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The Buffs reshape their offense, prepare
for a challenging 2009 season
by Thom Hill
Last year, Colorado offensive coaches described their offense as “multiple.” It may as well have been a euphemism for “sputtering.” Eleven Big 12 teams gained more offensive yards than the Buffs did in 2008. It’s a big reason the Buffs finished 5-7 and failed to qualify for a bowl game.
But the multiple label may also be evidence that Colorado really didn’t have an offensive identity. They lost sight of who they were and got caught up in trying to do too much.
Enter Eric Kiesau, who was named offensive coordinator at CU in May after Mark Helfrich, the former coordinator, left for a job at Oregon. Kiesau, who coached CU’s wide receivers the past three years under head coach Dan Hawkins, has said he wants to develop CU’s offensive identity and stick with it.
Let Paul Bunyanesque sophomore guard Ryan Miller explain the change in philosophy:
“We want to get back to a real powerful, kick-your-butt [brand of football],” said the 6-8, 320-pounder.
That means run the football — something the Buffs haven’t been able to do with consistency in Hawkins’ first three seasons at CU — in order to set up the pass. It appears the Buffs have the depth and talent at running back to make it happen.
Again, Miller cuts to the chase: “It’s a lot easier to pull a carriage with a good horse. The running backs we’ve got right now are powerhouses. All of them. They can run hard and they can run fast.”
The horses in CU’s stable include junior Demetrius Sumler, and a trio of sophomores in Brian Lockridge, Darryl Scott and last year’s leading rusher, Rodney Stewart.
Sumler is the straight-ahead runner with the experience to be a big help in pass blocking. Lockridge is lightning quick, while Stewart combines speed, quickness and toughness. Scott, regarded as the nation’s top recruit at running back in 2008, is an explosive talent.
Also leaning in CU’s favor, in terms of establishing a running game, is what they have up front.
“It all starts with the o-line,” said Hawkins, when asked during the team’s recent Media Day about the key to a good offense. “You’ve got to get people blocked. And you’ve got to be able to run the football so the defense knows that’s a legitimate threat.”
Along with Miller, junior Nate Solder, sophomores Ethan Adkins, Matt Bahr, Blake Behrens, and redshirt-freshman Bryce Givens form the nucleus of the offensive line.
At quarterback, junior Cody Hawkins and sophomore Tyler Hansen will vie for the starting job through fall camp. Hawkins has the edge, as Hansen missed much of spring practices with an injury. They’ll have sure-handed junior Scotty McKnight to throw to, but no one else at wide receiver is yet tested.
On defense, the Buffs will be young up front, but experienced at linebacker and defensive back.
Seeing as Division I football is big business, Colorado must navigate some odd scheduling. Two games — the Sept. 11 date at Toledo and the Nov. 19 trip to Oklahoma State — occur just five days after the Buffs’ previous game those two weeks. CU was offered television (ESPN) slots — and the revenue that comes with it — for both games, and couldn’t pass up the opportunity, even though it puts a strain on the team.
Hawkins coaching WRs
When Helfrich departed and Kiesau moved to the offensive coordinator position after spring ball, it left Hawkins scrambling to find a wide receivers coach. In the end, Hawkins hired his former mentor Bob Foster to coach outside linebackers and placed himself in charge of the untested group of receivers.
“I think it’s always great to be in the trenches,” Hawkins said of his added duties. “I think every five years every head coach ought to go back and be an assistant because you figure out what it’s like in the trenches.”
A look at Colorado’s 2009 schedule
Colorado State • Sept. 6 • 5 p.m. (FSN)
On paper, the Buffs have a still-rebuilding Rams team right where they want them in the season opener. But the past 10 years have proven you throw the paper in the trash when Colorado and Colorado State line up. In the Buffs’ favor, they get their in-state rival at Folsom.
at Toledo • Sept. 11 • 7 p.m. • (ESPN)
Holy Toledo, the Buffs have to prepare to travel and play at the MAC school five days after the CSU game. You can bet Labor Day, Sept. 7, will be a day of labor for a team preparing for the quick turnaround. As for the Rockets, they return 17 starters from a team that struggled to a 3-9 record last year. This is a dangerous game for a CU team with high expectations.
Wyoming • Sept. 19 • 1:30 p.m. • (FCS)
It’s “a whole new rodeo” in Laramie with Dave Christensen in his first year as head coach of the Cowboys. He’ll bring the spread offense to Wyoming, but he’s got a long rebuilding process in store for a team that averaged a woeful 12.7 points per game in 2008.
at West Virginia • Oct. 1 • 5:30 p.m. • (ESPN)
CU’s nationally televised game at Folsom with the visiting Mountaineers proved to be the Buffs’ signature win in 2008. Shifty QB Pat White has graduated, but shiftier RB Noel Devine returns for WVU.
at Texas • Oct. 10 • TBA
Once again, the Longhorns will likely be in the national title hunt, with QB Colt McCoy among the early favorites for the Heisman Trophy. Former Colorado prepster Lamarr Houston anchors the Texas defensive line.
Kansas • Oct. 17 • TBA
QB Todd Reesing has been a nightmare for the Buffs the past three years, and he’s back for his senior year at Kansas. And he’s got one of the best corps of wide receivers in the country to throw to. The Jayhawks, though, must reload on defense.
at Kansas State • Oct. 24 • TBA
While the Wildcats are one of four programs the Buffs play this fall with new head coaches, the Kansas State situation is a little different. Bill Snyder, who helmed one of the great turnarounds in college football history two decades ago, is back for a second go-around in Manhattan. Some say the grind will be too much for the 70-year-old coach. An off-season financial scandal in the KSU athletic department also has fans on edge. Should be an interesting season for the Wildcats.
Missouri • Oct. 31 • TBA
The Tigers lose experience and talent at the offensive skill positions. Highly touted Blaine Gabbert takes over under center, but the Tigers could slip — at least compared to what they did last year when they represented the North in the Big 12 Championship.
Texas A&M • Nov. 7 • TBA
The Aggies struggled in 2008, but should improve on defense this fall. Junior QB Jerrod Johnson is poised for a good season after starting 10 games last year and throwing a school-record 21 touchdowns.
at Iowa State • Nov. 14 • TBA
The rebuilding process continues for the Cyclones where new head coach Paul Rhoads will install the spread offense. Hmmm. Throwing upwards of 40 passes a game in Ames in November? Good luck with that.
at Oklahoma State • Nov. 19 • 5:30 p.m. (ESPN)
The Cowboys outclassed CU in Boulder last season, 30-17. The Buffs will face one of the most potent offenses in the country on their trip to Stillwater in November. Zac Robinson and Dez Bryant make up one of best QB-WR tandems in college football.
Nebraska • Nov. 27 • 1:30 p.m. (ABC)
Many predict the Huskers will return to the top of the Big 12 North this year. But they’re inexperienced at quarterback — projected starter Zac Lee has thrown just two career passes — and must replace five starters on defense. CU lost out on a bowl berth when they lost in Lincoln in 2008. If things go as they want, the Nebraska game will be for a berth in the Big 12 Championship this time around.
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