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CU football: Buffs scramble to make pieces fit on offensive line

With Colorado beset by injuries on the offensive line, quarterback Sefo Liufau has been sacked once every 11.5 throws and 20 percent of his passes have been hurried.
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
With Colorado beset by injuries on the offensive line, quarterback Sefo Liufau has been sacked once every 11.5 throws and 20 percent of his passes have been hurried.

Colorado has several pieces to its offensive line puzzle.

The Buffaloes just aren’t sure how those pieces fit together.

As CU (3-3, 0-2 Pac-12) prepares to host Arizona (4-2, 1-2) on Saturday, it is spending part of this week trying to figure out which linemen are going to play, and where they’ll play.

“We’re working on that in practice,” head coach Mike MacIntyre said. “We’re switching them around because we’re doing all the different contingency plans with what’s happened so far.”

What’s happened is that the Buffs have already used three different starters at left tackle, and eight different players have seen at least 100 snaps on the line. By comparison, CU had just six linemen with 100-plus snaps in all of 2014, and five in 2013.

“You’d like to have five guys and then have one tackle and one guard that can rotate in and you’ve got a good continuity,” MacIntyre said.

Without that continuity, the Buffs have struggled up front.

Last year, CU quarterback Sefo Liufau was sacked once every 27.7 throws, and just 11.2 percent of his passes were hurried throws. So far this year, Liufau has been sacked once every 11.5 throws, and 20 percent of his passes have been hurried.

Liufau didn’t put all the blame on his line.

“Yeah, that does have an effect on your throw,” he said of feeling pressure, “but for the most part there were some easy throws I missed and a lot tougher throws that I made. I just need to be more consistent in that aspect.”

While Liufau could be better, so could his linemen.

After losing two veteran, experienced guards to graduation after last season, the Buffs have rotated three guards — Shane Callahan, Jonathan Huckins and Gerrad Kough — all season.

Then, in Game 2 against UMass, the Buffs lost starting left tackle Jeromy Irwin to a torn ACL. His replacement, Sam Kronshage, missed last week with a concussion. That prompted CU to move right tackle Stephane Nembot to the left. Freshman John Lisella II started on the right side at Arizona State, struggled and was benched in favor of Callahan.

Now, the Buffs have four different tackles for two spots. The only sure thing seems to be that Nembot will start, but it’s not clear on which side he’ll play. The other starting spot would figure to go to either Callahan or Kronshage.

MacIntyre said Callahan will play at both guard and tackle on Saturday.

“That’s been tough,” MacIntyre said of lack of continuity on the line. “But I feel like doing it again this week that we’ll be better than we were last week.”

The one constant on the offensive line has been center Alex Kelley, who is coming off his best game of the year, according to CU’s grading system.

“It’s been a little difficult,” Kelley said of everybody around him moving around, “but I trust these guys that we’ll show up and keep getting better.”

Kelley added that he believes the Buffs have a “really talented bunch of guys” on the line. They just simply need some experience.

Shedding the redshirt

MacIntyre said true freshman linebacker Grant Watanabe will make his CU debut on Saturday. He has yet to play this season as CU tried to preserve his redshirt.

With three junior linebackers — Addison Gillam, Kenneth Olugbode and Ryan Severson — out with injuries, however, CU needs Watanabe.

MacIntyre said that as of Wednesday, Watanabe and true freshman NJ Falo were still battling for a starting spot alongside redshirt freshman Rick Gamboa. Falo and Watanabe will both play.

Notable

Junior linebacker Deaysean Rippy has yet to dress for a game this year. “He hasn’t done as good as the other guys,” MacIntyre said. “(He needs to) practice better than the other guys and just do the right things all the time. Hopefully he can.” … Of the seven healthy linemen to log at least 100 snaps, Kronshage is the only one that has not allowed a sack. He also leads the team with 14 knock-down blocks.

Brian Howell: howellb@dailycamera.com, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.

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