Freshman Hankerson Boosts Buffs' Running Game
BOULDER — When the season began, the Colorado Buffaloes believed they would have a veteran one-two punch in their backfield.
But now, as the Buffs head into their sixth game of the season — and first under interim head coach Mike Sanford — that running backs room has taken on a decidedly different look.
Different, however, doesn't necessarily mean less productive. In fact, the Buffs are showing signs of finding their running game groove, thanks to the veteran presence of Deion Smith, the continued production of redshirt freshman Charlie Offerdahl and a recent injection of juice from true freshman Anthony Hankerson.
CU's rushing attack has by no means been a strength this season, averaging just 113 yards per game.
But bolstered by Hankerson's 12-carry, 58-yard effort, the Buffs did manage a relatively respectable 154 yards in their last outing, a 43-20 loss at Arizona.
They aim to increase that production Saturday when Colorado (0-5 overall, 0-2 Pac-12) plays host to Cal (3-2, 1-1) in a noon game at Folsom Field.
KOA radio will carry the broadcast with the Pac-12 Networks televising the game.
CU's rushing attack took a hit in Week 2, when senior Alex Fontenot suffered an injury against Air Force. Fontenot has not played since.
Smith has had his moments, including a career high 70 yards against Minnesota. Offerdahl, meanwhile, had 55 yards against Minnesota and 47 against UCLA.
But Hankerson's inclusion in the rotation — he was cleared to play just a few weeks ago after a training camp injury — gives CU another weapon. The 5-foot-9, 190-pound Florida prep product has shown an ability to hit the hole quickly, break tackles and pick up extra yards after contact. In the Arizona game, he had three straight runs for a total of 27 yards, including a 7-yard touchdown burst, to cap Colorado's last scoring drive of the game.
Sanford insists that Hankerson's emergence hasn't changed Smith's importance.
"Deion has a chip on his shoulder and he had his best game against Arizona," Sanford said. "He's learning that being fresher gives him more quality when he does get those opportunities."
Smith had just 20 yards rushing on four carries against Arizona, but also had a 41-yard reception — a short pass that he turned into a long gain, helping to set up a first-half touchdown.
But Hankerson's recent play no doubt gives the Buffs another element in their run game. His compact, powerful frame makes him tough for opponents to bring down and he has quickly proven he's not afraid of contact.
CU fans who are reminded of a running back with a similar build from the past aren't alone. Last summer, CU running backs coach Darian Hagan said Hankerson reminded him of former Colorado great Eric Bieniemy, a teammate of Hagan in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
"Same stature, same physicality," Hagan said. "They talk alike, they're both alpha dogs, they're hungry and they're smart. And they're not going to be denied because of their stature. When he gets the opportunity, you're going to see something special."
Hankerson is indeed getting that opportunity now. And while he will still likely share time with Smith, Offerdahl and Jayle Stacks (who looks ready to return from an injury as well), he could no doubt have a big impact on the Buffs' rushing attack.
But the number Hankerson is most concerned with is putting one in the win column.
"We try to help each other out, pick off each other's game styles, whether it's catching the ball or reading in between the tackles or outside the tackles," Hankerson said. "It's a special group. We put a lot on our shoulders. We know what we want to do."