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Buffs Run Game Looks To Get Legs Vs. Arizona

Sep 28, 2022
RB Charlie Offerdahl got his first start as a Buff last week.

BOULDER — Much of the attention surrounding the Colorado Buffaloes' offense has recently focused on CU's change of quarterbacks.

That's understandable. When CU head coach Karl Dorrell made the decision last week to go with true freshman Owen McCown, it meant the Buffs were starting their third different quarterback in four games.

But as the Buffaloes (0-4 overall, 0-1 Pac-12) head to Arizona this weekend for Saturday's 7:30 p.m. (MT) matchup with the Wildcats, you can bet Dorrell and offensive coordinator Mike Sanford are taking a close look at UA's run defense.

Simply, if the Buffs are going to rev up their offense this week, finding a way to put some juice in the run game might be the best answer.

Saturday's game will match the nation's 131st ranked rushing defense (Colorado) against the nation's 125th unit (Arizona). CU is giving up an average of 323 yards per game and 7.0 per rush while the Wildcats are yielding 228 and 6.1.

But the Buffs' rush defense statistics are skewed at least somewhat by their matchups against Air Force and Minnesota — currently the No. 1 and No. 2 running teams in the nation.

(In case you were wondering, Colorado's pass defense is currently No. 7 in the nation, allowing just 144.5 yards per game in the air.)

The Wildcats, meanwhile, were gashed last week by Cal for 354 yards on the ground in a 49-31 loss — nearly triple what the Bears had been averaging on the ground heading into the game. That total included 274 yards on just 19 carries from Cal's Jaydn Ott, who had touchdown runs of 73, 72 and 18 yards.

Saturday's matchup appears to be a good opportunity for Colorado to inject some life into what has been an inconsistent rushing attack thus far.

In four games, CU's best effort on the ground has been 136 yards against Minnesota. Last week against UCLA, Colorado managed just 51 on the ground.

"Our runners ran hard … but we need more consistency there, more productivity," Dorrell said. "Our execution and efficiency was limited because we weren't running the ball as effectively as we should have."

Deion Smith leads CU in rushing this season with 175 yards on 30 attempts — a respectable 5.83 yards per carry — followed by Charlie Offerdahl (24-113).

The Buffs entered the year with designs of a one-two punch from Smith and senior Alex Fontenot, but Fontenot was injured in Week 2 against Air Force and hasn't played since. Also hampered by injuries has been Jayle Stacks.

But the Buffs expect to have Stacks back this week and it's quite possible CU could utilize freshman Anthony Hankerson more often this week. Hankerson had a good debut last week against UCLA, running seven times for 25 yards, including a 10-yard burst that saw him break at least four tackles along the way.

Meanwhile, Smith — who had just two carries against UCLA — could get more work this week as well.

Dorrell said all four could get a look this week, but added that if one of them shows a hot hand, the Buffs will ride with him.

The big key to Colorado's run game starts up front. The Buffs have utilized three different starting lineups in four games, with freshman Van Wells getting the call at left guard the last two weeks and veteran Casey Roddick — normally a guard — lining up at tackle.

If the Buffs can produce a litte continuity in the trenches this week and get the run game moving early, it could be a big boost to the offense overall.

TEST FOR SECONDARY: As mentioned earlier, Colorado's pass defense has been respectable this season in terms of yardage (although the Buffs have given up three touchdowns passing in each of the last two games).

But they may get their toughest test yet of the season Saturday in Arizona's Jayden de Laura. The Washington State transfer is 92-for-153 for 1,149 yards and eight touchdowns this year — but he has also thrown six interceptions.

That, not coincidentally, is an area in which the CU defense needs to take a big step forward. Colorado has produced just five takeaways this year and only one interception (safety Isaiah Lewis vs. Minnesota). 

The biggest challenge for the secondary will be UA wide receiver Jacob Cowing, who has caught 28 passes for 386 yards and six touchdowns.

"He is one of the best we've seen so far," Dorrell said. "He's a dynamic returner and receiver. He's probably the most dangerous when he has the ball in his hands and he's mid-play. He has run-after-catch skills."

As for UA's rushing game, the Wildcats are having troubles similar to the Buffs in generating any consistency. Arizona is averaging just 124 yards per game on the ground, led by Michael Wiley (35-for-210).

CARRIZOSA TO PUNT AGAIN: Freshman walkon punter Trent Carrizosa, who made his debut in place of regular Ashton Logan (illness) last week, will be handling the duties again this week.

Carrizosa had a standout debut against UCLA, punting five times for a 46.2 average (44.8 net), with three kicks downed inside the 20-yard line.

"He's a talented kid that we're really fortunate to have," Dorrell said. "We picked him up late in the summer and he's appreciative to be here, but we're appreciative to him because he's a really talented kid."

TV-RADIO: As always, the Buffs' radio broadcast on KOA will have Voice of the Buffs Mark Johnson on the call with Gary Barnett providing color commentary. The Pac-12 Networks crew will see J.B. Long on play-by-play and Max Browne as color analyst.