Keeler: CU Buffs football won’t be taken seriously until Karl Dorrell, Rick George take offensive line seriously. Want to beat Utah? Great. Join ’em.
Playing hard is a presumption, Karl Dorrell. Not a foundation.
“I felt (our 2020) team didn’t have the fight and I told them that,” Dorrell told reporters on Friday in Salt Lake City after his Buffs fell to rival Utah, 28-13, to wrap up a dispiriting 2021 slate.
“I felt like last year’s team, when we were in these moments you could sense a letdown. I felt this year’s team fought every time, every time … And I know that foundation in the program, about finishing games and playing hard and playing for each other, that’s definitely in place in this program right now.”
Foundations are pillars, not platitudes. They’re set in stone with dollars and dedication. They’re investments in identity.
You want to see a foundation, Coach?
Look west. Look across the border. Look across the line of scrimmage.
Since 2014, eight seasons running, the Utah Utes have featured the same offensive line coach and the same head of football strength and conditioning.
The Buffs (4-8, 3-6 Pac-12) over that same span have started a season with three different offensive line coaches, and are pursuing their fourth full-time face at that position since 2018. CU has put three different men in charge of football strength and conditioning over the last eight years.
The Utes (9-3, 8-1) know who they are. Teams with strong foundations, no coincidence, also tend to be the ones with high floors. Iowa. Wisconsin. Minnesota. Utah. The Buffs lost to the Gophers and Utes this fall by a combined score of 58-13 in two meetings while giving up 543 rushing yards and five touchdowns on the ground.
CU quarterback Brendon Lewis, meanwhile, spent the last three months running for his life.
If the Buffs are truly serious about finding their niche again on the national college football stage, if they’re tired of the roller-coaster seasons and the anonymity, they’ll pour some bucks into the program’s infrastructure. The real foundational stuff.
Don’t just identify a good offensive line coach. Hire him or her. Invest in them. Keep them. When you land the next Chris Kapilovic, let ’em know they matter.
Because as erratic as Lewis looked during his first full season at the controls, he’s also still a freshman. And it’s going to be dang hard to get a read on where the kid’s ceiling is if he’s constantly working from a paper-mache pocket. Transfer J.T. Shrout, once he enters the picture again, same deal.
CU finished this campaign with six games — half the slate — in which it allowed at least three sacks or more. That hadn’t happened to the Buffs since 2018 (six games). Cripes, it was even worse in 2017 (seven games).
Over the last five seasons, CU went 13-9 when allowing one sack or fewer in a game, for a winning percentage of .590, or 7-5 over 12 tilts. When it was two sacks or more, they were 10-22 (.312), which projects to a 4-8 regular season.
Again: Solid foundation, high floor.
These Buffs, as constructed, look tentative. What was true against Texas A&M at Empower Field was just as true on Black Friday in Salt Lake City: You’ve got trust issues on offense. Top to bottom.
Whenever CU needed to go for the throat, its fingers got stuck south of the collar bone. Lewis this fall ran the gamut from hesitant to careful, a game-manager even during tilts in which he trailed by 10 points or more, the rare combination of safe and sorry.
Ergo, the young Texan wound up with a strong touchdown-to-interception ratio (10-3) and a decent completion percentage (58.3) but threw for only 128 yards per game on an offense that went without scoring a touchdown on three different occasions.
If last season was the fluke and this one is the norm, the Buffs are in trouble. And it’ll remain that way unless Dorrell and athletic director Rick George get serious about infrastructure, serious about the trenches.
According to the metrics tracked at FootballOutsiders.com, CU’s offensive line was objectively the program’s worst since the site began charting FBS programs in 2014.
For the first time in eight seasons, the Buffs’ front five ranked among the bottom 30 within the Football Bowl Subdivision simultaneously when it came to running the ball (“Line Yards Per Carry,” No. 103 nationally going into the Utah game) and in terms of protecting its quarterback (“Sack Rate,” No. 122 before the Utes tussle).
Look west, Coach. Over the last five years, when CU ran for at least 170 yards per game, the Buffs posted a mark of 14-9 (.607), which is also a 7-5 pace over 12 tilts. With fewer than 170 rushing yards, they went 9-23 (.281).
Which goes back to what Buffs fans have been saying for ages: Foundations, true foundations, start up front. And, as we learned from the last 13 weeks, it can end there, too.