In the locker room on Saturday night, Colorado head football coach Karl Dorrell told his team they just had a defining win.
Certainly, a 20-17 win against Washington — a team that now sits at 4-7 — won’t go down as one of the great victories in CU history. The Buffs, after all, were dominated in total yards and needed four Husky turnovers to get the job done.
But, for a second-year head coach trying to establish a foundation, it was worthy of a locker room celebration.
“What happened in the locker room is that the team was really excited; I was excited that they had a hard-fought win,” Dorrell said Monday during his weekly press conference. “Their confidence is getting better.”
CU (4-7, 3-5 Pac-12) will wrap up their season on Friday against No. 16 Utah (8-3, 7-1) in Salt Lake City (2 p.m., TV: Fox).
Regardless of what happens in Salt Lake City, Dorrell sees a CU team that has improved during the second half of the season.
“This team is learning to become a team,” Dorrell said. “They’re learning to be able to cover up for areas where one side of the ball is struggling, or a poor special teams play — which we haven’t had many — but they’re starting to understand that anything can happen at any moment that changes the complexion of the game.
“(On Saturday), the team that had all the yards and all the first downs and third-down conversions, they didn’t win the game. Well, we played smarter in the critical times and we took care of the football and we were opportunistic in getting turnovers. And then we scored when we needed to score. Those are elements that I think teams learn how to do and we’re starting that process of learning how to perform in those difficult moments.”
There have been plenty of difficult moments for the Buffs this season and consistency has been an issue.
After nearly knocking off then-No. 5 Texas A&M, the Buffs had three miserable games. That was followed by a rout of Arizona, which was then followed by a miserable performance at California. On Nov. 6, the Buffs won a thrilling, double-overtime game against a good Oregon State team, but then followed that with a second-half collapse at UCLA. They rebounded with the win against the Huskies last week.
The roller coaster is part of the growth process, Dorrell said.
“You still have to coach those moments as they come up,” he said. “It’s our first time working together and going through these ebbs and flows of the season. You have to coach them through all of those moments about how this should have happened and this is a great job right here, which we had a number of those issues that came up in a positive way last week. But you still have to continue to bring them along with understanding that’s a typical Saturday in college football. You’re going to have some adversity. How do you handle that adversity? How do you get back on track?
“It’s really just marching through every one of those experiences and talking about it, and giving them the solutions as we get out of it. I think those are the things that are starting to show in some of those difficult moments now.”
For this season, the Buffs have one more game from which to learn and grow and it might be their toughest test of the season.
“I believe Utah has got better every week of the season,” Dorrell said. “They had some struggles early and I think it was right around probably week six or seven of the season that they just started really to click.”