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CU Buffs striving for strong finish to season

Head coach Karl Dorrell encouraged by offensive growth, hopeful defense can fix woes heading into final month

Colorado’s Alex Fontenot and Brady Russell celebrate a touchdown on Saturday, Oct. 30 2021 against Oregon. (Casey Paul/University of Colorado)
Colorado’s Alex Fontenot and Brady Russell celebrate a touchdown on Saturday, Oct. 30 2021 against Oregon. (Casey Paul/University of Colorado)

Colorado head coach Karl Dorrell certainly wasn’t happy with Saturday’s game at Oregon. He was encouraged, though.

In the 52-29 loss to No. 7 Oregon, the Buffaloes didn’t play well on defense, but found some life on offense and continued to excel on special teams.

“Right now we’re getting bits and pieces of some really good performances and we’ve just got to put it all together now, both offensively, defensively and special teams,” Dorrell said Monday during his weekly press conference. “It’ll be a good challenge this week for us with Oregon State coming in. They’re a good team.”

The Buffs (2-6, 1-4 Pac-12) will host Oregon State (5-3, 3-2) on Saturday at Folsom Field (5 p.m., TV: Pac-12 Network) and Dorrell is optimistic after last weekend’s game.

“We need to step up to the plate and really do a great job of giving ourselves a chance to be successful and win some of these games down here,” he said. “It started today with a good practice and there was good energy. The guys understand what’s in front of them, and we’re ready to move forward.”

Defensively, CU had its worst outing of the season against the Ducks, giving up season highs in points and yards (568). Oregon’s first-team offense scored on all eight possessions.

“There was a number of errors that were uncharacteristic from what their body of work has been over the course of the season,” Dorrell said.

Because the performance was uncharacteristic, Dorrell is confident the defense can get things fixed. Even with the poor performance against the Ducks, the Buffs rank fifth in the Pac-12 in points allowed (24.6 per game) and they are among the top four in third-down and red zone defense.

“There’s a lot of pride on the defensive side, there’s a lot of experience on that side and those guys are not very happy with what it looked like last week, so it’s important for them to get those things addressed and shored up,” Dorrell said. “There’s definitely some attention to how things have been done the last couple of weeks, and they’re eager to get those things fixed.”

Near the top of the priority list is on-field communication. Linebacker Nate Landman didn’t play against Oregon and likely won’t play this week. Without him, the Buffs don’t have their leader and Dorrell said it’s up to others to speak up on the field.

“We just need our guys to do their role and increase their communication within that role,” Dorrell said. “They just need to step up and make sure everybody’s on the same page.”

Dorrell mentioned linebackers Quinn Perry and Carson Wells, defensive end Mustafa Johnson and safety Mark Perry among those who need to communicate better and get the defense going.

On the other hand, the Buffs had arguably their best game of the season offensively. The offense scored four touchdowns for the first time since Week 1 against Northern Colorado and had its third-best yardage total (341) of the season.

“Offensively it was probably our most solid performance we’ve had, even though it was a slow start to the game,” Dorrell said. “Our players still stayed locked in about creating some offense and creating some plays and getting some continuity. I was really encouraged with how they kind of battled through the game.”

Getting that type of production in consecutive weeks is the next challenge for the offense. The Buffs played fairly well offensively in a 34-0 win against Arizona on Oct. 16, but followed that up with a dismal effort against Cal on Oct. 23, with 104 yards in a 26-3 loss.

“I believe this (offense) has so much more to give, so much more that they can improve,” Dorrell said. “They’re champing at the bit right now really. I think this game (against Oregon) gave them a shot of confidence about what they could do. There’s always things you did good or not so good, but most of it was good this week and they feel very confident that they can shore up some things to be even better. So I feel it’s a big confidence boost for them.”

Dorrell’s goal is for the Buffs to put it all together so they are a tough team to beat down the stretch.

“November is that month you want to start playing your best football,” he said. “That’s in any circumstance, whether your record is (good or not). But I think it’s a critical month that we end up this season finishing playing our best football in all three phases.”