Nine games into the season, the Colorado offensive line is clearly better than it was a year ago.
It’s also clear that the group is still a work in progress.
CU (7-2, 5-1 Pac-12) has allowed nine sacks over the past two games, including two against UCLA’s Takkarist McKinley, who has been one of the best defensive ends in the conference this season.
“We knew McKinley would be a beast out there,” CU head coach Mike MacIntyre said. “He made some plays and we thought he would.”
Despite some pass protection struggles in recent weeks, however, MacIntyre is generally pleased with the performance of the offensive line to this point.
Run blocking has been exceptional, as the Buffs are averaging 208.0 yards per game on the ground and 5.1 yards per carry. That’s a dramatic improvement over the 3.75 yards per carry they averaged in 2015. CU hasn’t averaged at least five yards per rush since 2002.
The Buffs have allowed 2.44 sacks per game; that’s not great, but it is a big improvement over the 3.15 per game allowed last season.
“I definitely think they’ve really improved,” MacIntyre said. “I think they’ve played well enough for us to win in all the football games. Some games they haven’t played as well as in others. I’m looking forward to seeing how they respond and play this week and keep jelling.”
The Buffs will hope for a strong performance out of the line this week at Arizona (2-7, 0-6 Pac-12), which is allowing 202.8 rushing yards per game, while generating just 17 sacks.
Quite a change
Last year, Arizona came to Boulder and knocked off the Buffs, 38-31.
It was an odd game in that CU was forced to play with all freshmen at linebacker, and that contributed to them allowing 291 yards on the ground. Arizona took full advantage of CU being out of position and the Buffs’ poor tackling.
A year later, the Buffs have dramatically improved in those areas, according to Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez. Talking to local Arizona media after practice on Wednesday, Rodriguez talked about the impressive play of CU’s defense this season.
“They’re very rarely out of position,” Rodriguez said. “They’re always in the right spot. You can tell they’ve played a lot of football. They’re aggressive and they tackle extremely well. They’re one of the best tackling teams I’ve seen.”
At 0-6, Arizona has obviously had a tough season, but the Wildcats are actually working on a two-year decline. After winning the Pac-12 South in 2014, the Wildcats are just 3-12 in Pac-12 play, while being outscored by 246 points.
CU has held its last three opponents below 100 yards rushing, winning all three games. Since the start of the 1985 season, the Buffs are 100-14-1 when holding the opponent under 100 yards on the ground. In total, Arizona State, Stanford and UCLA managed just 168 yards on 91 carries — averages of 56.0 per game and 1.8 per rush — against the Buffs the past three weeks.
Senior quarterback Sefo Liufau has almost every major passing record at CU, including most career completions (798), attempts (1,258), yards (8,719) and completion percentage (63.2). He is still chasing one major mark, though. Liufau has 56 career touchdown passes, four shy of Cody Hawkins’ record of 60 from 2007-10.
It took him an extra year, but MacIntyre finally has more wins at CU (17) than he had during his three-year stint at San Jose State (16).