Even with a top-notch quarterback and a plethora of weapons in the skill positions, the Colorado Buffaloes are trying to get their offense going.
CU was impressive in an opening-game win at TCU, but since then has sputtered through large chunks of the last three games.
Slow starts have plagued the Buffs (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12). So have penalties and way too many sacks. But, as the Buffs prepare to host No. 8 USC on Saturday (10 a.m., Fox), perhaps the most pressing need is to find a running game.
“We’ve got to run the ball,” head coach Deion Sanders said this week. “Not only that, we’ve got to implement short and intermediate, as well as the deep passing game. But the main thing, you’ve got to protect your quarterback. I don’t care who you are, you’ve got to protect the quarterback.”
Shedeur Sanders has been sacked a whopping 22 times in four games and one thing that could help protect him is getting the run game going.
The Buffs are averaging 55.8 rushing yards per game, ranking 132nd nationally. Only FBS newcomer Sam Houston State is averaging less, at 42.0.
Sacks certainly play a big role in that. The Buffs have lost 207 yards on sacks and that affects the rushing total. But, as a group, the running backs have just 300 yards in four games. The running backs are averaging a decent 3.9 yards per carry, but the Buffs haven’t used them often. CU’s running backs have just 77 carries in four games.
Offensive coordinator Sean Lewis leaned more on his run game at Kent State the past five years. Under Lewis, the Golden Flashes ran the ball 59.2% of the time from 2018-22.
So far this year, that’s flipped, with 59.4% of the Buffs’ plays being passes. That is, in part, to take advantage of Shedeur Sanders’ talented arm. But, could the Buffs benefit from more of a commitment to the run game?
Coach Prime said that can’t happen until the Buffs actually start running well.
“That’s just like asking your wife are you committed to a good meal every night if she can’t cook,” he said. “We’ve got to be able to cook the meal before we could commit to it. We gotta be able to cook the running game before we commit to it.”
Freshman Dylan Edwards leads the Buffs with 157 yards and is averaging 5.6 yards per carry. Anthony Hankerson and Sy’veon Wilkerson have had some decent runs, as well.
The Buffs also finally got Alton McCaskill into the mix late in Saturday’s 42-6 loss to Oregon. The Houston transfer and AAC freshman of the year in 2021 had 17 yards on five carries in his first action since a 2022 knee injury.
“He’s getting better and better,” Coach Prime said. “We want to see him hit it, a little more physicality, get the shoulders over a little bit. But as you can see, he has it. He just has to put it together in due time, but he will. I don’t doubt him for nothing. He’s a great running back, but we have a backfield full of guys that can get the job done. But he’s special.”
The Buffs are going to need him and others to be special soon in order to reverse the fortunes of the rushing attack.
Back in action
Senior receiver Javon Antonio returned to action against Oregon after missing two games with a shoulder injury. He also caught his first three passes as a Buff, for 42 yards.
“It felt great, just knowing I could be there for my teammates,” Antonio said. “Being out there, helping out the team and getting back to chemistry with Shedeur was great.”
Going into this week, CU is last in the Pac-12 in rushing defense, allowing 206.5 yards per game. USC is 11th, allowing 136.5 yards per game. … Among Power 5 conference teams, USC ranks first or tied for first in sacks (16), tackles for loss (41) and forced fumbles (eight). … USC is 8-0 in August/September games under head coach Lincoln Riley. … CU is tied for second nationally with 11 takeaways.