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Takeaways From Saturday's Buffs Loss To Southern California

Oct 3, 2021

BOULDER — With a four-game losing streak in tow and a plethora of issues that need addressing, Karl Dorrell's Colorado Buffaloes will no doubt welcome the upcoming bye week.

The week to reassess, recalibrate and retool couldn't come at a better time. As Dorrell said following Saturday's 37-14 loss to Southern California, "This is going to be a week for us to get back and really try to shore up as much as we can before we play Arizona in two weeks. There's a lot of work for us to do and we're definitely going to do that."

To be blunt, there's almost no area that couldn't use some work (aside from the punt team, which isn't exactly an area of strength on which any team wants to hang its hat). While CU's offense did take some incremental steps in the right direction, they were by no means enough to make a difference.

Meanwhile, the Buffs' defense also had its own issues, against the run and the pass.

 Our weekly takeaways from Saturday's game:

1. With seven games to go, there's still time to change the narrative — but it has to happen now.  We'll let Dorrell's words paint the picture: "The pacifier is going to have to go … We've got to grow up fast. We've got to go. There's only so long you can take those incremental steps. We're at that point right now. This season is in the balance."

That last sentence speaks volumes. CU's season indeed is in the balance — and what the Buffs are able to accomplish over the next two weeks will decide which way those scales tip.

2. The offense's struggles are a team effort. While quarterback play is no doubt the focal point for most folks — it's the nature of the position — the issues with CU's struggles reach far beyond the man taking the snaps from center.

Play selection, execution, personnel and coaching are all an issue — and Dorrell vowed to closely examine every one of those areas.

Certainly, Mitch Rodrigue's offensive line hasn't performed up to expectations, especially after last year's shortened season that saw CU's line consistently open holes for the run game and provide good protection for the quarterback. 

"They're not playing at a level that they should, given the experience," Dorrell said. "We're having some issues in a lot of areas, but particularly up front."

As for the quarterback …

3. An honest assessment of the QB situation is due. While Brendon Lewis has indeed made some incremental progress, Dorrell said the Buffs would take the extra week to look at options that could involve freshman Drew Carter.

"Maybe this is a one-two machine," Dorrell said. "Give both these guys a chance to develop and go. That's something we will definitely discuss this week."

Pinning all the problems on Lewis' shoulders is not only unfair, it's wrong. When protection breaks down, when receivers run the wrong routes, when the run game isn't developing a steady rhythm, even the most experienced of quarterbacks have problems.

Still, a long look at the possible options can only help.

4. The offensive game plan requires an in-depth inspection as well. One of the more frustrating developments with the offense has been those moments when everything seems to come together and the Buffs manufacture long, sustained scoring drives.

The question is why it can't happen on a more consistent basis.

"We have to find what we do best and hang our hat with everything, whether that's asking, 'What's our best run?' or 'What's our best pass or protection?' or 'What's the best thing for Brendon Lewis?'," Dorrell said. "We're already thinking that way but apparently we have to really assess all of that again this week and try to figure out what we can do best."

5. CU's defense will need to come up with more momentum-changing moments. The Buffs did manage to produce a takeaway Saturday — their first in three weeks — and the offense converted it into a touchdown.

But they'll need more than one a week, and they also need to get more pressure on the quarterback. The Buffs didn't have a sack Saturday for the second straight game, and they have produced just one in the last three weeks. Meanwhile, they also allowed some long drives that allowed USC to turn bad field position into points.

Turnovers and sacks are the types of plays that produce big shifts in field position and give an offense a boost. CU somehow needs to produce a few more of those per game.

6. Confidence, leadership in the locker room and a refusal to point fingers are now critical. Anytime a team loses four games in a row, the tendency is for players to start asking questions. Self-doubt, the blame-game and a sense of desperation are the natural result.

Colorado's leaders can't let those feelings take permanent hold.

"The vibe in the locker room, it's still good," tight end Brady Russell insisted. "The older guys are trying to bring the young guys along with us … We just need people to understand they are a lot more capable than they think they are."

The Buffs have two weeks to get their minds back in the right frame of mind.

7. The task of keeping a team together starts at the top. If the season is indeed in the balance, Dorrell and his staff have to find the right mix of tough love.

"This team understands that I've been truthful to them every step of the way," Dorrell said. "I haven't sugarcoated anything about whether we're good or bad, it's always the truth … They know that we have work to do. We all understand that … but we're not going to tear people down for them to lose confidence that they can't do it. We're going to be hard on the details and hard on what we need to fix … We just have to be better, no question. We have to be better."

The Buffs have two weeks to prepare for their next game against an opponent that has been experiencing its own set of problems (the Wildcats are 0-4). The season is far from lost.

But these next two weeks could indeed be the crossroads that will decide how the remainder of the year plays out.