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Woelk: Takeaways From Buffs Game Vs. A&M

Sep 12, 2021

BOULDER — Guaranteed, the Colorado Buffaloes woke up Sunday morning knowing they let one get away.

While more than a handful of teams in the nation would have been quietly satisfied with taking the No. 5 team in the country down to the wire, Karl Dorrell's Buffs aren't in that group.

The Buffs are, quite frankly, a bit ticked off. While almost no one gave them a chance to beat Texas A&M, the Buffs went into the game not just believing they could win — they believed they should win.

Now, after coming up agonizingly short in a 10-7 loss, the question is how they will focus that emotion.

The guess here is that Dorrell will make sure that passion is channeled toward improvement. CU's head coach has been the definition of calm, measured focus since the day he took the job, and that atmosphere has become a building block of Colorado's culture.

No doubt, Saturday's game should serve as a reinforcement of the confidence the Buffs carried into the game. But with that confidence will come the need to improve — which Dorrell made very clear in his post-game press conference.

"We have to get better," he said. "There's no excuses. We're not where we need to be right now … and for us to be the team we need to be, we have to get better in a hurry."

The good news is the Buffs don't have to wait long for their next measuring stick. Big Ten foe Minnesota will visit Folsom Field on Saturday (11 a.m., Pac-12 Network) and the Gophers should provide exactly the kind of challenge CU needs: a solid team in the trenches with a good running game not prone to mistakes, and an opportunistic defense. 

What we learned from Saturday's game:

1. Chris Wilson's defense is legit. Here's a safe bet: every A&M opponent the rest of the season will be using Colorado's defensive scheme from Saturday as a blueprint. The Buffs shut down the Aggies' vaunted running attack, kept their highly touted wide receivers in check and made A&M work for every yard gained.

When Wilson took over CU's defense, he wanted to make the overall scheme easier to execute by reducing on-field calls and checks. He also wanted to make sure and utilize Colorado's best players to their maximum potential.

We saw the effects of both against the Aggies. Linebacker Nate Landman had an outstanding day (10 tackles, two for loss and two pass breakups), no doubt bolstering his Butkus Award candidacy. Meanwhile, cornerback Christian Gonzalez showed why he is a rapidly rising star in Pac-12 circles (six tackles, two for loss) and outside linebacker/rush end Carson Wells continues to be a force in sealing the edge.

But the biggest takeaway is that the Buffs matched up with A&M's speed and size and played them dead even down to the end. That's a big, big plus in CU's overall program development.

2. The D-line is a salty group. This (obviously) ties in to our first item, but it deserves its own mention.

Wilson, also the D-line coach, has developed a solid rotation up front that keeps fresh legs in the game and utilizes a growing number of players.

Sophomore Na'im Rodman has clearly become a mainstay. He played 61 defensive snaps Saturday — the most of any D-lineman — and was a big reason the interior was off limits most of the day for the Aggies' run game. 

The rest of the rotation included Jalen Sami (37 snaps), Terrance Lang (35), Janaz Jordan (27) and Justin Jackson (11). 

We'll also throw CU's outside 'backers in here because they are, in essence, rush ends much of the time. Wells played 60 snaps and Guy Thomas — who had an excellent game — logged 48. Others getting at OLB included Jamar Montgomery (15) and Joshka Gustav (11).

They add up to a solid group up front that played very well against A&M's big O-line. Paired with CU's inside 'backers, it's a formidable front seven — and one that will only get better with the addition of Mustafa Johnson when the Pac-12 portion of the schedule rolls around.

3. The O-line is gelling. We loved the production from CU's big men up front in the first half Saturday, when the Buffs ran 29 times for 140 yards. While that production dropped in the second half, at least some of that came because of play selection, when the Buffs tried to open up the passing game.

There wasn't much rotation involved Saturday. Tackles Jake Wiley and Max Wray, guard Kary Kutsch and center Colby Pursell all logged 66 offensive snaps while guard Kanan Ray (47) split some time with Casey Roddick (19).

Overall, it's a steadily improving group, one that will get better each week and one that will also receive a boost when tackle Frank Fillip is ready to return. 

4. Goodbye yellow. A week ago, Dorrell vowed that his team would fix a penalty issue that plagued Colorado in the opener. 

The Buffs made good on that promise Saturday, finishing with just two penalties for 17 yards.

That's coaching.

5. Young players continue to contribute. Two brand new freshmen who had impacts Saturday were defensive back Nikko Reed and wide receiver Chase Penry.

Reed had a handful of plays on defense and also logged the first punt return of his career. Penry caught one pass, but also drew a big pass interference play that kept a drive alive.

They are just one more example of Dorrell and his staff quietly building quality depth by giving young players meaningful snaps.

6. CU's offense was inconsistent, but … But the Buffs won't see a much better defense all year. The Aggies had NFL-caliber players up front and on the back end, and the Buffs made them work for every stop.

Colorado's performance answered a crucial question — can CU match up with size and speed and move the ball?

The Buffs showed they can do that Saturday. Their next step will be developing more consistency.

7. Brendon Lewis is still growing at QB. For the second week in a row, Lewis' numbers were pedestrian at best. But after an initial mistake early — his first collegiate interception — he settled in and made good decisions, extended plays with his legs and kept A&M defenders on their toes with his scrambling ability.

Lewis will no doubt continue to experience some freshman growing pains, but the Buffs are making sure he is developing a comfort zone and familiarity with the offense. He will get better — and as he improves and grows more comfortable, CU's offensive options will expand.

8. Nate Landman is a bad dude. That's all.

9. Tight ends are a piece of the puzzle. Brady Russell had three catches against the Aggies, tied for team-high honors. Russell played 60 snaps and Alec Pell had 17. The Buffs are using the TEs in the run game and pass game, and it won't be a surprise to see their roles grow as Lewis gets more comfortable with the offense.

10. Dorrell has this program trending in the right direction. CU's head coach isn't one to freely engage in hyperbole. But throughout camp, when he continued to say he liked what he saw from CU's defense and its potential, the general reaction was, "We'll see ..."

We saw Saturday. 

Dorrell and his staff are coaching these Buffs from every angle. The players have developed a strong level of trust and confidence in this staff, they are experiencing success as a result and they are hungry for more.

That's how solid programs are built — on a foundation that can withstand adversity.

Saturday afternoon, with the sting of a close loss still fresh, Dorrell vowed the Buffs would get better. 

The guess here is that people will now be listening a little more closely.