Buffs Notes: Mustafa Johnson Set To Return This Week Vs. USC
BOULDER — Colorado's defensive line will receive what should be a significant shot in the arm this week when once former and again current Buffalo standout Mustafa Johnson returns to the active roster.
Johnson, a two-time All-Pac-12 performer — including first-team status in 2018 — elected last spring to test the NFL Draft waters. But he didn't hear his name called during the draft, and was then unable to secure a free agent contract.
After discussions with CU's coaching staff, he filed for a waiver from the NCAA to allow him to return to Colorado and play his senior season. The waiver was granted and he rejoined the team just before the beginning of the regular season.
Now, after several weeks of practice and meeting several requirements attached to the waiver, he will be in uniform Saturday when the Buffs (1-3 overall, 0-1 Pac-12) play host to Southern California (2-2, 1-2) in a noon game at Folsom Field (Pac-12 Networks).
"He looks like a very good player," CU head coach Karl Dorrell said Monday at his weekly press conference. "He gives us a veteran presence in the defensive front. He's excited to play and obviously he feels it was a bless to get another opportunity to play. He'll be a good veteran piece for us defensively."
Johnson will bolster a Buffs defensive line that has played relatively well thus far, but has struggled against the run over the last two games. CU has given up 444 yards rushing in the last two weeks and the defense has managed just one quarterback sack in that same span.
Johnson, who has 21 starts at CU under his belt, recorded 107 tackles in his three previous seasons with the Buffs, including 23 for loss, along with 13 sacks.
Thus far, the bulk of the repetitions up front for the Buffs have gone to Na'im Rodman (176 defensive snaps), Terrance Lang (151) and Jalen Sami (121). Johnson will no doubt add to the depth there, where Blayne Toll, Justin Jackon, Jayden Simon, Janaz Jordan and Lloyd Murray have also received some game reps. (Murray announced Monday that he was entering the transfer portal.)
Johnson said he just wants to help the team and hone his skills at the same time in hopes of taking another shot at the professional ranks.
"I hope I can be a morale booster in any facet of the game, whether it's on the field or off the field," Johnson said. "When I practice and when I play, I come with this intensity that I always play with … I hope I will be able to affect the team in whatever way it needs."
ASU REVIEW: After looking at film of the Buffaloes' 35-13 loss at Arizona State, Dorrell said he saw some promising moments, but a lack of consistency is still plaguing his team.
Defensively, Dorrell said his team has to clean up the types of penalties that extended several of ASU's scoring drives. Offensively, while the Buffs did get their run game headed back in the right direction (183 yards against the Sun Devils), Dorrell added, "We need to work on the other facets of our offense to give us a chance to be more productive in that area."
Dorrell also said he was disappointed in CU's special teams play. CU had a field goal attempt blocked by ASU, and also gave up a couple of long returns.
"We're usually pretty solid with special teams," Dorrell said. "That's something we take a great deal of pride in."
Still, Dorrell believes his team is not that far off from rediscovering the form that helped Colorado win its first four games in last year's Covid-shortened season.
"The goal is for us to continue to improve and build this team the right way," he said. "It's a process. We want to build it with a really solid foundation. There's no skipping steps for doing that … but what I would tell you is that foundation is pretty close. We're not that far away from being very successful. It's going to take some hard work from the coaches and players to get there."
FIRST LOOK USC: The Trojans started the season ranked in the top 20 in the nation and harbored high hopes.
But after a humiliating 42-28 loss to Stanford in Week 2, USC athletic director Mike Bohn (the former Buffs AD) fired head coach Clay Helton and named Donte Williams as the interim. The Trojans responded by beating Washington State 45-14 in their first game under Williams, but took a big step back last week, dropping a 45-27 decision at home to Oregon State.
The Trojans hold a 14-0 all-time record against the Buffaloes, with the last meeting a heartbreaker for Colorado in Boulder. CU led for much of the game, only to see USC overcome a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit and slip away with a 35-31 win.
USC's defense has struggled this year, giving up an average of nearly 400 yards per game, and 33 points per game over the last three contests.
Offensively, they have received good production from quarterback Kedon Slovis (842 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions). Backup Jaxson Dart threw for 391 yards, four TDs and two interceptions in a relief appearance against Washington State when Slovis was injured early in that game, but Slovis was back in the lineup last week.
Wide receiver Drake London has 39 catches for 540 yards and running back Keaontay Ingram has rushed for 225 yards and three scores.
Former CU wide receiver K.D. Nixon, who transferred to USC last spring, has two catches for 19 yards and has also returned two punts for 14 yards.