Woelk: Buffs Show Strength In Trenches, Prepare For Battle With Gophers
BOULDER — If there was one overarching positive to be gleaned from the Colorado Buffaloes' narrow loss to Texas A&M last weekend, it was this:
Karl Dorrell's team can line up and go head-to-head in the trenches with the big boys.
That is a trait the 1-1 Buffs will need to continue to display the rest of the season, beginning with Saturday's 11 a.m. home game against 1-1 Minnesota at Folsom Field (Pac-12 Network). The Gophers are a prototypical Big Ten program, averaging nearly 200 yards per game on the ground while limiting opponents to just two rushing touchdowns in two games this year.
"The test we went through last week told us we can battle in those types of trench-type games," Dorrell said Tuesday at his weekly press conference. "We need to move forward understanding that really, every game from this point forward is going to be very similar. We're going to play the USCs, the UCLAs, all those people that really have some good fronts and we're going to have to compete with those guys. I believe our team is ready for that."
The Buffs did indeed prove they can battle toe-to-toe in the trenches against the then-No. 5 Aggies. CU played A&M even the entire afternoon, rushing for 171 yards while holding the Aggies to just 97 yards on the ground.
That effort certainly got the full attention of Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck, whose Gophers had a third-quarter lead on Ohio State in the season opener before falling, 45-31, then beat Miami (Ohio) last weekend, 31-26.
"They're really good," Fleck said Monday. "Very physical on defense. Really good tacklers, their linebacking corps is really talented. They love to play football, you can tell. They keep everything in front of them. On the offensive side, they have two really good backs … They're physical. You can tell they really like playing for each other. They're a connected football team, a really good football team. That's the impression you get from watching them."
That is, of course, exactly the type of culture Dorrell has been trying to instill since he arrived in Colorado. Tuesday, he said he could see those efforts paying off — particularly on defense.
"As a program and as a team, the emphasis on playing hard and playing for each other is really evident," Dorrell said. "You see that when you put the tape on. This defense, they know what their identity is … That's the style of play I was used to when I was here 20 years ago (as an assistant) and that's the style of play I will continue to stress as long as I'm here — a really aggressive, tough-edged defense that makes you earn everything you get."
CU defensive lineman Na'im Rodman, who has become a mainstay up front this season — he leads all defensive linemen with 100 snaps thus far — said that culture really began to be built in spring ball.
"We just carried it on to fall camp and I think it's part of us now," Rodman said. "I think we've instilled it in ourselves and we know we can be one of the most physical teams anybody plays against."
Tight end Brady Russell was equally succinct with his description of the Buffs' demeanor.
"We're mean," Russell said. "We want to get after people. We want to put them on their backs. That's the culture we've instilled."
The Buffs will need every bit of that physical edge against the Gophers.
"They definitely churn out yards and they're pretty efficient at doing that," Dorrell said. "They're really proficient at running the ball. They use a lot of tackles to play the tight end positions. They use a big offensive front and they try to make defenses defend them. That's going to be a tremendous challenge for our defense this week."
EXPLOSIVE PLAYS: Neither the Buffs nor their opponents have produced many big plays this year — and none longer than 35 yards.
CU has just five plays thus far of 20 yards or longer, with the longest a 35-yard Ashaad Clayton run against Northern Colorado. CU's longest three plays are all runs, with the longest pass a 23-yard Brendon Lewis completion to La'Vontae Shenault.
"This teaM is a very, very good defense," Dorrell said of Minnesota. "You have to earn yards. It's hard to get a lot of explosive yards on these guys. We have to be patient. Our offense has to find where we have some advantages. It's a tremendous challenge for us."
The longest play for the opponents this year thus far was a 34-yard pass completion for a touchdown by UNC. Texas A&M's longest plays were two passes for 29 and 25 yards.
But perhaps most impressive? The longest run against CU this year was a 15-yarder by A&M's Devon Achane.
THIRD AND LONG … One stat the Buffs don't want to replicate against the Gophers is their average third-down yardage faced against A&M. In that game, the Buffs had 14 third-down plays, with the average distance for a first down 8 yards.
CU converted just four of those 14 third-down tries
"The efficiency has to be better," Dorrell said. "That was definitely evident this last game, not having enough efficiency and not getting good enough yardage on first and second down. We have to be more proficient at that. That's definitely an issue we need to address."
PERSONNEL UPDATE: Dorrell said defensive lineman Terrance Lang, who left Saturday's game with an injury but did return, practiced Tuesday and is expected to play. He also said defensive back Chris Miller, who missed last Saturday's game, practiced Tuesday and should be ready to go. And, running back Jarek Broussard, who left the game after taking a hit to his leg, was also at practice Tuesday and is expected to be ready.
MINNESOTA NOTES: The Gophers, who lost star running back Mo Ibrahim in the opener, seem to have found a capable replacement in Trey Potts. In his first career start, the sophomore ran for 178 yards and two touchdowns on 34 carries in the win over Miami. His 34 carries are the most in a single game by any back in the country this year …
The Gophers have won 20 consecutive non-conference games, the longest active streak in the nation. Their last non-conference loss came Sept. 3, 2015, against TCU. They are 12-0 in non-conference play under Fleck, but this will be their first road game of the year …
CU has a 3-0 all-time lead in the series, with the most-recent game a 21-20 Colorado win in Minneapolis in 1992. That game marked the college debut of Koy Detmer, who took off his redshirt and came off the bench to throw two touchdown passes and rally the Buffs from a 17-0 deficit.