Takeaways From Buffs Game At Oregon
BOULDER — Colorado freshman wide receiver Brenden Rice has recently become more than a little outspoken about the Buffaloes' efforts — and he's backed up his end of the bargain by putting together some solid performances.
Rice had maybe his best overall game as a Buff in Saturday's 52-29 loss at Oregon. He finished with 281 all-purpose yards (102 receiving, 17 rushing and 162 kick returns), the 13th-best mark in Colorado history. His five catches were a career high and he added his second touchdown catch of the season, a 16-yarder from Brendon Lewis.
After the game, Rice was adamant about what remains for the 2-6 Buffs (1-4 Pac-12).
"We've got to finish out the season, set the standard for next season," Rice said. "We still have those four teams to go out and play. We still have to finish all the way through. Utah's going to bring it, Oregon State's going to bring it, Washington and UCLA. All the teams are ready to go and we have to make sure that we're raising the standards and make sure that we're going to go out there and perform the right way. We need to perform better than what we did today."
Indeed, with the Buffs' postseason hopes now officially hanging by the slimmest of threads — they would need to win out to qualify for a bowl bid — Colorado must set its sights on week-to-week improvement.
Our weekly takeaways:
1. CU's offensive line showed improvement. One week after yielding six sacks and 12 tackles for loss at Cal — a performance that prompted coach Karl Dorrell to dismiss his offensive line coach — the Buffs were significantly better up front.
CU gave up just one sack Saturday, and Lewis had time in the pocket to find receivers. Colorado's run game also took a step forward, particularly in short-yardage situations. After successfully converting just one fourth-down try in eight attempts in the first seven games, the Buffs were 4-for-4 on fourth down against the Ducks.
Not to suggest that everything has been magically fixed up front. But the changes instituted by interim O-line coach William Vlachos — some such as subtle as slightly wider spacing in some schemes — had a positive effect.
2. Lewis took a big step forward. Colorado put together four scoring drives, all covering at least 65 yards, and Lewis was instrumental in every drive.
While his 224 yards passing weren't a career best, he did have a career-high completion percentage (25-for-33, 75.8 percent) and a career-high three touchdown passes.
But most importantly, Lewis began to look comfortable in the pocket. He extended plays with his feet when possible and gave receivers a chance to get open, he took care of the ball (no turnovers) and he made good decisions.
The game was a nice sign of growth for a young quarterback who has taken more than his share of lumps this year. He is clearly developing a chemistry with Rice, and he showed nice touch in his short passing game.
There will quite likely be more difficult moments ahead for Lewis. But the progress he showed Saturday will no doubt be a confidence boost down the stretch.
3. Contributions from young players continue to grow. True freshmen who stepped up with big moments Saturday included wide receiver Ty Robinson with his first college touchdown catch; wide receiver Chase Penry with a nice two-point conversion catch; and safety Trevor Woods with six tackles in a career-high 32 defensive snaps.
Meanwhile, the Buffs continue to get young receivers Chris Carpenter and Montana Lemonious-Craig more work; and sophomore running back Deion Smith — who has been hounded by injuries — had some moments as well.
The Buffs are young. But those young players getting quality snaps now will become veterans who will have more and more of an impact down the line.
4. Quality special teams make a difference. Colorado's overall special teams might be as good as the Buffs have had in years.
Punter Josh Watts has a big leg, is accurate and is dependable. Kicker Cole Becker is accurate and his confidence is growing. CU's coverage teams are solid, and their return teams are excellent.
Rice no doubt gives those return teams a boost. He came within a whisker of taking a kick to the house Saturday, and he gave the Buffs good field position on three kick returns that led the touchdown drives.
Special teams are often overlooked, at least until something goes wrong. But they can be the difference in a close game, and Colorado's emphasis on special teams will pay off in the future.
5. Complementary football is critical. While CU's offense did have some solid moments Saturday, the defense — playing without All-American linebacker Nate Landman — allowed Oregon to score on seven of its first possessions.
The Buffs likely won't see another offense as balanced and as potent as the Ducks' attack.
But if the Buffs are going to make November a month to remember, they'll have to put together some games when all three phases are playing well.