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Buffs Offense Will Be Key In Keeping Falcons In Check

Sep 7, 2022
J.T. Shrout engineered 2 of CU's 3 longest drives of the night against TCU, including Colorado's only touchdown march.

BOULDER — When it comes to Saturday's Colorado-Air Force game at Falcon Stadium (1:30 p.m., CBS), plenty of attention has been focused on the Buffaloes' task of stopping the AFA run game — and rightfully so.

The Buffs had difficulty stopping TCU's run game in last weekend's 38-13 loss, with the Horned Frogs racking up 275 yards on the ground, including 261 in the decisive second half.

No doubt, the option-oriented Falcons pose an even bigger challenge. AFA led the nation in rushing the last two seasons and started off 2022 with a bang last weekend, running for 582 yards (691 total offense) in a 48-17 win over Northern Iowa. Throw in the fact that it is an offensive scheme the Buffaloes seldom see, and the challenge is no doubt a big one.

Still, there is one guaranteed way to keep the Falcons' run game from piling up yards.

Keep them off the field. If Colorado's offense can dictate the tempo, win the time of possession battle — or at least keep it fairly close — Air Force simply won't have as many opportunities to put its ground attack in gear.

For 30 minutes against TCU, the Buffs' offense did exactly that. CU outgained the Horned Frogs 212-67 in the first half and held the ball for 22 minutes to TCU's eight. 

The downside was the Buffs couldn't get to the end zone in the half while TCU did uncork a 60-yard punt return for a touchdown, sending the Buffs into intermission trailing 7-6.

Of course, we all know what happened in the second half. The Horned Frogs made some adjustments, CU's offense went stale and TCU rumbled to a win,

Saturday, the Buffs have a chance to begin the road to redemption — and they'll need their offense to dial up some consistency for 60 minutes to get there — but it won't be easy. AFA's defense may be as underrated as its offense is celebrated.

"They're going to make you earn everything you get," Dorrell said. "They're going to be disciplined in what they do and we're going to have to out-execute them and do what we need to do offensively to have a good offensive performance."

How good are the Falcons on defense?

Figure this: AFA finished fourth in the nation last year in total defense, yielding just under 300 yards per game, and 16th in scoring defense, giving up less than 20 points per game. AFA gave up more than 20 points just five times last year, including a 31-28 win over Louisville in its bowl game.

"Their defensive fronts, they do some different looks in a lot of different ways," Dorrell said. "They're used to playing so many different types of offensive schemes in the Mountain West. They do some particular adjustments for the teams they play and they do it really, really well."

The Buffs showed the promise of a solid running game in the first half last week, running for 104 yards in the first two quarters, getting 35 yards from quarterback Brendon Lewis and 31 from running back Alex Fontenot.

But when the Horned Frogs quickly turned their one-point lead into an 11-point margin in the third quarter, the Buffs were forced to play catchup and turned to the air. CU then finished with just 9 yards rushing in the final two quarters.

"We had to throw the ball more than anything else," Dorrell said. "We weren't able to kind of do the things we were doing in the first half because of how the game came out."

The Falcons are by no means big up front — they can't be. Three-hundred pounders don't fit into the cockpit of a fighter jet, which is pretty much a requirement for an AFA cadet. The Falcons' biggest starting defensive linemen — Christoper Herrera and Payton Zdroik — tip the scales at a relatively slim 265 pounds.

But as Dorrell mentioned, AFA keeps opponents on their heels with a variety of fronts and schemes and a very active group of linebackers. It will be up to the Buffs to put together a consistent run game and a passing attack that will put the Falcons on their heels.

"It's being more efficient with our runs and our passing games," Dorrell said. "We weren't able to create that balance in the second half, given the nature of the game. We have to keep both systems in place to be efficient for us. You know, we did a fairly decent job in that first half. We kind of got away from that element in the second half."

Dorrell did say Wednesday that quarterback J.T. Shrout, who entered the TCU game under less-than-ideal circumstances, did a good job in those instances.

Shrout entered the game late in the second quarter after a Horned Frogs punt pinned the Buffs on their own 1-yard line. He then engineered a 48-yard drive that ended on downs — CU's third longest possession of the game, and one that would have gone even farther had a holding penalty not nullified a first down deep in TCU territory.

Late in the game, he then took Colorado on its longest drive of the night, a 75-yard scoring march that ended with a 23-yard scoring pass to Jordyn Tyson.

"It's hard to come in those situations and generate offense and I thought he did an admirable job in doing those things," Dorrell said. "So we just have to keep getting better."

Dorrell has not named a starting quarterback for Saturday's game, but said he and his staff have developed a plan for both Lewis and Shrout. He said there is a "good possibility" that both will see action against the Falcons.