They never got quarterback right.
As Bevo plunged the dagger into poor Ralphie’s back and twisted like there was no tomorrow, your mind flashed back to a conversation with ESPN’s Kirk Morrison, the former San Diego State and NFL linebacker.
They never got quarterback right.
You remembered asking Morrison earlier this month why it took 13 years for someone to hand CU football coach Karl Dorrell, who’d led UCLA to five bowl games in five seasons, the keys to another program. Then you recalled Morrison’s reply:
“I think they never got quarterback right. I think (the Bruins) just never got the quarterback right.
“I played against Karl’s teams twice. They had running backs. They had receivers. They could never get the quarterback right. They had NFL talent. Maurice Jones-Drew is one of my good buddies. They had things in place. They just couldn’t put it all together.”
Dorrell could this time. He really could. Did you see Brendon Lewis on Tuesday night? Zigging one second, zagging the next. A letter-perfect rainbow up the left boundary to set up one touchdown. A 44-yard scamper up the right boundary that set up another.
The 2020 Alamo Bowl was an even bigger train-wreck than CU’s 2016 trip, save for one, glorious, solitary ray of sunshine: Lewis, the freshman quarterback making his Buffs debut.
The 6-foot-2 native of Melissa, Texas, came off the bench for CU and ran for 73 yards and a score on nine carries (8.1 yards per pop) while completing 6-of-10 throws for 95 yards, or 9.5 yards per attempt.
Lewis led the Buffs offense for seven drives during a 55-23 setback, accounting for 215 yards and 20 points. Senior quarterback Sam Noyer, who’d started the contest, had the reins for nine drives, picking up 163 yards and three points.
As open auditions for 2021 go, it was no contest.
“He probably, just to be honest, was the bright note of (Tuesday),” Dorrell said of his freshman signal-caller.
Noyer is a great story. Always will be. But big No. 4 also finished the season completing just 24 of his last 57 pass attempts, a 42.1% clip, with two touchdown passes, three picks and a bum shoulder. That last one sapped both his accuracy and his ability to bulldoze defenders, the two elements that had made his first four starts so endearing.
That Texas linebacker DeMarvion Overshown got away with a clear head shot on a defenseless Noyer was farcical, but the senior signal-caller (8-for-23 passing) wasn’t the only reason the Buffs got boat raced. The defense held up admirably for four scoreless drives in the first half against Longhorns quarterback Sam Ehlinger, only to collapse like a house of cards once the latter was replaced by backup Casey Thompson (170 passing yards, four touchdowns). Texas tailback Bijan Robinson (10 carries, 183 yards) is probably still running to daylight. The left side of the Longhorns’ offensive line opened holes you could run a VW Westfalia through. And how was Nate Landman not an AP All-American again?
“I was expecting us to play better than that,” Dorrell said of his Buffs, who finished a coronavirus-shortened 2020 campaign 4-2, 3-1 in Pac-12 play. “This game tells me how further we have to go, for sure.”
It should also tell him to do whatever it takes to keep Lewis in the fold for 2021 — and beyond.
Noyer’s rise was a fun narrative, but those guys are football lottery tickets: For every one you hit on, four never make it, three move to tight end and two go back to playing safety. Lewis, you can build an offense around. An offense and a foundation.
Dorrell doesn’t have a roster — yet — that can absorb the losses of Terrance Lang and Jalen Sami along the defensive line. Or a passing attack that doesn’t miss La’Vontae Shenault, whose game has matured while the rest of him hasn’t.
The Buffs’ coach shrugged the absences off after the game, but the tenor of his news conference struck a tone eerily similar to CSU football coach Steve Addazio — that grumbling, exasperated sound football coaches make when the control freaks are no longer in control.
“I’ve got to try to do the best I can,” Dorrell said, “with what I have.”
After that, the postgame got, well, weird. The Buffs’ sports information department ended the traditional Zoom call right when the coach finished up, much to the surprise of those who’d signed on expecting CU players to follow.
Scribes were then told privately that Dorrell had decided not to make any Buffs available — not Noyer, not Lewis, not Jarek Broussard (two scores), not Carson Wells (two sacks) — to the media, and that was that. Finito. Again, weird. But whatever.
Although after a 32-point shellacking on national television, what more could you say?
Texas looked like Texas. CU looked gassed and outclassed.
Except for that Lewis kid.
Open competition, anyone?
“I don’t know if (Noyer) is going to be available, because he may have to have some surgery,” Dorrell noted. “But we’re going to develop the whole football team. It’s not just his position. We’ve got to get better in so many different areas.”
And with a liberalized transfer portal beckoning, Lord knows what’s coming next. The Buffs have been dodging emotional haymakers since February, from Mel Tucker’s abandonment to Dorrell’s hire to the pandemic shutdown a few weeks later. They endured the uncertainty of summer, the will-we-or-won’t-we-play-this-week chaos of the regular season and a series of hose jobs by the Pac-12. The first week of 2021 is going to offer the first real deep breath for a lot of these guys in a very, very long time.
Which also means Dorrell and his staff are going to have to recruit each and every one, all over again. Including Lewis, the kid who ran all over the Longhorns in The Longhorn State. If you want to get quarterback right, start there.