Buffs Gear For Potent TCU Offense In Season Opener
BOULDER — In the nine months since Colorado last played a game, plenty has changed for Karl Dorrell's Buffaloes.
In that span, CU's roster underwent a significant makeover, Dorrell revamped his coaching staff and the Buffs installed a new offense under the direction of new coordinator Mike Sanford.
Friday night, CU fans will get their first real look at what kind of effect all those changes have had when the Buffs play host to Texas Christian in their 8 p.m. season opener at Folsom Field (ESPN).
While every opener — every game — is important, this one has a little more on the line for the Buffaloes, who want to put last year's 4-8 finish far in the rearview mirror and begin the process of taking the program back to a level of respectability.
Friday's contest isn't a warmup, by any stretch of the imagination. While the Horned Frogs are coming off a 5-7 finish last year and have a new coach in Sonny Dykes, they are nevertheless a respected opponent from a Power 5 conference. The game offers CU a chance to build momentum, and is the first of a formidable non-conference lineup that will see Colorado head to Air Force next week and Minnesota the week after.
The situation offers as much as the Buffs could hope for in an opener: a quality opponent that is playing its first game under a new head coach, what is sure to be a raucous Folsom Field crowd and the added boost of a national television audience. If they can collect a win, the Buffs will hit the road with a healthy dose of confidence in their pockets.
The Horned Frogs offer an interesting matchup. Dykes brings with him his freewheeling offensive style that should take little time in building a head of steam. TCU returns a pair of quarterbacks, starter Max Duggan and backup Chandler Morris, who have big arms and have proven themselves more than capable. The Frogs also have an interesting third option in Sam Jackson, a dual-threat player who has also lined up as a receiver and running back in TCU's fall practices.
The Frogs also have their top four receivers returning from last year, including Quentin Johnson, a pair of capable running backs and an experienced offensive line.
On defense, the Buffs will counter with a group that is entering its second season under coordinator Chris Wilson and one that boasts a solid front seven. CU has a deep, experienced group in the trenches, led by defensive end Terrance Lang, and a versatile corps of linebackers that includes Robert Barnes, Quinn Perry and transfer Josh Chandler-Semedo.
The question mark is Colorado's young secondary. While CU does have a veteran at free safety in Isaiah Lewis, the other starters — corners Kaylin Moore and Nikko Reed, strong safety Trevor Woods and nickel Tyrin Taylor — have a combined six career starts between them.
"They're going to play with two or three quarterbacks and they're all distinctive types and they're all pretty athletic," Dorrell said. "They have some skill on the outside, some guys that run really well. And they have a running back who's a really dynamic player out of the backfield. They do a really good job of creating space and we're going to have to do a great job of minimizing some of that space."
One big key, Dorrell said, will be for the Buffs to execute one of the most basic fundamentals of the game — tackling.
"That's alway the biggest challenge of the first game," Dorrell said. "You see it in the NFL preseason, where there's a lot of missed tackles in that first preseason game. The same kind of thing happens in college … Our challenge is to keep a lid on their skill and not let them create too many big plays."
Offensively, the Buffs will line up with either incumbent starter Brendon Lewis or challenger J.T. Shrout at quarterback. The two engaged in a hotly contested battle throughout August, and Dorrell won't reveal his starter until Friday night.
But the big key for the Buffs will likely lie in their run game. CU averaged barely 126 yards per game on the ground last season, an area they are aiming to improve dramatically. The Buffs have a pair of capable backs in Alex Fontenot and Deion Smith, and can mix it up as well with Jayle Stacks.
Horned Frogs fans will be keeping a close eye on their defense, a group that played a major role in the offseason coaching change. TCU allowed 462 yards and 35 points per game last season, but Dykes has changed up the scheme to a 3-3-5 alignment, one designed to limit explosive plays and force opponents to grind out long drives.
"It's a challenging defense because it's built not to give you a big play," Dorrell said. "It's built to make offenses take the long road and sometimes offenses aren't patient enough. They make a mistake, and somewhere (the defense) gets a chance to capitalize on that poor decision."
OPENERS: Friday night's game will open CU's 99th season at Folsom Field … This will be the first-ever meeting between the Buffs and Horned Frogs … The Buffs are 83-44-5 all-time in season openers, including a 55-20-1 mark in Boulder. CU has also won its last six openers, including two in a row by Dorrell, while TCU has won seven of its last eight.
BRANCH RECOGNITION: The Buffs will honor the late Cliff Branch during Friday's game. Branch, a star on CU's 1970 and '71 teams, became the schools first inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August. A one-minute tribute video of his accomplishments will be shown between the first and second quarters, and a number of his former teammates will be on hand, along with his son Brent and granddaughter, Brentney. The Folsom Field turf will also sport a commemorative logo featuring his number and the Hall of Fame logo.
TV-RADIO: The game will be broadcast by KOA (850 AM and 94.1 FM), with Voice of the Buffs Mark Johnson and CU coach Gary Barnett in the booth and Andy Lindahl from the sidelines … ESPN will carry televise the game with Brian Custer, Dustin Fox and Taylor McGregor.