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Report Card: Colorado beats up Stanford, survives defensive collapse

Your Buffs are now 2-0 and on top of the world.

NCAA Football: Colorado at Stanford D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

Your future Pac-12 South Division champion Colorado Buffaloes continued their tremendous start to the 2020 season. Powered by another strong offensive outing, the Buffs built a commanding 35-16 lead, nearly blew that lead for the second week in a row, but hung on for the 35-32 win. They’re now 2-0 on the young season, which is 0.5 wins more than Vegas had projected them for the entire 7-game season.

Passing Offense

In last week’s season debut, we learned a lot about the offensive system and play-calling of Karl Dorrell and Darrin Chiaverini. The Buffs are going to run a lot, throw mostly quick passes over the middle and use the play action to create opportunities downfield.

That all held true with Sam Noyer looking just as sharp as last week. He excels at reading the defense pre-snap, working through his progressions and putting the ball on his receivers so they can make a play. That sounds rudimentary, but we have three years of evidence that it’s not as easy as it looks.

The Buffs have some talented receivers coming up, none more so than Dimitri Stanley. Noyer’s first touchdown was a simple 10-yard post route that Stanley turned into a 55-yard touchdown, because that’s what great athletes can do with a consistent quarterback. The Cherry Creek product made a number of fantastic catches later on as well, never dropping a target even in heavy traffic. The sophomore finished with 126 yards and a score to continue his tremendous start to the season.

Noyer’s second touchdown of the day was a 34-yard pass to true freshman Brendan Rice. Rice was wide open on a busted coverage, but he deserved that score on his impressive debut. He and La’Vontae Shenault both saw the field for extended action and showed a knack for getting open down the field. Shenault dropped a deep pass near the sideline but still had a productive 60 yards on 3 catches.

Grade: B+

Rushing Offense

There were three major questions facing CU’s rushing attack after the UCLA win: (1) how would the Buffs replace Colby Pursell after his injury? (2) how would they look against a bigger and better defensive line? and (3) is Jarek Broussard for real?

For the first, left guard Kary Kutsch moved over to center to replace Pursell, while Kanan Ray and Chance Lytle rotated at left guard. The Buffs are more likely to play Carson Lee at center next week (he was suspended for this game), but it was still an admirable performance for Kutsch at his off-position. The others, Ray and Lytle, did just fine and showed that the line has a good amount of depth on the interior.

As for the second question, the offensive line continued mowing down even Stanford’s front four. Karl Dorrell’s gameplan was again run-oriented, particularly as they built a significant lead. That line paved the way for 177 rushing yards, burning clock and moving the chains. Sometimes it didn’t matter whether or not they won the line of scrimmage, because Jarek Broussard didn’t need much space to rack up 121 yards on 27 carries. He’s so quick, understands space so well and has a lot of hidden power to his game.

Sam Noyer was also terrific on the ground, rushing for 36 yards and two touchdowns. If Broussard is running like Phillip Lindsay, Noyer is doing an outstanding Sefo Liufau impression. He refuses to slide, attempts too many hurdles for such a valuable player, and surprises tacklers by how hard he hits them.

Grade: A-

Rushing Defense

The Colorado defense might struggle some with team speed, but they’re perfectly built for David Shaw’s power rushing attack. Stanford needs to establish the run to be successful, but they were repeatedly stuffed in this game. Hats off to Mustafa Johnson, Terrance Lang and Jalen Sami, who are proving to be one of the premier defensive lines in the Pac-12.

With those three making plays — Lang the best of the bunch today — it allows the linebacking corps to attack. There’s no one better at getting downhill than our very own Nate Landman. The Zimbabwe-born middle linebacker racked up 14 tackles, almost exclusively at or near the line of scrimmage.

Colorado held Austin Jones and Nathaniel Peat to just 30 yards on 14 combined carries. Those two tore up Oregon’s vaunted defense, totaling 193 yards on 7.4 yards per carry. Just seeing that much of a difference is impressive in its own right.

Grade: A

Passing Defense

Colorado built a huge lead, but struggled to stop Davis Mills once the Cardinal passing attack got moving. We’re quite fortunate that Mills couldn’t practice all week due a false-positive test, because if he had started as sharp as he ended, it would have been an entirely different ball-game. We’re also quite fortunate that Michael Wilson dropped a touchdown pass in the first quarter, because the difference between a touchdown and a field goal was the winning margin.

Even with Mills throwing for 201 yards in the second half, the Buffs’ secondary wasn’t really at fault. There were certainly open receivers, missed coverages and three pass interference calls, but they were much better than last week (This is a very young secondary, so patience is a must). Most of the plays Stanford made were because they have big, handsome, athletic receivers who made some outstanding catches.

It’s also positive to see the Buffs learn from their past mistakes, namely defending the screen passes that hurt them so dearly against UCLA. Every time Stanford ran a screen, the Buffs diagnosed it and made a play on the ball. Carson Wells almost picked off one of those passes, which is worth mentioning because that dude is really good and had himself another standout performance. Isaiah Lewis also had his second strong game in a row, breaking up two passes and playing mistake-free football.

Grade: B — with a 10-point curve

Special Teams

The special teams weren’t really needed today, not with the offense moving the ball so effectively and finishing their drives with touchdowns. The few times they were called upon, they did their jobs with no drama attached. That’s really all we can hope for a special teams unit, no frills, no thrills and no back-breaking mistakes.

Grade: Just Fine