Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Given how dominant Mustafa Johnson has been this season on the Colorado defense, it made sense that at some point teams were going to focus on stopping him.
After Johnson racked up a pair of sacks in the first half Oct. 27 against Oregon State, the Beavers had enough.
During the second half of that 41-34 overtime loss, Johnson was double-teamed more than normal, he said. Last week in a 42-34 loss to Arizona, the Wildcats did the same.
“I definitely think (Arizona) schemed against me,” Johnson said. “They had a couple times where I was getting back blocked, so I couldn’t flow to the ball as easily as I normally would, making plays on the backside. They played it very smart.”
CU (5-4, 2-4 Pac-12) faces pass-happy No. 10 Washington State (8-1, 5-1) on Saturday at Folsom Field, and the Buffs hope Johnson can make his usual impact.
Johnson has continued to be dominant with his one-on-one battles, but Oregon State and Arizona have limited his effectiveness with double teams, quick throws or simply running plays away from him.
Johnson, who leads the Pac-12 with 6.5 sacks, said he just has to learn to adjust in his first year with the Buffs after transferring from Modesto Junior College.
“That’s all I can do,” he said. “When I first came into the season, there wasn’t any film on me. Now that they’ve seen some of the things I’m capable of doing, I just have to adjust and get better. That’s all there is to it. I’m going to get more double teams. I just have to learn how to play it.
“It’s a little challenging, but when I’m able to succeed, it’s a great feeling.”
CU running back Travon McMillian is inching closer to the 1,000-yard mark for the season, coming into this week with 837 yards.
“Obviously, personal accolades aren’t above anything else, above the team, but it’s definitely something I wanted to accomplish personally for myself,” he said this week.
A graduate transfer from Virginia Tech, McMillian rushed for 2,153 yards in three years with the Hokies, including a career-high 1,043 as a freshman in 2015.
McMillian already has more carries (158) and yards than he did in the past two seasons, and the ice packs on his legs after Friday’s game at Arizona proved he’s feeling it.
With three games to go, however, McMillian said he’s feeling healthy.
“My body feels good right now,” he said. “I’ve been going through minor injuries, but that’s kind of how the season goes at tailback. Nothing serious. I’ve been in the training room a lot and taking care of my body.”
McMillian is aiming for just the 17th 1,000-yard season in CU history. Phillip Lindsay, now with the NFL’s Denver Broncos, topped 1,000 yards in each of the last two seasons. In both seasons, Lindsay hit the 1,000-yard mark against Washington State. McMillian would need a career-high 163 yards to do the same.
In addition to his rushing, McMillian has caught nine passes for 93 yards, including a 57-yard touchdown last week.
“I think he can do all three things a back needs to do: he can run well, he blocks well and he can catch the ball out of the backfield,” head coach Mike MacIntyre said. “The other thing he does really well is take care of the football.
“I’ve been very pleased with Travon an d the way he has meshed with the team and the team attitude he’s had and how hard he’s played and how hard he’s run. It’s been a privilege having him and coaching him.”
Saturday’s game will be the 499th in the long history of Folsom Field. … In the last nine years, CU is 2-29 against ranked opponents, with both wins coming in 2016 (against Washington State and Utah and in back-to-back weeks). … During the first six games, CU outscored the opposition 36-6 in the fourth quarter. During the last three games, the Buffs have been outscored 48-3 in the fourth quarter (and overtime).