Earlier this season, it was clear that the Colorado football team had a nice weapon with Diego Gonzalez handling kickoff duties.
The senior boomed 16 of his 19 kickoffs for touchbacks, with 13 of those sailing out of the back of the end zone.
Now that Gonzalez is out for the year with a torn Achilles, the Buffs have to actually make a stop on the kickoff, and that won't be easy on Saturday against Oregon State. Senior Victor Bolden Jr. leads the country in kickoff return average, at 40.2 yards per return and he had a 99-yard return for touchdown against Boise State on Saturday.
"He's quick and fast, and they do a good job blocking up front," CU head coach Mike MacIntyre said. "They're excited about him because they know he can return it, so their guys up front do a good job of blocking. We've got to do a good job defeating our blocks and covering hard. He's going to be tough to handle."
Gonzalez was injured on Sept. 17, and last week, true freshman Davis Price handled kickoff duties. He sent his first kick deep into the end zone for a touchback, but placed the rest of his kicks short of the goal line. Chris Graham handled kickoffs last season and rarely got the ball to the end zone.
"I'd like to kick it out of the end zone, no doubt," MacIntyre said. "Diego was doing that all the time. I would assume we're going to have more kickoff returns, because their legs aren't quite as strong or (they're not) hitting it like Diego was yet. We've got to cover well."
Good news for the Buffs is that they have covered well for the most part. Last week, Oregon averaged just 19.4 yards on five returns.
Bolden, meanwhile, is dangerous as more than just a kick returner. He is the only player in the country with two plays of 90-plus yards — his kickoff return against Boise State and a 92-yard jet sweep run against Idaho State. As a receiver, Bolden has caught 13 passes for 131 yards and a touchdown.
After Wednesday's practice, MacIntyre was still not ready to publicly declare who will start at quarterback for the Buffs on Saturday.
Senior Sefo Liufau is still recovering from a sprained ankle he suffered on Sept. 17 at Michigan. His backup, redshirt freshman Steven Montez, was stellar in Liufau's absence, being named Pac-12 offensive player of the week after knocking off Oregon, 41-38.
"It'll still probably be more of a game-time decision again," MacIntyre said. "Sefo was moving around OK today, so we'll just kind of see where he is as the end of the week approaches."
MacIntyre said Liufau has not had any setbacks, but "he had a pretty good sprain on it."
Planning for both
Like Colorado, Oregon State has a starting quarterback recovering from injury. Darell Garretson injured his leg on Saturday against Boise State and did not play the second half. His backup, walk-on freshman Conor Blount, played well in his absence.
The Oregonion reported that Garretson took the first-team reps on Tuesday, however.
"I assuming Garretson is going to be the starter," MacIntyre. "The other young man (Blount) came in and played well, though. The offense didn't change that much when they did the two different guys, but we have to be ready for both of them."
After the big win against Oregon, the Buffs are showing no signs of a letdown. "I feel like the focus has gone really well," MacIntyre said. "They're excited about playing and they're moving around and doing well." ... CU has scored a touchdown on its opening drive in each game, while the opponent has come up empty each time to open the game. ... Redshirt freshman running back Dino Gordon remains suspended. He has not played yet this season after an off-the-field incident. The Buffs have yet to determine when he'll return.
Brian Howell: firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.