No doubt, much of the struggles behind Colorado’s stagnant offense can be attributed to the sub-par play at quarterback.
But those signal-callers can’t shoulder the entire blame.
While the Buffs certainly need improved play from newly-anointed starter Owen McCown, a true freshman, in order to get on track, CU’s quarterbacks haven’t been helped much by their receivers.
The receiving corps was considered a preseason strength of the offense, and the Buffs (0-4, 0-1 Pac-12) hope a little more stability behind center leads to improved production in the passing game this week as they visit Arizona (2-2, 0-1) for a conference battle on Saturday night (7:40 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Network).
“I think we all can improve,” freshman receiver Jordyn Tyson said. “The line can improve the blocking so we can get open. The receiver play can get better. The quarterback play can get better. It’s all a process and I feel like we’re going to get there.”
While the Buffs have gone with four different quarterback plans through four games, the receivers, largely an experienced group, have had their play marked by dropped passes and missed assignments. Separation, particularly on the outside, has been an issue, with completions often occurring with defenders draped over the CU receivers.
Going into Saturday’s game in Tucson, the Buffs’ five most productive outside receivers — Daniel Arias, Maurice Bell, RJ Sneed, Tyson and Montana Lemonious-Craig — have combined for 35 receptions for 401 yards. By contrast, the top two wideouts in Arizona’s resurgent offense, Jacob Cowing and Dorian Singer, have recorded 51 receptions for 673 yards.
“I’m sure there’s some plays where guys are covered. And there’s some plays where guys are open and (the quarterbacks) didn’t see,” CU head coach Karl Dorrell said. “It’s a little of both. We’ve got to be more effective in getting open as much as we can. Hopefully all the time, which is hard to do. They’re going to be covered at certain points in the game.
“But I think we can be better from a productive standpoint with really getting used to (McCown), because he has a different style than the other two (quarterbacks). I think that would be helpful. And we have to continue to get better at all our skill positions. Really, all of them. They’ve got to be reliable receivers. They’ve got to be able to separate versus man, and read zones and be in the proper windows. We’re still developing in all those areas.”
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With McCown set to make his second consecutive start, the Arizona game will be the first time this year the Buffs have utilized the same quarterback approach in consecutive weeks. Brendon Lewis started the opening loss against TCU, JT Shrout did the same at Air Force, and that duo alternated series at Minnesota before McCown entered late in the game. McCown made his first career start last week against UCLA.
The hope is a semblance of continuity eventually leads to improved production from a CU passing attack that ranks 116th in the nation (out of 131) in passing yards per game (158.5), 121st in completion percentage (.523), and 124th in yards per completion (9.46) as well as team pass efficiency (98.56).
In one instance early in the second half last week against UCLA, McCown fired a pass into what he thought would be an open window downfield, while Sneed stopped his rout short instead. On the next play, McCown fumbled while getting sacked, and UCLA tacked on another touchdown two plays later. For a team with zero margin for error, turning those near-misses into completions would be a huge step in the right direction.
“It (the continuity) is definitely helpful and the offense looks a lot better,” Tyson said. “We had (258) yards for the first time since 2020. That stands to show it’s really helpful and I think it will continue into the future.”
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