In the very best way, I’m already exhausted by this Buffs season. All eight quarters of football have been emotionally-draining, must-watch TV. A shocking win over last year’s National Championship runner up? Followed by a hugely-cathartic win over your biggest rival? Somehow it feels like we’re still not talking enough about how celebrities are taking private jets to show up for a 10AM football game against Nebraska.
By the end of Week 4, Fox’s pre-game show will have already been on-location in Boulder twice. When was the last time both ESPN and Fox saw they were going to the same campus and didn’t care? If you’re a CU student reading this, take it from someone who didn’t go to a football school and thinks about it often – it truly does not get better than this. Just get some sleep when you can. Before we dive into all things Rocky Mountain Rivalry, let’s hand out some grades from the Nebraska win:
Offense – B+
It’s hard to criticize a unit that puts up (almost) 40 points on (almost) 400 passing yards. In fact, I’d argue that the most encouraging part of Saturday’s win was how the Buffs still found a way to get going against a defense that actually looked like they had some answers.
After punting away the first four drives of the game, the offense found a way to wake up Gus Johnson and score on seven of their final nine drives. And yeah, some that’s probably on Jeff Simms for having a – maybe the most? – nightmarish game we’ll see all season, but good teams take advantage of the gifts they’re given. Credit for that goes in major part to Shedeur Sanders, who, at this point, is very obviously the type of QB that’s going to keep them in games they have no business being in.
The first touchdown of his afternoon – a 30-yard pass to Tar’Varish Dawson – wasn’t the most complicated throw in the world, but Sanders once again showed off some finesse in getting the ball up and over four Cornhuskers and hitting (and admittedly wide-open) Dawson in stride. This throw, however, was the creme de la creme of Sanders’ day. Flipping your hips and getting that ball to the boundary from the far hash is impossibly difficult, and it shouldn’t be lost on anyone that Sanders makes it look routine. There are some NFL head coaches who wish their QB could make that throw.
To use a dopey college analogy, if the passing game overslept their first couple alarms, the running game totally forgot to set one and missed class entirely. 58 yards on 33 carries is comically bad, especially for a unit that’s supposed to be as deep as any on the team. Dylan Edwards is A Dude, but I’m not sure Dylan Edwards is A Dude Who’s Meant To Run Between The Tackles. Fortunately they have the guys to avoid too much of that, but figuring out what that looks like seems like one of the more pressing issues the team has on their plate over the next two weeks.
And if we’re going to (rightfully) praise Sanders for his passing, it feels a tiny bit necessary to note that, through eight quarters of football, he has -62 yards rushing. You see what he means when he talks about needing to get better at throwing the ball away. (There’s also definitely a blog for another day about how he has a very weird tendency to drift out of clean pockets while also consistently staying in there as a free runner lights him up.)
Receiving-wise, Travis Hunter, Xavier Weaver, and Jimmy Horn Jr. remain studs. Every week one of them is going to have stupid good numbers while the other two have *only* very good numbers. That’s the fun of this offense in a nutshell. If these first 2-3 weeks are all about learning what kind of Buffs team is going to line up against the Oregons and USCs of the world, Saturday’s lesson was mighty encouraging because the Buffs have talented playmakers like them.
Defense – B-
We’ll start with the good news, which is that they finally tackled someone behind the line of scrimmage on Saturday. Progress! The sound that Jordan Domineck’s 2nd quarter hit (and Johnson’s ‘woah’) made is still minty fresh in my mind. Even with all the gaudy offensive numbers, I bet Domineck’s afternoon – four tackles, 2.5 of them TFLs, and a fumble recovery – was what the coaching staff drove home feeling best about.
The turnover differential looks great on paper, but I’m not so sure Bo Nix or Caleb Williams will have the same amount of difficulty fielding snaps. The same goes for Cam’Ron Silmon-Craig – anytime a college DB can hold on to the ball it’s a net positive, but Simms neatly teed that interception up for him in a way that most QBs won’t going forward.
The defensive line is what it is. It already feels a little trite to continually point out, week after week, that they’ve clearly been the team’s Achilles heel so far. Allowing almost 500 rushing yards in two games is somewhere between a red flag and a blaring, all-hands-on-deck siren, but hey, they’ll happily take 1.5 sacks from Taijh Alston any day of the week.
The underlying stats are worrisome, but at the end of the day, the defense only allowed 14 points, played opportunistically, and minimized the damage where they needed to. It won’t be good enough going forward, but I imagine they know that better than anyone else. There’s probably a game or two coming up where they actually get exposed, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.
Special Teams – A
With all due respect to Jace Feely, I find it deeply hilarious that Coach Prime gave him one of the DAWG labels for his jersey. In his defense, going 6-6 on kicks does seem to indicate there may in fact be some dawg in him, even if his longest of the day was 32 yards.