CU Buffs notes: Fourth-down calls built confidence

Colorado went 4-for-4 on fourth downs, with two touchdowns, against Oregon

Colorado head coach Karl Dorrell during the game against California on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, in Berkeley, Calif.(Tyler Davis/University of Colorado)
Colorado head coach Karl Dorrell during the game against California on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, in Berkeley, Calif.(Tyler Davis/University of Colorado)
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The calls were made out of necessity, as the Colorado Buffaloes needed touchdowns and as many points as possible in a game that was already out of hand.

Head coach Karl Dorrell’s decisions to go for it on several fourth downs last Saturday were also important for the Buffaloes’ confidence, despite a 52-29 loss to Oregon.

Prior to last week, the Buffs (2-6, 1-4 Pac-12) were the worst team in the country on fourth downs, converting just 12.5 percent of the time (1-for-8). Against the Ducks, however, they were 4-for-4. Two of them went for touchdowns and the other two led to touchdowns.

“It was big, as you can imagine,” Dorrell said. “Talking about it in our huddles and before the plays have been run, there was a lot of confidence that they can achieve what they were setting our goals to achieve in those situations. And it was fun to see that they were into it.”

CU trailed 28-7 the first time it went for it, facing fourth-and-goal at the Oregon 2. Brendon Lewis threw a short pass to running back Alex Fontenot, who sprinted to the end zone untouched for a score.

In the second half, a 17-play drive included two fourth-down conversions, including a 1-yard touchdown by Fontenot on fourth-and-goal.

Late in the fourth quarter, a 2-yard run by Deion Smith on fourth-and-1 at the Oregon 14 set up a touchdown two plays later.

Although the Buffs never really threatened the Ducks, the fourth down decisions – and success – built some confidence.

“Definitely, especially when it’s a run play,” Fontenot said. “It means (Dorrell) has trust in me and our O-line to get the job done. Especially a team like (Oregon), we need points on the board. Sometimes three just won’t cut it.”

The offense, in general, got a boost of confidence with the performance against the Ducks, but those fourth conversions were essential to that.

“They were into it and they understood it was one of those must-make opportunities,” Dorrell said. “And  they made all of them, so it’s definitely a big confidence boost.”

Dorrell hopes the confidence carries over to Saturday’s matchup against Oregon State (5-3, 3-2) at Folsom Field (5:10 p.m., TV: Pac-12 Network).

Connection building

Twice in the past three games, Lewis has connected with receiver Brenden Rice for touchdowns, and the duo has hooked up for several big plays.

Rice leads the team with 17 catches for 280 yards, and most of that has been in the last three games. During that stretch, Rice has caught nine passes for 219 yards and he has topped the 100-yard mark twice.

“I’m extremely happy for both of them because they’re discovering new, I would say, steps of their progress and they’re gaining confidence along the way,” Dorrell said. “Both players being young and they are very confident with each other about making plays.

“There’s always that connection when the quarterback has a great feel of one of his receivers and I think that’s starting to be developed right now. But we need that feeling with a lot of our skill that’s playing right now.”

While Rice has been the top target of late, Lewis has shown a connection with tight end Brady Russell, running back Jarek Broussard and several young receivers. Freshmen Montana Lemonious-Craig, Chase Penry and Ty Robinson also have caught touchdowns from Lewis.

Nearing the end

Several players on the current roster are entering their final month as Buffs, including left guard Kary Kutsch.

A former junior college transfer who has been at CU since 2018, Kutsch has had quite a college journey, with four head coaches and now five offensive line coaches.

Kutsch has become CU’s most consistent lineman and has just two games remaining at Folsom Field, Saturday against Oregon State and Nov. 20 against Washington.

“I’ve thought about it, and like just thinking back to all the coaches I’ve had and everything like that,” Kutsch said. “It’s’ definitely been great here. It’s just weird to think back that it went so quick. I’ve thought about it a little bit, but I’ve tried to avoid thinking about it too much.”

Notes

Fontenot is believed to be the first player in CU history to score two touchdowns on fourth-down plays in the same game. … CU has just six turnovers this year, the fifth-fewest in the country. CU has had four turnover-free games this season.