-twelfth of the schedule.
"You want to go into the game and treat it like Week 2, coming off a good win last week and wanting to expand on that," linebacker Nate Landman said. "There's that added big-game feeling, playing in the Broncos stadium and a top 10 team.
"The biggest thing for us is just to treat it like a game that can put us back on the map and this program back where it used to be."
Colorado's last wins over ranked teams came in 2019, when the Buffs beat No. 25 Nebraska and No. 24 Arizona State. CU's last win over a top-five team came in 2007, when the Buffs rallied for a 27-24 win at home over No. 3 Oklahoma.
"They're a talented team, just like we saw Texas in the Alamo Bowl," Dorrell said. "They have really good skill, good offensive and defensive linemen and good team speed — all the things that you would expect in a program like this. We have a really good opportunity in front of us — a great challenge for our young people."
JOHNSON'S RETURN: The Buffs received the OK Tuesday for defensive lineman Mustafa Johnson to begin practicing. Johnson, a first-team All-Pac-12 player in 2018 and a second teamer last year, opted to turn pro after last season. But after he didn't receive the opportunities he expected, he started the process of returning to CU for one more season and received the necessary exemptions.
While he must still fulfill a few more stipulations to be full reinstated, he should be able to accomplish that over the next few weeks. That will also give him time to re-acclimate to the practice routine, CU's regimen and other details.
"He's going to have some time to get himself in shape," Dorrell said. "He's excited, our team's excited to have him back and I'm excited. We feel he's really going to help us when we get into the meat of our season."
Landman will no doubt be glad to see Johnson lining up in front of him again on defense.
"It's huge," Landman said. "He's one of our best leaders last year … He means a lot to this team. Having him back is nothing but great for this program."
O-LINE ROTATION: Eight different Buffs offensive linemen played at least 18 snaps last week, a rotation Dorrell said he will likely continue for at least the short term.
That included Kanan Ray getting 39 snaps at guard and Casey Roddick 19; and Jake Wiley (46), Chance Lytle (42), Gerad Christian-Lichtenhan (22) and Max Wray (18) at tackle. Starting center Colby Pursell and guard Kary Kutsch each logged 58 plays.
"Going forward, there will be some rotation," Dorrell said. "Some of the guys that are doubled up in spots are pretty close, like 1A and 1B. Someone has to start the game, but we feel like the guys in the 1B category have earned some time."
Dorrell also noted that the strategy is a way to continue to build depth in the event of an injury or two.
"This is a physical game and we want to have as many guys ready to play as possible," he said.
That rotation could even grow in a week or two, as tackle Frank Fillip, a starter from last year who was injured midway through camp, is nearing the point that he will be ready to return. Is
"Frank is doing awesome, he's ahead of schedule," Dorrell said. "When we were projecting when he would be back, we thought it would be somewhere at the start of the conference season. But there's a chance he may get to play earlier. He's getting back into doing individual (drills) and some stuff with the line … but we think he's really close."
FOCUS ON FLAGS: After the Buffs were flagged for 12 penalties in Friday's win over UNC — the most by a Dorrell team at CU — he and his staff made sure to emphasize to their players that a repeat performance will be unacceptable.
As Dorrell noted, those penalties can prove to be very costly against a quality team.
"In this type of game, field position is going to be critical," Dorrell said. "We have to take advantage of opportunities when we get them and get their offense off the field … The fashion of things we did last week was not acceptable. We've talked about that as a team and we understand what those issues are, particularly in games like this.They could be the difference in losing games. We did address it, I think they understand it and we move forward."
LOOKING BACK AT SEPT. 11: Dorrell was an assistant for the Denver Broncos when they opened their new Mile High Stadium (then Invesco Field) in 2001. One day after the opener, the nation was rocked by the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
Saturday's game will mark the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
"I'm glad we're honoring all the service people that sacrificed and the heroic things," Dorrell said. "It's important to remember and continue to bring this forward and not forget all the people that sacrificed themselves to save others."
BARNES COULD PLAY: Dorrell said linebacker Robert Barnes, who did not play in the opener, would be available this week. A graduate transfer from Oklahoma, Barnes has been hampered by a soft tissue injury but is now healthy.
TICKETS REMAIN: There are still tickets available for Saturday's game. For more information, https://www.ticketmaster.com/event/1E005A8E78C40CE6