Sep. 3—By the time quarterback Brendon Lewis led the Colorado offense onto the field late in the third quarter Friday night against TCU, the crowd at Folsom Field was already thinning.
Many who were still there let CU head coach Karl Dorrell know how they felt about the decision to keep Lewis at quarterback by booing the offense. Then, more of the fans headed for the exits.
At the time, CU still had a shot to win, but it didn't feel like it because of the ineptitude of the offense. The Buffs wound up getting embarrassed, 38-13, in their worst season opener since 1999.
Lewis won an offseason battle for the starting job, but it's unclear if he'll get the nod Saturday when the Buffs (0-1) travel to Air Force (1-0).
"We'll continue to work through it," Dorrell said after the game. "I think we're going to have to get some film evaluation on both and to see what we do from this point forward. I don't have an answer right now, right after the game, but we're going to definitely have some discussion on that."
Lewis started all 12 games for the Buffs a year ago, but it was a struggle. CU had one of the worst offenses in the country, which led Dorrell to fire four of his five assistants on that side of the ball. The key hire of the offseason was new coordinator/quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford.
Lewis finished the 2021 season with 1,540 passing yards, 10 touchdowns, three interceptions and a QB rating of 118.82 — ranking 11th among the regular starters in the Pac-12.
On Friday, he was 13-for-18 for 78 yards, marking the sixth time in 13 career starts he finished with less than 100 passing yards and the eighth time he didn't have a touchdown pass.
Dorrell, his staff and many players have talked for months about Lewis' dramatic improvement. That didn't show up Friday, but Dorrell backed the sophomore.
"Well, I think he's different and better," Dorrell said after Friday's game. "We didn't have an idea of what he would look like today, but everything that's shown in the offseason up to this point, he looked really well, did really good things."
Dorrell added that he didn't think Lewis, who led the Buffs with 42 rushing yards, played poorly against TCU.
"He wasn't perfect, though, and neither was JT," Dorrell said.
Playing in a game for the first time since December of 2020 when he was at Tennessee, Shrout finished 13-of-23 for 157 yards and a touchdown with 73 seconds left in the fourth quarter — CU's first TD pass in four games.
After Lewis led the Buffs to a pair of field goals in four possessions to start the game, Dorrell made the switch to Shrout with 2 minutes, 23 seconds to play in the first half and CU backed up on its own 1-yard line.
That is a situation CU practices often and after a scrimmage last month, Dorrell said, "The goal (in that situation) is to get two first downs and get out of that area so if you do punt, you flip the field."
Shrout led the Buffs to two first downs and moved the offense to the TCU 45-yard line. A holding penalty stopped momentum and Shrout wound up tossing an incompletion on a last-second Hail Mary before intermission. CU trailed 7-6.
TCU's lead was 24-6 in the fourth quarter when Shrout finally went back into the game. He played the entire final quarter.
"It seemed like he had a better rhythm going in terms of what he was doing," Dorrell said. "I still think he was moving out of the pocket prematurely at times. I saw that a lot. But it's his first day back (from a knee injury that cost him the 2021 season). He got a chance to get the rust off from not having played in a year and I'm sure he's going to get better."
A year ago, Dorrell had few options at quarterback. With Shrout injured, Lewis and then-true freshman Drew Carter were the only quarterbacks on scholarship. Dorrell didn't feel Carter was ready and he stuck with Lewis.
Now, in addition to Lewis and Carter — who is now a sophomore — the Buffs have a healthy Shrout and two other quarterbacks on scholarship in Maddox Kopp and Owen McCown. There are options if CU wants to go in a different direction at quarterback next week.
"We'll evaluate the quarterback thing now that we have a healthier room," Dorrell said. "We'll do what's best moving forward.
"We'll watch the tape, we'll assess and get a chance to fix and address some things and get ourselves ready to play this week. But I will say for our fans, there's jitters in everybody that first game coming back, and maybe it was too much pressure on (Lewis). Who knows? But I'm confident that he's a better player. I still feel that he's a better player than last year. So, I still will tell that to my fans — or lack of fans."