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Buffs Notes: Dorrell Says McCown Will Start Vs. Arizona

Sep 26, 2022

BOULDER — To almost no one's surprise, Colorado coach Karl Dorrell confirmed Monday that true freshman Owen McCown will be the Buffaloes' starting quarterback again Saturday when CU travels to Arizona.

The Buffs (0-4 overall, 0-1 Pac-12) and Wildcats (2-2, 0-1) are scheduled to kick off at 7:30 p.m. at Arizona Stadium in Tucson with the game to be televised by the Pac-12 Networks.

McCown made his starting debut last weekend in a 45-17 loss to UCLA, finishing 26-for-42 for 258 yards, a touchdown and an interception, along with one rushing touchdown.

"I felt like he had an OK performance, close to solid performance," Dorrell said at his weekly press conference. "Did he make some mistakes? Yes, a couple big turnovers that led to some scoring opportunities for UCLA. Those were things that put our defense in a bad position. But his overall body of work was pretty solid. It was a good performance for a freshman to come in and do what he did."

McCown led the Buffs on two touchdown drives, the first time this season CU's offense has crossed the goal line twice in one game. His 258 yards passing were the most by a CU quarterback since Sam Noyer threw for 258 in the 2020 season finale against Utah.

The Texas lefthander no doubt has solid bloodlines and a background rich in quarterback tradition. His father, Josh, had an 18-year NFL career with nine teams and an uncle, Luke McCown, played 12 years in the league with five different teams.

While he no doubt had some "rookie" moments, he appeared to have better overall command of the offense and provided at least a spark that CU's two previous starters this year, Brendon Lewis and J.T. Shrout, had been unable to provide.

While he arrived on campus just last June, McCown quickly rose up the depth chart to the No. 3 spot before the season after a solid fall camp. After Lewis and Shrout both struggled to produce any consistency at the position, he made his debut against Minnesota in the final minutes of the game, completing four of seven attempts for 52 yards.

"He's a fast learner," Dorrell said. "He understands concepts … He was able to really accelerate his learning because of his familiarity with concepts."

Listed at 6-foot-2, 175 pounds, McCown clearly hasn't yet reached physical maturity. There is plenty of room on his frame for some additional weight and muscle. But he survived some big hits against the Bruins, including five sacks.

"It showed us his toughness, his durability to bounce back from those things," Dorrell said. "I don't want him to take a lot of those blows, so we have to do a better job of protecting him."

McCown probably could have avoided a couple of those sacks against the Bruins by getting rid of the ball earlier. He also threw an interception and fumbled on one of the sacks.

But Dorrell is confident McCown will learn and progress quickly.

"He's got a great disposition about learning and really digesting the things that he's made mistakes on, and really getting past those things and understanding what's the next steps into making those positive steps," Dorrell said.

DEFENSIVE WOES: Colorado's defense continues to have problems establishing consistency, especially against the run. After four games, CU is ranked last in the nation in rushing defense (323.2 yards per game), 126th in scoring defense (43.25 points per game) and 122nd in total defense (467.8 yards per game).

"When we do things right and we get the calls right and they execute the defense, we actually play it pretty well," Dorrell said. "There were a number of cases where we forced some stops and were making those plays … We had a defensive call that we called five times in the game and three of those calls, it was perfect, great run stoppage plays. Two of the calls, a couple guys were just out of place and they were big plays against us. Those are the things that we need to continue to clean up. We're going to continue to just keep hammering the details of fundamentals and the scheme."

The Bruins no doubt hit Colorado's weak spots with regularity. UCLA's first three possessions went 64, 75 and 95 yards for touchdowns, and the Bruins finished with four scoring drives of at least 64 yards.

"We're evaluating what we think our players can do effectively," Dorrell said. "We're trying to uncover every stone that's out there with what we're doing from a scheme and personnel standpoint."

RUN GAME NEEDS PUNCH: The Buffs finished with just 51 yards net rushing last week, and even if quarterback sack yardage was eliminated, CU still would have finished with only 90 yards on the ground.

That's an area Colorado needs to improve dramatically this week, as Arizona has had issues stopping the run this year as well. The 'Cats are 125th in the nation in run defense, giving up 228.2 per game. That includes a 354-yard effort by Cal in the Bears' 49-31 win over UA last week, with Jaydn Ott running 19 times for 274 yards and three scores.

"I thought our runners ran hard," Dorrell said of the UCLA game. "They gave us some good runs and some good yards. But we need more consistency. There's more productivity there than what wa shown in the game. I thought our execution and efficiency offensively was probably limited because we weren't running the ball as effectively as we should have."

Walk-on redshirt freshman Charlie Offerdahl got the first start of his career last week and led CU with 47 yards on 14 carries. True freshman Anthony Hankerson made his collegiate debut and finished with 25 yards on seven carries while Deion Smith, CU's leading rusher for the season, had just two carries for 16 yards.

FIRST LOOK ARIZONA: The Buffs have won two in a row against the Wildcats, including a 34-0 whitewashing in Boulder last year. The Buffs scored two touchdowns on returns in that win (interception and blocked punt) while also producing 365 yards total offense. Brendon Lewis had his best game as a Buffs quarterback, throwing for 248 yards and two touchdowns.

But after a 1-11 finish last season in coach Jedd Fisch's first year, the Wildcats have taken some positive steps forward. UA opened with a 38-20 win over San Diego State, then lost to Mississippi State (39-17) and beat North Dakota State (31-28) before losing to Cal in a wild 49-31 contest last weekend.

The 'Cats made a big offseason acquisition via the transfer portal in quarterback Jayden de Laura, a former starter at Washington State. De Laura is 92-for-153 for 1,149 yards and eight touchdowns this year — but he's also thrown six interceptions.

"Very confident quarterback, very experienced quarterback who's been a big catalyst for their offense," Dorrell said. "He's given that offense the life and the confidence you'd want. He knows how to read defenses, can extend plays, has really good vision and can move the safeties with his eyes."

Arizona's offense is averaging nearly 30 points per game, with most of the production coming through the air. UA is throwing for more than 300 yards per game while rushing for just 125. Michael Wiley leads the Wildcats on the ground with 210 yards and three touchdowns on 35 carries.

Defensively, the Wildcats are yielding 34 points and 416 yards per game. Linebacker Jerry Roberts has been in on a team-leading 35 tackles while overall UA has recovered four fumbles and plucked a pair of interceptions.