Takeaways From Buffs At Minnesota
BOULDER — Somehow, some way, Karl Dorrell's Colorado Buffaloes need to find the reset button.
The non-conference schedule is finished. Three games and three losses, none of them anything resembling a close game.
But still ahead are nine Pac-12 games, representing a chance to start anew. Dorrell and his staff must find a way to turn these Buffs back in the right direction and experience some success.
Saturday's 49-7 loss at Minnesota certainly wasn't a step in the right direction. From Dorrell on down, the Buffs insisted they were ready to put forth an improved performance, but instead Colorado regressed in virtually every area.
Now, the Buffs have to find a way to manufacture some small, sustainable successes and build on those.
Our takeaways from the Minnesota game:
1. Self-inflicted wounds are an issue. Nobody is saying the last two games turn out differently if the Buffs don't fumble the ball away deep in their territory on their first possession of the game.
But those plays no doubt put the Buffs in a big hole early and set the tone for the rest of the game. Those are mistakes the Buffs can't afford.
Other critical errors? While the Buffs haven't committed an inordinate amount of penalties — 13 in three games — they have had a handful of drive-killing flags that put the offense behind the sticks and halted what had the potential to become scoring drives. For an offense that has had trouble developing any consistency, those flags have been an issue CU can ill-afford.
2. Quarterback situation still unsettled. After three games, the Buffs still don't have a clear leader at the most important position on the field.
Both lead candidates, Brendon Lewis and J.T. Shrout, have had some brief flashes of solid play. But neither has been able to create anything close to separation and stake firm claim to the job.
Now, there may be another twist to the equation. True freshman Owen McCown got the last series against Minnesota and responded with a 4-for-7, 52-yard drive that might have reached the end zone had the Buffs had a few more seconds on the clock.
Granted, McCown's performance came against Minnesota backups. The Gophers were running out the clock. But he did show enough that Dorrell said he and his staff would look at the possibility of an expanded role for McCown.
3. Third down conversions. There were plenty of one-sided statistics from the Minnesota game that signaled the Gophers' domination. Total yards (500-226), rushing yards (334-136) and, of course, the final score jump out.
But one of the most dramatic and impactful discrepancies came on third-down conversions. The Buffs were 1-for-12. The Gophers were 13-for-15.
That's an area that has to be fixed both offensively and defensively if Colorado is going to reverse the course of its recent fortunes.
4. Player development. Yes, this is looking for a small silver lining on a rather big cloud.
But the Buffs are giving young players a chance to play and gain valuable experience. O-lineman Van Wells got his first start Saturday. LB Mister Williams saw some extended time at linebacker and finished with four tackles. Freshman D-lineman Tyas Martin continues to get snaps. Young tight ends Caleb Fauria, Erik Olsen and Austin Smith are getting quality reps.
That's at least a starting point for the future. These are players Colorado needs to develop. The learning curve may be painful, but the hope is that they can become quality contributors soon.
5. A crucial part of the schedule is now on the immediate horizon. If the Buffs are going to change course, it is a process that needs to begin with Saturday's game vs. UCLA at Folsom Field (Noon, Pac-12 Networks).
The matchup with the Bruins begins a five-game stretch that will also include games at Arizona, home against Cal, at Oregon State and home against Arizona State.
If there's a chance to make some progress, that stretch offers the opportunity.
The Buffs will need something to hang their hats on heading into the final four-game stretch against teams that could all be nationally ranked — Oregon, USC, Washington and Utah.