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Rooney: CU Buffs’ road to Pac-12 South title needs to be cleared by O-line

  • Colorado offensive linemen Hunter Vaughn, from left, Josh Kaiser, Joshua...

    Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer

    Colorado offensive linemen Hunter Vaughn, from left, Josh Kaiser, Joshua Jynes, and Colby Pursell during a practice on Aug. 11.

  • Colorado co-offensive coordinator Klayton Adams has had to work with...

    Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer

    Colorado co-offensive coordinator Klayton Adams has had to work with several different lineups along the offensive line.



With a big opportunity still well within reach, Colorado football Mike MacIntyre is doing his best to alter the calendar.

It might still be October when the Buffaloes host their annual homecoming date Saturday afternoon against Oregon State, yet as far as MacIntyre and the Buffs are concerned, it’s already November.

“The ‘gold’ games happen in November, but we put this as a ‘gold’ game,” MacIntyre said earlier this week. “We moved November up a week, because we basically have to run the table.”

On this count, MacIntyre is on the money. While the Buffs would need just a little bit of help along the way, running the table over the final five games will more than likely bring a second Pac-12 Conference South Division crown to Boulder in three years. If I was a gambling man, I’d wager USC will suffers one more loss along the way, opening that division door for the Buffs.

In order to get there, however, the Buffs need more than just one more loss out of USC, which holds the tiebreaker over CU if the Trojans go the rest of the way without a loss. CU also is in desperate need of one particular position group to get its act together to make running the table a reality.

We’re looking at you, offensive line.

Yes, the Buffs are banged up in the secondary, with Delrick Abrams set to return this week after a one-game absence while fellow cornerback Chris Miller begins his recovery from a season-ending hand injury. And obviously no run to the South Division title will occur without receiver Laviska Shenault recovering from the turf toe injury that sidelined him last week at Washington, and may do so again this week. Getting senior Jay MacIntyre (concussion) back in that receiver mix certainly will help, too.

But even a return to form by Shenault won’t put the Buffs over the top if some unity and, more importantly, cohesion are finally discovered on an offensive line that has reached the season’s midpoint with as many question marks as it started the year with.

Through seven games, the Buffs have utilized four different starting combinations along the offensive front. Perhaps more alarming has been the in-game rotations, which began as a healthy mini-competition to see which of the top seven or so linemen would stand out but has since devolved into a panicky, on the fly, let’s-see-if-this-Band Aid-fixes-things approach.

There are signs the Buffs’ offense line, a weak spot for years, could be a strength in seasons to come. Redshirt freshman Colby Pursell has started every game at center, while fellow rookies Will Sherman, Jake Moretti, and Frank Fillip give the Buffs a core rich on promise. However, throughout the course of what the Buffs hope will be long and productive careers for those youngsters, it’s difficult to picture the South Division ever being more winnable than in 2018.

All six teams have at least a pair of league losses, including the Buffs and three others (USC, Utah, UCLA) leading the way with two apiece. USC is down, but likely not for long. UCLA already is showing signs of gaining traction under first-year coach Chip Kelly, and eventually Herman Edwards may do the same at Arizona State. For now, though, mediocrity rules.

CU offensive line coach/co-offensive coordinator Klayton Adams has had the unenviable task of getting rookies to play at a championship level immediately, and that chore has only been magnified by having veterans like senior Josh Kaiser getting sent to the sideline in big games for multiple critical mistakes, as was the case at Washington.

Moreover, the struggles up front might be altering the play-calling approach of co-offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini, he of the self-proclaimed aggressive mindset whose calls the past two weeks have been curiously conservative at times. The litany of first-down run calls at Washington was a head-scratcher, yet upon further review the idea the Buffs’ brass didn’t want to expose quarterback Steven Montez to additional big hits in a game CU likely would have lost even at full strength could be seen as a prudent maneuver.

The Buffs need Montez to be healthy and productive over the final five games far more than they needed him to get battered and beaten only to lose in closer fashion at UW.

At the season’s outset my biggest questions about the Buffs was whether they had improved up front on both sides of the ball. They have on defense. They haven’t yet on offense. If they finally do over the final five games, the road to that South crown will become far more manageable.

Pat Rooney: or

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