BOULDER — Joel Klatt’s coaches can’t get enough of his ugly, errant passes this season.
Many Colorado fans boo when the Buffaloes quarterback sends one barreling to the turf or out of bounds. According to his superiors, it’s an indication of his maturity.
Klatt, the senior three-year starter, has been sacked seven times in seven games this season, the last one coming more than a month ago against Miami. Although such security is largely attributed to the play of his improved offensive line, the overlooked reason is Klatt’s peaking grasp of the CU offense, and his ability to know when to say when.
CU coach Gary Barnett said the biggest mistake young quarterbacks make is not realizing the consequences of taking a sack. He said they think it’s their job to complete passes and it’s the offensive line’s job to protect them.
“Then, as you learn, you become aware of how important it is not to have a negative-yardage play,” Barnett said. “He’s throwing it on time, and if it’s not there it’s incomplete and everybody goes, ‘Oh, Joel can’t hit the broad side of a barn.’
“But it’s not a sack and we get to move on to the next play.”
There are two specific reasons for Klatt’s improvement in this area.
The first is changes in Klatt’s preparation and the preparation of his teammates.
Beginning last spring, after assistant coach Ted Gilmore left for Nebraska, offensive coordinator Shawn Watson expanded his duties to coach both the quarterbacks and receivers, putting the two positions in the same meeting room for the first time.
The move allowed Klatt and his targets to synchronize the complex timing required to run the West Coast offense. Watson calls it the players’ “clock.”
Watson’s philosophy requires Klatt to reach a certain point in his drop where the ball needs to leave his hand. If the routes aren’t open, he must then look for his “check down” outlet. If that’s covered, it’s time to run for the hashes so he can legally throw the ball away. He’s also gained ground, running more this year. He has 30 carries for 88 yards.
Not only does he have to complete this progression in a matter of seconds, his receivers have to be on the exact same cadence or the whole process breaks down. The Buffs spent most of last year out of sync, but have done a better job of keeping time this season.
Accurate routes lead to faster decisions. Faster decisions lead to fewer sacks.
“Joel is really letting it rip on time, and he’s able to do that because the receivers understand the clock now,” Watson said. “The time in the classroom with all of us together has allowed us to bring that element into a bigger light.”
The other big reason Klatt has minimized sacks is he has learned to manage his competitiveness. Experience has taught him the harder he tries to make every throw, the more mistakes he makes.
“I wouldn’t say that I was too competitive, but burning the ball eats at every quarterback a little bit,” Klatt said. “You need to be almost greedy for completions, and I’m no different. But at the same time, you can’t let that interfere with the offense.
“Sometimes a burn is the right play.”
And even though the offensive line is giving him more time, and his receivers are where he expects them to be, this last bit is what makes it all come together. It may not be exciting, it may not be easy on the ego, but it’s a big reason CU is winning football games this year.
“Joel is moving up, he’s getting out of the way and he’s not taking any risk back there by holding the ball too long,” Barnett said. “You don’t realize the value of those things until you’ve been in the game a while.”