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Takeaways From Buffs Vs. TCU

Sep 4, 2022

BOULDER — Colorado coach Karl Dorrell didn't sugarcoat things in his press conference following Friday night's 38-13 loss to Texas Christian.

The Buffaloes, Dorrell conceded, have plenty of areas in which they need to improve — and not a lot of time to get it done. The Buffs return to action Saturday at Air Force, where they will face a Falcons team that opened with a convincing 48-17 win over Northern Iowa. AFA finished with 691 yards offense, including 582 on the ground.

For 30 minutes Friday night, there were plenty of promising signs for the Buffaloes, especially on defense. TCU's only score in the first half came via a 60-yard punt return and while the Buffs' offense couldn't get to the end zone, the Buffs were at least eating up yards and clock and they trailed by just one, 7-6, at intermission.

The general consensus was that with a few halftime adjustments, Colorado could put itself in position to get a much-needed opening win.

Instead, it was the Horned Frogs who made the adjustments and the Buffs never countered. TCU dominated the final two quarters with 31 unanswered points, leaving CU with plenty of questions and a week to find the answers.

Our first week takeaways:

1. Explosive plays are still the difference. A year ago, CU gave up nearly twice as many plays of 20-plus yards as it recorded (59-30).

The discrepancy Friday night was even more pronounced. After Colorado had a 3-1 edge in explosives in the first half, the Horned Frogs ripped off eight in the final two quarters while limiting CU to just one more for a final 9-4 edge in those drive-defining plays. (We're counting the 60-yard punt return for a touchdown here as an explosive).

That's a ratio that has to be reversed. The Buffs missed tackles, missed assignments and simply found themselves in the wrong defensive sets too many times in the second half. TCU spread Colorado's defense out, then took advantage of superior speed at the quarterback position and in the backfield to wreak havoc on the Buffs.

2. Short yardage offense/third-down conversions still areas of concern. Colorado finished just 6-for-15 on third-down tries — and while the numbers for third-and-5 or less (3-for-4) look good on paper, the Buffs came up short in critical situations.

All CU fans remember last year's Texas A&M game, when CU had two chances to get 2 yards in the red zone, needing a touchdown to firmly seize control. The Buffs couldn't convert and A&M ended up winning.

Friday night produced an eerily similar situation. Colorado drove to the red zone on its opening drive and faced a third-and-2 from the TCU 16.

Two plays later, the Buffs were still a yard short and they came away empty handed.

Of course, one touchdown in a 25-point loss technically wouldn't have made a difference. But if the Buffs somehow could have turned that opportunity into a touchdown and come away with a 7-0 lead, it would have at least been a momentum boost that would have given CU's offense a much-needed jolt of confidence.

One possession later, the Buffs had a third-and-5 at the TCU 12. But instead of giving themselves a chance to convert, they committed a penalty and had to settle for a field goal.

Thus, a very real chance at a 14-0 lead left Colorado clinging to a 3-0 lead.

Again, big opportunities for momentum and confidence slipped away — something the Buffs simply can't afford to let happen.

3. Quarterback situation. Yes, this is perhaps the biggest issue on the minds of CU's fans. 

Dorrell and his staff stayed with incumbent starter Brendon Lewis and while he was relatively efficient, he never took the Buffs to the end zone. Lewis completed 13 of his 18 attempts for 78 yards (6 yards per completion), with a long of 25. He did finish as CU's leading rusher with 42 yards, including the Buffs' longest run of the night, a 24-yard scamper.

Backup J.T. Shrout seemed to inject some life into Colorado's offense at moments, but he also had his share of mistakes. Shrout completed 13 of 23 attempts for 157 yards (12 yards per completion) and also directed Colorado's only touchdown drive of the night, a foray into the end zone at the very end of the game that finished with a 23-yard scoring pass to freshman wide receiver Jordyn Tyson.

This is an issue that needs to be settled. Dorrell said he and his staff would evaluate the situation and move forward.

What is clear is that offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford needs the freedom to design a game plan built around one quarterback. CU's offense has potential, but running it with two different QBs doesn't appear to be the right way to completely utilize all the weapons available.

4. Turnovers. This was an area on which the Buffs defense spent plenty of time in fall camp, aiming to improve their takeaway ratio.

But Friday night, Colorado came up empty in that category. The Buffs never threatened to come up with an interception and never forced the Frogs to put the ball on the turf. CU must figure out a way to manufacture a couple of those momentum-shifting moments every week.

Offensively, the Buffs were solid in this area — something that is becoming a Dorrell trademark. In his 19 games as Colorado's head coach, the Buffs have gone without committing a turnover nine times. That's an exemplary number.

5. In-game adjustments. As mentioned previously, the Buffs entered the locker room trailing by just one point and knowing they had, for the most part, outplayed their opponent.

But when the Horned Frogs cranked up their run game in the second half, CU had no answer — and at the same time, Colorado's offense actually took a step back.

That's something Colorado coaches will no doubt spend plenty of time studying closely and — hopefully — figuring out how to reverse.

6. Pressure on the quarterback. This was another area the CU defense focused on during fall camp, and the feeling was that they had taken some good steps forward in figuring out how to disrupt the opponent's pocket.

But the Buffs did not have a quarterback sack Friday, and they were credited with just two QB pressures.

Granted, TCU attempted just 23 passes, and only 10 in the second half. But it's still an area in which the Buffs need to improve (although it almost certainly won't be a big concern against the Falcons, who attempted only six passes in their opener).

7. Shore up the run defense. What was supposed to be an area of improvement for the Buffs — the front seven — looked shaky in the second half. TCU took CU's linebackers out of the game by spreading them out in coverage, then simply dominated the trenches in the second half.

The Buffs likely won't have to worry about pass defense a great deal next weekend — but they will have to greatly improve their tackling and gap assignments. The Falcons aren't fancy, but they execute their offense as well as any team the Buffs will face, and every mistake will be magnified.

8. Maintain confidence. Granted, it's difficult to find those silver linings in a 25-point loss.

But with 11 games to go, the Buffs can't afford to let one bad game — actually, one bad half — turn their attitude south. Colorado had a good fall camp and the Buffs have talent in plenty of places.

They need to regroup this week, focus on the task at hand and put together a solid performance Saturday.