CU football: Buffs tailbacks share the load in shifting roles

Colorado running back Donovan Lee has averaged 6.1 yards per carry, the best among the Buffs' tailbacks.
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado running back Donovan Lee has averaged 6.1 yards per carry, the best among the Buffs’ tailbacks.

Stable of backs

A look at the running backs CU has used in its regular rotation this season:

Phillip Lindsay, So: 107 carries, 503 yards (4.7 average), 5 TDs; Top game — 113 yards

Christian Powell, Sr.: 65 carries, 326 yards (5.0 average), 4 TDs; Top game — 105 yards

Donovan Lee, So.: 42 carries, 254 yards (6.1 average), 3 TDs; Top game — 103 yards

Patrick Carr, Fr: 50 carries, 228 yards (4.6 average), 1 TD; Top game — 100 yards

*Michael Adkins II, Jr.: 42 carries, 212 yards (5.1 average), 3 TDs; Top game — 119 yards

* Adkins has not played since Sept. 19 because of a hamstring injury

If fans were building a fantasy football roster of college players, they’d be wise to stay away from Colorado running backs.

Not that the Buffaloes don’t have talent in the backfield. But from one week to the next, nobody knows what to expect from CU tailbacks.

Not even the man who coaches them knows.

“All of them have been effective in their own roles,” CU running backs coach Klayton Adams said. “Some weeks there’s guys that are healthier than other guys, so that makes a difference, along with how you’re trying to attack or who you think is going to be the most effective.

“Sometimes you’re wrong. Sometimes you go into the game and you think, ‘The way this guy runs is going to be effective for us,’ and it ends up being somebody totally different.”

Around the Pac-12, there are a few teams that rely on their lead back to carry the load in the running game. Oregon’s Royce Freeman, Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, Utah’s Devontae Booker and UCLA’s Paul Perkins have separated themselves as the top dogs in the conference.

CU (4-6, 1-5 Pac-12), meanwhile, doesn’t have a single running back among the conference leaders, and yet the Buffs rank fifth overall in rushing. CU’s average of 183.8 yards per game is its best since the 2002 team averaged 241.2 yards.

Senior Christian Powell, sophomores Donovan Lee and Phillip Lindsay and freshman Patrick Carr are all doing their part to keep the CU run game moving. Junior Michael Adkins II had a couple of big games to start the year but has been sidelined the past two months with a hamstring injury.

“It just depends on what we feel like is going to be best in that game,” CU head coach Mike MacIntyre said. “We have some guys that can run the football and have shown they can.”

The Buffs, in fact, have had five different running backs hit the 100-yard mark this season. Around the country, only Air Force — which is well-known for its option offense — has had more, with six.

Don’t look at the individual statistics to figure out who will lead the team in rushing on a given week.

Lindsay (503 yards) leads the Buffs in rushing this season, while Powell (325) is second, but in Saturday’s 42-10 loss to Stanford Powell never touched the ball and Lindsay had just one rushing attempt during the first three quarters.

When the Buffs went to the ground, it was generally either Carr or Lee getting the ball.

Adams said Lindsay and Powell are still valuable to the CU offense, but that game, in particular, just didn’t allow for them to get involved. CU ran just 53 plays and fell behind early, which limited their ability to run.

“(Lindsay) was part of the plan, but that plan changes when you don’t get as many plays,” Adams said. “When you’re making decisions week to week, it has everything to do with trying to be successful and trying to put the kids in situations to be successful. Sometimes I do a good job of that and sometimes I don’t.”

If CU had a Freeman or a Booker, game planning might be easier, but Adams has to figure out how to get all four of his backs involved, if he can.

“I think ideally, it’s easier if you feel like there’s one person that is head and shoulders a lot better than everyone else,” Adams said. “I feel like we’ve got four guys who are all pretty darn good.”

Powell, who has led the Buffs in rushing the past three seasons, said it can be a challenge to not get the ball. Lindsay said it can be frustrating to get 23 carries one game and just a handful the next. Both, however, said they continue to play their roles and will be ready when their number is called.

“You have to keep going out, keep doing what you do,” Powell said. “You have to basically keep your head in it and keep going after it.”

Carr said he believes the rotation is a benefit to CU’s tailback group.

“You don’t put a lot of mileage on some people,” he said. “We can rotate and have fresh legs out there. It helps us a lot.”

As the Buffs look to the final three games of the season, they will likely continue using their entire stable of backs. They would like to gain some more consistency with their success, however.

“I still think there’s a couple of things we need to tweak,” Adams said.

“I feel like we’ve got a really good position (group) there. All of them need to get better, and that’s my job. That’s why I’m here, to try to help them get better.”

Brian Howell:, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.