CU football: Buffs stick with committee approach at tailback

  • Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer

    Lee

  • Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer

    Colorado running back Donovan Lee fights for yardage close to the goal line against Arizona on Oct. 17. Lee is part of a four-back rotation for CU.

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The term “featured back” doesn’t exist at Colorado.

At least, it hasn’t since Rodney Stewart exhausted his eligibility after the 2011 season.

The Buffaloes (4-4, 1-3 Pac-12) continue to rotate their running backs and have now had four different rushing leaders in eight games this season.

Stewart led CU in rushing every year from 2008-11 and is second on the school’s career rushing chart, with 3,598 yards.

In the four seasons since, CU has had seven different running backs lead the team in single-game rushing, with Donovan Lee becoming the latest. He had a team-high 55 yards in Saturday’s 17-13 win at Oregon State.

“I always love having opportunities to touch the rock and make plays happen,” Lee said.

There’s no question Lee has the ability to make plays happen, but it was somewhat surprising to see him lead the team in rushing, because the Buffs seemed to have found some stability at tailback with Phillip Lindsay.

Lindsay, who ran a career-high 23 times a week earlier against Arizona, had just nine carries for 54 yards against the Beavers. Four other runners, including quarterback Sefo Liufau, touched the ball before Lindsay got a carry.

With Michael Adkins II still out with a hamstring injury, the Buffs appear to be content with continuing its rotation and sharing the workload among Lindsay, Christian Powell, Lee and freshman Patrick Carr.

“We like that rotation,” MacIntyre said after the game on Saturday. “Some of the plays are better for the different guys, we think. We feel like Donovan has really good hands out of the backfield. We felt like Donovan got hot there for a minute, so we kept him a little bit longer. We’re going to need all of them.”

Calling on Liufau

Despite having several tailbacks they like, the Buffs continue calling on their quarterback, Sefo Liufau, to get critical yards in short-yardage situations.

Liufau has run the ball 29 times on third or fourth down this season, while the rest of the team combined has 27 rushes in those situations.

Liufau was the ball carrier on a key third-and-3 play late in Saturday’s game, but came up short of the first down when he got just 2 yards.

Fans have also questioned the Buffs’ call of pitching to Lindsay on a third-and-1 play late in the fourth quarter. Lindsay was stopped for a 3-yard loss and the Buffs had to punt.

“We had been practicing that play all week and we thought that play would have a chance,” MacIntyre said. “They beat one of our inside linemen. If they don’t beat him across his face, I think we get it.”

That was the first time all year that Lindsay failed to come through in that situation. He had picked up a first down on all seven of his previous runs this year on third- or fourth-and-1 to go.

Missing Fields?

CU didn’t attempt many deep passes against Oregon State, and MacIntyre said part of that was because the Buffs were missing their main deep threat, Shay Fields, who was out with an ankle injury.

“But, some of them we had some chances and they made some good plays on us,” MacIntyre said. “We had a couple set up and we didn’t get them off.”

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