Takeaways From Buffs Win Over Washington
BOULDER — Late Saturday afternoon, after a hard-fought 20-17 win over Washington, Colorado linebacker Quinn Perry summed up what is no doubt going through the minds of a long list of young Buffs.
"We're playing for next season," said Perry, who was credited with nine tackles in the win. "We want to show people why Colorado football is Colorado football. We've got a lot to ramp up for next year. We're just showing a little preview right now."
Now 4-7 overall and 3-5 in Pac-12 play, the Buffs will wrap up their 2021 campaign next Friday in a 2 p.m. game at Utah (Fox).
It will no doubt be a stiff test. The Utes (8-3, 7-1) are coming off a dominating 38-7 win over Oregon, a victory that knocked the Ducks out of contention for a College Football Playoff berth and clinched the Pac-12 South title for Utah.
The matchup will provide the Buffs with a national stage against a quality opponent on a holiday weekend — exactly the kind of game that can enhance a program's profile. Colorado will have nothing to lose and plenty to gain, and should play the final game of the season with a strong measure of abandon.
But equally importantly, the game will give a number of young players one more chance this season to test themselves against high-level competition, and prove to coaches they are ready to take their game up a notch, beginning next spring.
There are, of course, a number of Buffs who will be making their final appearance in CU black and gold. That list includes seniors Nate Landman, Kary Kutsch and Matt Lynch, as well as several juniors who have earned their degrees and are ready to move onto the next stage of their lives.
That group will be aiming to leave the program on a winning note and provide a little momentum and confidence for the future. A victory would no doubt leave a solid footnote to their legacies in Boulder.
But first, one last look at the win over the Huskies with our weekly takeaways:
1. There will no doubt be some holes to fill on defense next season. Plenty of players who came up with big games Sunday will be back next year, giving defensive coordinator Chris Wilson a solid foundation.
The group includes Quinn Perry, safety Mark Perry, cornerback Christian Gonzalez and linebacker Jack Lamb and Robert Barnes. The latter two are transfers who battled injuries early this year, but showed Saturday what kind of impact they might have.
But CU will have to find replacements for Landman, OLB/DE Carson Wells and D-lineman Mustafa Johnson, each of whom were critical elements of Colorado's defense. There are plenty of candidates, but those shoes won't be easy to fill.
2. Speaking of defense, CU has some talented young DBs ready to take their games to the next level. After Saturday's game, we have to put true freshman CB Nikko Reed atop this list. Reed made a beautiful play on a throw to the end zone Saturday and simply outmaneuvered UW wide receiver Jalen McMillan for the ball. It was a critical interception, as it stopped a potential Huskies scoring drive and also opened the door for what proved to be Colorado's game-clinching touchdown.
Others in that group include freshmen Kaylin Moore and Tyrin Taylor, both of whom have shown glimpses of big-play potential and solid coverage skills. Combined with veteran Christian Gonzalez (a freshman who has 17 career starts under his belt) and returning vets Isaiah Lewis, Mark Perry and Mekhi Blackmon, it means CU's secondary should be in good hands next season.
3. The depth at WR looks solid as well. Almost quietly, Daniel Arias has made some big strides in the last few weeks when it comes to consistency. The junior who has shown glimpses of excellent play in past years has caught nine passes in the last three games — by far the most consistent stretch of his career — and he owns two of CU's 10 longest plays from scrimmage this year.
CU's pass game was by no means on fire Saturday, which shouldn't have been a surprise against UW's excellent pass defense. The Buffs also took a hit when WR Brenden Rice left early with an injury, taking a big threat off the field.
But the Buffs do have some promising youngsters. Freshman Chase Penry has shown a penchant for precise routes and good hands; speedy frosh Chris Carpenter had a crucial 15-yard third-down reception on CU's long touchdown drive; and other youngsters such as Montana Lemonious-Craig and Ty Robinson have had big moments this year.
4. CU will miss Kary Kutsch and Colby Pursell, as the offensive line will see a big change. Kutsch and Pursell have been steady, solid performers on the interior, and finding their replacements will be a priority in spring ball.
Also of interest will be who Karl Dorrell names to fill the spot of O-line coach. Whoever it is will have a big job in the spring, as CU must hasten the development of returning starters as well as quickly groom some youngsters for their starting roles.
5. Running back room will be stacked again. Jarek Broussard showed his penchant for pop with a key 26-yard run Saturday and Alex Fontenot is proving to be a solid short-yardage producer.
Meanwhile, with Ashaad Clayton sidelined with an injury, it has opened the door for Deion Smith, who has also shown the ability to get tough yards inside. It should no doubt make for an interesting spring.
6. The transfer portal will no doubt have an impact. We saw Saturday what kind of effect the portal can have, as Barnes and Lamb both had big days. While injuries derailed or at least stalled the contribution of some of CU's newcomers this year, the transfer portal will continue to be a critical piece of the offseason puzzle (via both addition and subtraction).
7. Building a foundation doesn't happen overnight. While this season has no doubt been a long one for all involved, you could still see the process of building for the long term taking place.
Brendon Lewis and the offense made strides. The defense played well — and learned to play without its All-American linebacker, a good sign for the future.
Meanwhile, young players contributed more and more as the season progressed.
Building a program for the long haul — especially at a place that has enjoyed relatively little success for more than a decade — takes patience and belief in a process.
Dorrell has that patience and he believes in his process. Colorado won four games at home this year — three against Pac-12 opponents — and there's not a position group on the field that didn't improve.
That is a concrete sign of progress, something that should continue under his direction.