BOULDER — Growth, however you define it, isn’t always a straight line.
Sometimes, it’s a 62-yard rainbow. Sometimes, it’s recognizing a free play on 3rd-and-11 and cutting loose.
Sometimes, it’s trusting your wide receiver to win a 1-on-1 battle with his defender. Sometimes, it’s trusting your pocket is going to give you enough time to throw the ball, and caution, into the mountain wind.
“I was able to keep my head up because of the support that my teammates and my coaches have showed me throughout this adversity that we’ve (gone through),” CU quarterback Brendon Lewis said after throwing for a collegiate-best 248 yards and two touchdowns to power the Buffs’ 34-0 stomping of Arizona on Saturday at Folsom Field.
“I feel like they’ve really helped me and they’ve all had my back. And it helped me continue to grow. I feel like their (support) tremendously helped me keep my head up and (be) able to get better each week.”
Lewis’ confidence against the Wildcats (0-5, 0-3 conference) was evident throughout the Buffs’ first-ever shutout in a league game against a Pac-12 foe and largest conference margin of victory since a 47-6 win against Oregon State in Boulder in 2016.
Despite averaging only 95 passing yards coming into the Arizona game, the freshman quarterback out of Texas went long on his second pass of the afternoon. Lewis fired a jump ball up the left boundary to fellow freshman Brenden Rice, son of NFL legend Jerry Rice, who outleapt the Wildcats secondary to turn it into a 31-yard gain and help set up the Buffs’ first points of the afternoon.
“We stood behind B-Lew,” said Rice, who was later the recipient of a 62-yard touchdown reception from Lewis as part of a collegiate-best 111 receiving yards on the day.
“We knew what we were capable of in the beginning of the season. We knew that we could be electric. We knew it was just a matter of time before we actually went out there and did our thing.”
That time was Saturday, against a Wildcats roster with a first-year coach (Jedd Fisch) and a home loss to Big Sky stalwarts Northern Arizona already under their collective belts.
The same Lumberjacks team that then went to Greeley and lost to Ed McCaffrey’s UNC Bears, 17-10, in overtime. Those same Bears that CU had crushed at Folsom Field, 35-7, to open the season.
Yes, Arizona is effectively the Jacksonville Jaguars of the Pac-12. Yes, the ‘Cats are in full rebuild mode, an FBS roster in name only. Yes, they might not win a game this year. Yes, we’ll get a better idea next weekend at Cal as to just how much of what ailed CU during that four-game losing skid has been resolved.
Sometimes, though, all you need is a break — on several levels — for things to come around. Which Lewis’ confidence did after a bye last week that allowed CU coach Karl Dorrell to unplug, review, reset and get everybody back to basics.
“It (looked) like (Lewis was) doing everything wrong, and he wasn’t,” explained Dorrell, whose Buffs (2-4, 1-2 Pac-12) head to Berkeley next Saturday for a road test against a struggling Bears bunch that fell to 1-5 this past Friday. “Sometimes, receivers weren’t open. It was a number of things that we weren’t doing in order to help him do his job.
“(His teammates) took ownership over the break. They weren’t pointing fingers.”
Instead, the rested Buffs — in all phases — took turns pulling the rope. CU scored touchdowns on special teams (blocked punt return), defense (a Carson Wells pick-6) and via the passing game in the third quarter on Saturday to send a crowd of 49,806 at Folsom Field home happy.
Once the Buffs got up three touchdowns, Lewis and the once-dormant CU passing game joined the party in earnest. When the ‘Cats jumped offsides on a third-and-11 play from the Buffs 38, Lewis took advantage of the free play and hit Rice up the right boundary for a 62-yard touchdown, a 26-0 lead and an emphatic exclamation point. It was the longest scoring play by a CU wide receiver all season and Rice’s second big-gainer of the afternoon.
“I’ve always had confidence in (Rice) that he could make those type of plays,” Lewis said.
Sometimes, that confidence comes back around in kind. Especially when it comes to circling the wagons. And shutting out the outside noise.
“Naw, I don’t pay attention (to criticism). I don’t pay attention to that,” Lewis said quietly. “I just kept my head down and worked with my teammates.”
And for one sunny afternoon, at least, all that work paid off. Handsomely.