Results still pending
Maybe the shift from Sean Lewis to Pat Shurmur as Colorado's primary offensive play-caller will spark something over the final three games. But it wasn't on display on opening night for the new dynamic.
It wasn't just the second-lowest yardage total of the season (238, better only than the 199 yards at Oregon), the 5-for-14 mark on third down, or another no-show by the running game. The dawn of the Shurmur play-calling era arrived with questionable personnel decisions and a lack of execution at critical junctures.
CU generally has been proficient at clock management this season, but the sequence at the end of the first half, when a three-and-out that consumed all of 13 seconds gave Oregon State a chance to convert a late touchdown, was one of the few times this season the CU offense looked confused and out of sorts. Granted, a drop by Jimmy Horn on second down made a bad situation worse, but that doesn't excuse the first-down call of a swing pass to Dylan Edwards which, even if it had been completed, would have ended with a minimal gain and, possibly, out of bounds.
Which brings up another point. The Shurmur approach called for Edwards to frequently be split wide, with a concerted effort to get him the ball in the passing game. Edwards hasn't been much of a threat since the TCU opener, yet Michael Harrison, who has become a dependable option for quarterback Shedeur Sanders, barely saw the field against OSU.
The nine targets toward Edwards netted four receptions for all of 22 yards. When the Buffs finally started looking for Travis Hunter (11 targets, eight receptions, 98 yards and a touchdown) and Xavier Weaver (seven targets, five receptions, 66 yards), they made noise. Hopefully for the Buffs the new play-calling hierarchy learned just who Sanders should be feeding the most.
While the CU offense is struggling to regain the form of its early-season fireworks, the defense is trending the opposite direction and deserves credit for stepping up to the challenge in back-to-back battles against physical squads like UCLA and Oregon State.
In today's college football, keeping your team in the game is half the battle on defense, and CU did that for a second consecutive week in the wake of the second-half collapse against Stanford. The Buffs held Oregon State 10 points under its scoring average and, following Hunter's two interceptions at UCLA, CU continued to show signs of a return to its early-season turnover form, with fumble recoveries by Derrick McLendon and Trevor Woods.
The Buffs still have an uphill climb toward bowl eligibility. But the turnaround authored by coordinator Charles Kelly's group deserves credit after allowing at least 35 points in five of the first seven games, culminating with the meltdown against Stanford.
Oregon State head coach Jonathan Smith has earned his reputation as one of the top head coaches in the Pac-12 after turning a downtrodden program into one of the toughest clubs in the conference. But a sudden habit of taking completely unnecessary risks nearly cost his team for a second consecutive week.
With 3 minutes, 55 seconds left in the third quarter, following a QB sneak touchdown by OSU's DJ Uiagalelei, the Beavers converted a PAT to increase their lead to 21-3. However, the Buffs were offside on the play, and Smith inexplicably decided to take the point off the board to go for two instead.
There is little, if any, tactical advantage to being up 19 points as opposed to 18, and the decision blew up spectacularly when CU's Kyndrich Breedlove scooped up a fumble to score two points the other way. If OSU simply keeps the PAT on the board, the Buffs never make it a one-score game. That decision was the only reason CU had even a longshot chance at the end, and it came one week after an ill-advised fake field goal attempt on the last play of the first half — a touchdown-or-bust situation where a first down doesn't help — proved critical in a three-point loss at Arizona.
Often I wonder if coaches feel as if they have to prove how smart they are, but Smith doesn't seem like the type of coach who would fall into that trap. Being aggressive is one thing, but the risk-reward balance didn't come close to adding up for OSU in these scenarios.