BOULDER — We’ll find out next week if Brendon Lewis and CU can air it out in a pinch against a quality opponent.
But we learned this much on Friday night: When the Buffs want to kick it old school and run the ball with a lead, it’s like 2020 never left.
CU piled up 283 yards rushing in a 35-7 rout of the UNC Bears at Folsom Field in the season-opener for both programs.
Lewis, the freshman making his first start at quarterback and first home start for CU (1-0), completed 10 of 15 passes for 102 yards. But the passing game was erratic throughout as Lewis missed wide-open receivers.
The Bears (0-1) trailed 14-0 at halftime and 21-7 to open the third quarter in coach Ed McCaffrey’s UNC debut. The Bears hadn’t played a game since Nov. 23, 2019, the final contest in a 2-10 season.
UNC hired McCaffrey, a Super Bowl-winning wide receiver with the Denver Broncos from Valor Christian High School, where he’d led the Eagles to a Class 5A state championship in 2018.
It was also the Bears debut for McCaffrey’s son, Dylan, as UNC quarterback. While the younger McCaffrey didn’t have as much time to work with as Lewis did, the Michigan transfer completed 18 of his first 29 throws for 169 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
The evening, which featured the debut run of new mascot Ralphie VI, turned into a comfortable warm-up for the bigger, stronger Buffs, who’ll see the difficulty cranked several decibels with a date against No. 6 Texas A&M next Saturday at Empower Field at Mile High.
UNC next plays at Houston Baptist at 5 p.m. on Sept. 11 with some rough edges to smooth over.
More than once — actually, more times than CU faithful would find comfortable — the Bears looked as if they’d broken the pocket and had Lewis trapped for a loss. But most of those times the young signal-caller eluded the first wave and found daylight.
One of those times came on 3rd-and-10 at the Bears’ 48 with 5:40 left in the third quarter. UNC pressure chased Lewis out of his drop but he took a quick turn at the left hashmark, cut wide into a lane and zipped 12 yards up the field for a big gain.
CU would score six plays later on tailback Alex Fontenot’s 3-yard dive, extending the hosts’ lead to 20-0 and capping a 16-play, 90-yard march that ate nearly half — 7:25 — of the third quarter.
The Bears shifted gears to open the second half, with Dylan McCaffrey throwing short to the tight ends and forcing CU’s physical linebackers to have to defend receivers in space.
On UNC’s final drive of the quarter, with the help of some ill-timed Buffs penalties, the visitors finally got returns on that gambit. A pass interference call on CU’s Isaiah Lewis gave the Bears the ball at the home 35 with 41 seconds left.
Two plays later, as time expired on the quarter, McCaffrey rolled right again and found wideout Kassidy Woods along the right boundary. Woods bounced off a pair of CU defenders and rambled into the end zone for a 34-yard score, the Bears’ only touchdown.
CU was outgained by UNC at the half, 106-92, but often had the Bears pinned back in their own territory — the visitors opened five of their seven first-half drives from their own 25 yard-line or behind it.
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