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Woelk: Takeaways From Buffs' Loss To Minnesota

Sep 19, 2021

BOULDER — Anybody and everybody who watched, read or listened to Colorado coach Karl Dorrell's postgame comments Saturday in the wake of the Buffaloes' 30-0 beatdown at the hands of Minnesota heard this:

"Offensively, we're struggling in a number of areas. It's not just the quarterback. It's protection, it's run game, it's receivers, it's (running) backs, it's everything. It's one of those things where we're going to have to wipe the slate clean and start all over."

Judging from online reaction, nobody was ready to jump up and disagree with Dorrell. The Buffs' numbers Saturday sent researchers scurrying to the record books to find how it ranked in terms of all-time offensive futility and the answers weren't positive.

We won't rehash all the details, but safe to say Saturday's final offensive totals found a home in CU's all-time bottom 10 in terms of both overall and rushing yardage.

But we're not here today to rekindle the fires of Saturday's disappointment. That won't change what has already happened.

Rather, we're here to encourage you to take a deep breath — and not forget the Buffs have bounced back before from similarly disheartening performances in the past.

We were reminded Saturday of a game in the not-too-distant past that carried more than a few similarities to the loss to the Gophers.

Matched at home against a solid opponent from another major conference, the Buffs ran for a grand total of 37 yards on 35 carries and completed just two passes (with one interception) for 24 yards, leaving them with 61 yards total offense. Meanwhile, they gave up 181 on the ground and 244 in the air, all of which added up to a 40-3 loss to USC in 2002.

It was a shellacking in every regard and CU supporters were grumbling in a big way a day later — even though Gary Barnett's team was coming off a Big 12 championship season.

There are, of course, a few qualifiers. The Trojans came into the game ranked 17th in the nation in that 2002 game while Saturday's CU opponent, the Gophers, were unranked. But on the flip side, the Buffs were the No. 18 team in the polls heading into that USC game, suggesting an even matchup — which is what most folks expected from Saturday's Colorado-Minnesota affair.

But what the Buffaloes did one week after that 2002 loss to USC — which came two weeks after a loss to Colorado State — might be one of the more impressive turnarounds in CU history. With Barnett insisting his 1-2 team would not fold up the tents early in the season (and a certain local columnist proving to be quite skeptical), he took the Buffs on the road and dominated 20th ranked UCLA in a 31-17 victory in the Rose Bowl. It was a crucial moment in a 9-5, Big 12 North title season.

Not to guarantee — or even suggest — that history will repeat itself next weekend when Dorrell takes the 1-2 Buffs on the road for a meeting with Arizona State. Similar circumstances by no means guarantee similar outcomes.

But the history lesson does serve as a reminder that early season performances — no matter how bad — are not always accurate predictors of future results.

Simply, the Buffs have nine games remaining in a Pac-12 that has been anything but consistent. There's still time to carve out some success.

Our other takeaways from Saturday:

1. Yes, the offense needs a reboot. We'll start with the obvious. It's  hard to argue with Dorrell's assessment. From the quarterback to the running backs, wide receivers and O-line — and play selection — Colorado must wipe the slate clean, get back to the basics and find some way to produce a little consistency.

That means finding a way to put your quarterback in situations that offer a chance for success, rediscovering a run game that was solid all of last year (and for a half against Texas A&M) and utilizing the speed and skill CU has on the outside. 

It also means making changes wherever necessary, be it personnel or coaching assignments. Dorrell said he would look at every angle, and you can bet he is following through on that.

No doubt, performing a reboot in one week won't be easy. But it won't be a matter of starting completely from scratch. CU coaches know their personnel, know their strengths (and weaknesses) and it's not unfathomable to think they can put together a plan that can turn this thing around.

Speaking of coaches … 

2. Don't allow one bad game to turn into a spiral. Situations like the one facing Colorado are where good coaching staffs separate themselves from the rest. This will be a week of teaching, learning and a firm but steady hand.

No doubt the Buffs' confidence took a hit Saturday. But the guess here is that Dorrell will get his team back to work. They will learn from their mistakes but not wallow in the misery of one loss. Dorrell has been the picture of calm, focused discipline since he arrived. No reason to think that won't be the case this week.

3. Leaders have to step up. Yes, the coaches can do plenty in making sure players don't let one game change their entire attitude.

But the onus will also be on CU's leaders in the locker room to make sure accountability, discipline and effort are still front and center in practice. CU has a solid group of upperclassmen who have led by example and with their voices when necessary.

Their guidance this week will be critical.

4. Colorado's defense still has the potential to be a very good group. Yes, the Gophers rang up some big numbers — but there's no doubt CU's defenders simpy wore out as the day wore on. When your offense is struggling and has less than 20 minutes of possession time, that is simply too many opportunities for the opposing offense.

The Buffs' defense kept CU within striking range for the better part of three quarters. Not until Minnesota scored its third touchdown with 23 seconds left in the third quarter did the hill become an impossible climb.

But if there's one thing missing from CU's defense, it is takeaways. The Buffs did not force a turnover against the Gophers. Sometimes, there's no better boost for an offense than a momentum-changing turnover in an opponent's territory. Hopefully, the Buffs can produce a couple of those this week and open the door for a quick strike.

5. Colorado's O-line depth is already stretched thin. Before the season, the Buffs were confident that their depth up front was better than a year ago.

But already, it is being pushed to its limits. Veteran starting center Colby Pursell did not play Saturday. Starting tackle Max Wray had just 11 snaps before leaving the game, which forced the Buffs to bring in Frank Fillip, who is just back from an injury. 

Meanwhile, they are still juggling Casey Roddick (27 snaps at guard) and Kanan Ray (19). There's certainly no silver bullet quick fix, but it is an issue that is no doubt affecting the run game and pass protection.

6. Punter Josh Watts is a weapon. In a 30-0 game, a punter's effectiveness isn't exactly a crucial issue. But in a close game, when field position on every possession is critical, a punter can become a valuable asset.

Watts punted eight times against the Gophers for a 51.9-yard average. The last time a Buff had that kind of average with at least six attempts? Try 2002, when Mark Mariscal averaged more than 57 yards per attempt against — we're not making this up  — USC.

7. The Buffs aren't the only team that had a bad day Saturday. We'll stop here with this reminder that if misery loves company, Colorado had plenty of friends in the Pac-12 on Saturday. Arizona (0-3) lost to Northern Arizona, UCLA (2-1) fell to Fresno State, Utah (1-2) lost to San Diego State and ASU (2-1) lost to BYU. Also already this year, Washington (1-2) lost to Montana (and scored just one touchdown), Stanford (2-1) lost to Kansas State and Cal (1-2) fell to Nevada.

Lots of teams have had their share of problems. The Buffs aren't alone in that department.

The question is who can fix those issues.