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Monday Buffs Bits: Pass Game Improvement Could Help CU Run Game

Oct 18, 2021
Brenden Rice had a 62-yard TD reception in the win over Arizona.

BOULDER — As Colorado linebacker Carson Wells said at the Buffaloes' weekly press conference Monday, winning solves a lot of problems.

No doubt, a blowout 34-0 win over a conference opponent that ended a four-game losing streak can do wonders for a team's outlook.

But Karl Dorrell's Buffs (2-4 overall, 1-2 Pac-12) don't have the luxury of basking in the glow of Saturday's win over Arizona. Directly ahead is a Saturday road game at Cal (1:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks). If CU is indeed going to use their win over the Wildcats as a springboard to a successful second half of the season, they need to take advantage of every opportunity possible — beginning with the matchup with the 1-5 Bears.

"I was very encouraged to see our team respond and play at a pretty good level," head coach Karl Dorrell said Monday. "I think what we took from it is that we think we can get better and we think we can continue to stress the details and play our best football as we go through this second half of the season."

The Buffs clearly picked up a healthy dose of confidence from Saturday's win. The defense pitched a shutout and scored a touchdown; special teams were excellent and also scored a touchdown; and the offense caught fire in the second half and produced its best passing game of the season, with Brendon Lewis throwing for 248 yards and two touchdowns.

That improvement in the passing game, Dorrell believes, will be critical moving forward — especially when it comes to helping a run game that has yet to produce the kind of numbers that were a regular occurrence a year ago.

In 2020, the Buffs averaged 218 yards per game on the ground and 4.75 yards per carry while Jarek Broussard notched four 100-yard games in six contests.

This year, after six games, the Buffs are averaging 135.5 yards per game and 3.0 per carry, and have yet to produce a 100-yard rusher.

"When you've hung your hat on running the football so much, there's a lot of dedication that you see from a defensive standpoint of stopping the run," Dorrell said. "Knowing that we haven't passed the ball as efficiently until this last week, a lot of teams were really geared to stop the run … They've been trying to put the game in Brendon's hands. That's why we had to get our passing game some relevance. It had to start to show some signs of life so we can create that balance."

One piece of the puzzle in improving the passing attack has been finding more ways to put the ball in the hands of playmakers — beginning with wideout Brenden Rice. The freshmen receiver last weekend had his best game as a Buff, catching three passes for a career-high 111 yards, including a 62-yard touchdown catch.

"He's getting more confidence and is getting opportunities to make some plays," Dorrell said. "We've made some adjustments in our offense that kind of utilize and fit his skill set … It's us trying to fit our personnel and making sure we're getting some touches for some guys that we feel can make some big plays for us."

WOODS HONORED: Freshman safety Trevor Woods was named the Pac-12 Special Teams Player of the Week after his blocked punt and scoop-and-score against Arizona.

Woods got a hand on punter Kyle Ostendorp's kick, then grabbed the ball and raced 36 yards to the end zone in the third quarter to give CU its first touchdown of the game.

It was the Buffs first blocked punt since Alex Fontenot blocked two in back-to-back weeks in Nov. 2018 (last coming Nov. 24 at Cal) and first that was returned for a touchdown since Lawrence Vickers on Sept. 11, 2004 against Washington State.  

POINTS ON THE BOARD: Dorrell is well aware that there were some critics last weekend that questioned his decision to kick a field goal on CU's first drive rather than try for a touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line.

But, Dorrell said, the important thing at that point was to make sure the Buffs got something from the drive.

"The first drive of the game, we moved the ball all the way down there and we had struggled in the short yardage aspect," Dorrell said. "The chance to go for it on fourth down to me was not worth the risk of not getting any points on the first drive of the game. We felt it was a positive step for our offense to get some points and then build off that."

EXTENDED TIME FOR LEWIS: Dorrell said the CU staff did consider sending backup quarterback Drew Carter into the game after CU took a 27-0 lead — but coaches ultimately decided to send Lewis back in and allow him to reap the benefits of his best game as a Buff.

Lewis then led CU on another touchdown march, capped by an 11-yard scoring pass to Dimitri Stanley.

"I wanted (Lewis) to keep feeling it," Dorrell said. "He's your starter, he's playing a great game … I felt Brendon earned this chance to play well and play longer, just because he's worked so hard. You're building his confidence, you're getting him in rhythm — you didn't want him to get out of that so quickly."

CONFIDENCE BUILDER FOR WELLS: After leading the nation in tackles for loss per game last season, CU's Wells had been having a good — but not great — season thus far, with four tackles behind the line in the first five games.

Wells doubled that number Saturday, collecting four stops for loss.

"It felt good," Wells said. "Honestly, I felt like I was back to my old self … It felt really good to get back out there and be able to do what I know I could do and build off that going forward."

While Wells has played for three head coaches in his time in Boulder, he's had the same position coach in Brian Michalowski the last three seasons.

"Having him as a resource has been crucial in my growth as a player, on and off the field," Wells said. "He's a student of the game. He gives me what I need each week to be successful. He's been a huge help."

PERSONNEL UPDATES: Defensive back Nigel Bethel, who suffered a knee injury Saturday, underwent an MRI on Monday. While Dorrell didn't know the results of the testing, he said, "Right now it doesn't look so good … He'll be down for a while." … Dorrell also said RB Ashaad Clayton, who did not suit up Saturday, recently underwent a "minor procedure" and could be back in the next week or two … And, Dorrell said suspended wide receiver La'Vontae Shenault is still practicing and could be reinstated in time for next week's game at Oregon.