Buffs Notes: Lewis Improvement, Big Day For Broussard, Punting Lesson, First Look UCLA
BOULDER — A week ago, Colorado coach Karl Dorrell said he wanted his team to be playing its best football in November.
So far, so good.
The Buffs opened the month last weekend with a heart-stopping 37-34 double-overtime victory over Oregon State, a game in which the offense had its best overall performance of the year, the defense came up with some critical stops when absolutely necessary, and special teams carried their share of the load as well.
Now, Dorrell and the Buffs (3-6 overall, 2-4 Pac-12) must take their show on the road Saturday, when they travel to the Rose Bowl for a 7 p.m. matchup with UCLA (5-4, 3-3).
The Buffs have yet to win on the road this season in three tries — but they also haven't had this much confidence in a while, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Over the last two games — a loss at Oregon and the win over Oregon State — CU has averaged 169 yards on the ground, 197 in the air, 5.6 per offensive snap and 33 points.
One big reason has been the improved play of quarterback Brendon Lewis. The second-year freshman has completed 70 percent of his passes for 394 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions over the last two games, and has engineered seven scoring drives of 65 yards or longer.
"He's definitely grown so much," Dorrell said. "He's confident and we're going to continue to bring him along … We're very pleased with where he's going."
But Dorrell also believes there's much more room for improvement as Lewis continues to grow and develop.
"He had some opportunities even in this game to really put more points on the board and we just missed those opportunities," Dorrell said. "He's still learning. He realizes that he's come a long way since the start of the season and he knows he's not a finished product, but he's very confident that he can get where he wants to go in terms of his own personal goals and ambitions."
But Lewis' improvement is just part of CU's big step forward on the offensive side. Running back Jarek Broussard had his best game of the season, as a rejuvenated Buffs offensive line paved the way for 222 yards rushing, with Broussard accounting for a season-high 151.
"He had a lot of yards after contact, which is something I've been stressing with our running backs," Dorrell said. "We need some tough yards at times and he's running hard and physical, and still slithering through and making plays."
Indeed, Pro Football Focus credited Broussard with 92 yards after contact — by far his largest total of the season.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK: Broussard was one of CU's players of the week on offense, with guard Casey Roddick also honored on that side of the ball. The sophomore lineman played a season-high 68 snaps.
"He had a really good game playing in the interior," Dorrell said. "He did some good things and he's made some improvements on the things that were ailing him in the course of the season."
Defensively, player of the week honors went to defensive end Carson Wells and D-lineman Mustafa Johnson. Wells was in on nine tackles, including a quarterback sack, and had one key quarterback pressure that resulted in a fourth-down incompletion, along with four third-down stops.
Johnson, who joined the team late and played in just his fifth game this season, was credited with four tackles (one for loss) and three quarterback hurries.
"Carson shows up in opportune times," Dorrell said. "It's good to see that he's still making plays for us … He's been very disruptive in a lot of ways so we're hoping he kind of gets into a rhythm."
Johnson, Dorrell said, "Had some constant pressure inside and was making the quarterback move around quite a bit. It was good to see him have some productivity inside."
Named from special teams were long snapper Derek Bedell, who has been virtually perfect all season on punts and field goals; and Alec Pell, who had an excellent day on return and coverage teams.
WATTS CONTINUES TO SHINE: Buffs punter Josh Watts is fourth in the nation this week, averaging 48.33 yards per attempt, and Colorado is 40th in net punting, averaging 40.96 yards.
"Josh has quietly been among the top in the country with what he does," Dorrell said. "Sometimes he gets overshadowed because of the lack of success as a team, but he's been really, really steady and a big-time performer in critical moments."
CU's net punting total would be higher if the Beavers hadn't managed a 26-yard punt return at the end of regulation last weekend, a key play that allowed OSU to navigate into position for a 60-yard field goal attempt as time expired.
The kick was good and sent the game into overtime.
Watts said it was his job to limit returns, but Dorrell said the problem wasn't with the punter.
"That was a coaching error," Dorrell said, "Given where we were punting the ball, we should have directionally punted right or left toward the sidelines for it to go out of bounds. That return gave the almost midfield position … If we just angle punted right or left and get the all out of bounds, they're starting that drive at the 25 instead of the 49 and it's a little more challenging to get in field goal position. That's something we've learned."
LOOK AT UCLA: Dorrell will be headed back to UCLA next weekend, where he played and then served five years as a head coach.
But looking back won't be on his mind. The Buffs need a win to remain alive for a postseason berth, and the Rose Bowl hasn't been a friendly place for Colorado in recent years. CU is just 1-5 all-time at the famed facility, with the only win coming in 2002 under Gary Barnett.
Since then, CU has lost five straight on the road to UCLA.
But the Buffs do have some positive memories concerning the Bruins. Colorado beat UCLA last season in Dorrell's CU head coaching debut, 48-42. The Buffs jumped out to a 35-7 lead in the second quarter, then had to fight off a furious UCLA rally.
UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who is expected to play this weekend, ran for 109 yards and threw for four touchdowns in last year's game. For the Buffs, Broussard ran for 187 yards and three touchdowns.
The Bruins have had an up-and-down season in Chip Kelly's fourth year as UCLA's head coach. They knocked off LSU in the second week of the season, and also have wins over Arizona and Washington. But they lost a close one at Oregon (34-31), then were smacked around by Utah two weeks ago, 44-24.
Still, the Bruins are coming off a bye week and are solidly in contention for a bowl bid. Thompson-Robinson, who didn't play against Utah, had the bye week to heal up and should be ready to play.
"You know what I say about veteran starters — they're hard to defend," Dorrell said. "He's played quite well this year and he's played well in critical moments."