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CU football: Buffs hoping to take the offensive against UCLA

  • Running back/receiver Donovan Lee has played a bigger role in...

    Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer

    Running back/receiver Donovan Lee has played a bigger role in recent weeks as Colorado has tried to get more players involved in the game plan,

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Game at a glance

Matchup: Colorado Buffaloes (4-4, 1-3 Pac-12) at UCLA Bruins (5-2, 2-2).

Kickoff: 1:07 p.m. MDT Saturday.

Where: Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, Calif. Capacity: 92,542; Turf: Grass.

TV: Pac-12 Network.

Radio: KOA (850 AM). Pre-game starts at 11 a.m.

Odds: UCLA by 22.5.

Coaches: Colorado — Mike MacIntyre (10-22, third season; 30-43 career); UCLA — Jim Mora (34-13, fourth season)

Series: UCLA leads 8-2. CU won games in 2002 and 2003, but is 0-4 against the Bruins since joining the Pac-12.

A year ago, the Colorado football team set dozens of records on offense.

In terms of the bottom line number — points per game — the Buffaloes have been even better this year.

Despite that, no assistant coach on CU’s staff is taking more heat from fans these days than offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren.

The Buffs (4-4, 1-3 Pac-12) are averaging 29.8 points per game, which is on pace to be their best number since 2001, but in recent weeks the offense has sputtered in critical situations.

“It’s frustrating, not just for me, but for the whole offense as a group,” Lindgren said. “We’ve got to score some more points.”

In each of the past two weeks, Lindgren’s offense has had an opportunity to put a game away and failed both times.

On Oct. 17, CU took a 24-17 lead against Arizona early in the second half. On the next five possessions combined, the Buffs managed just 45 yards and three first downs in 22 plays while Arizona took control of the game. The Wildcats eventually won, 38-31.

Against Oregon State on Oct. 24, the Buffs took a 17-10 lead with 12:31 to play. In three possessions after that, the Buffs had 22 yards and no first downs in nine plays. That kept Oregon State in the game until the closing seconds, when CU’s defense made a game-clinching play.

With the Buffs seemingly going conservative in their late-game situations, Lindgren’s play-calling has criticized. Lindgren’s response? Yes and no.

“I would like to have scored more points,” he said. “In the Arizona game, I felt like we were pretty aggressive; we took some shots, we just didn’t hit them. We got behind the sticks a little bit and had three or four drives there where we just stalled.

“At the end of the Oregon State game, we did get a little bit conservative, but we felt like our defense was playing really well and we felt like we were running the ball pretty good.”

The Buffs were running the ball well, except when it mattered most. They were stuffed for a 3-yard loss on a third-and-1 and stopped for a 2-yard gain on third-and-3. Both times, the Buffs were forced to punt. Both plays had worked earlier in the game, Lindgren said, but came up short late.

“We just have to execute in that situation,” he said. “If we get the first down, we’re able to move it. We needed 10 yards and we got nine.”

While CU is scoring more points than it did a year ago (29.8 per game to 28.5 in 2014), for most of the season, the Buffs have felt out of sync on offense. There are a variety of reasons for that.

Most notably, CU hasn’t been nearly as healthy on offense as it was a year ago, especially up front.

In 2014, the Buffs counted on the same five linemen nearly every week. Among the starting five, there was just two games lost to injury.

This year, left tackle Jeromy Irwin was lost for the season in Week 2 (costing him 11 games), while tackle Sam Kronshage and guard Gerrad Kough also each missed a game with injury. The starting five has been different in each of CU’s four Pac-12 games to this point.

In addition to the linemen, tailback Michael Adkins and receiver Shay Fields have missed games, and quarterback Sefo Liufau played through a shoulder injury that affected him for about three weeks.

“It obviously plays a role, always having moving pieces,” Liufau said. “It shouldn’t be a factor. The next man up should be ready to go. It’s just a matter of mentally preparing yourself to go out and make the plays.”

Rather than using injuries as an excuse, Lindgren and the Buffs are trying to find ways to work around them and get the offense rolling again.

Part of the improvement process is evaluating the play-calling each week.

Lindgren said he has been “pretty pleased with” his play-calling to this point, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t go back and change something he did in a game.

“I look and keep an open mind,” he said. “There’s always calls in every game you’d like to have back. Part of it is we have to execute better and there’s always some calls you’d like to have back.”

The Buffs are also looking to get more players involved in the game plan. Donovan Lee has played a bigger role in recent weeks, and tight end Sean Irwin is slowly emerging as a reliable target for Liufau.

Lindgren said the Buffs may also need to incorporate a few more tricks and gadget plays.

“We’re going to have to be a little bit creative with some of the injuries we have,” Lindgren said.

Creativity on offense is something fans would welcome.

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

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