Colorado hoping to charge at Utah through better running attack

Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado running back Travon McMillian, left, is among a group in the backfield hoping to establish itself against Utah on Saturday at Folsom Field. The Utes are ranked 10th nationally against the run.

If You Go

What: Utah (7-3, 5-3 Pac-12) at Colorado (5-5, 2-5)

When: Saturday, 11:30 a.m. MT.

Where: Folsom Field in Boulder

TV: Pac-12 Networks

Running the football has been a struggle for the Colorado football team over the last two games.

Turning that around will be a priority this week.

The Buffs (5-5, 2-5 Pac-12) will host Utah (7-3, 5-3) on Saturday at Folsom Field, charged with the task of finding running room against one of the country’s stingiest defenses.

Utah ranks 10th nationally against the run, allowing 101.7 yards per game. The Utes have held five opponents to 73 yards or less.

“I see big, physical, aggressive dudes,” CU head coach Mike MacIntyre said of the Utah defense. “They’re a very physical football team and we’re going to have to be extremely physical against them.”

CU, which is riding a five-game losing streak, has struggled to do that, especially lately.

The Buffs have rushed for just 115 yards in the last two games combined. Quarterback Steven Montez has been sacked eight times for a total loss of 65 yards in those games, impacting the overall numbers, but there still hasn’t been much running room.

“We have to try to find matchups where we feel we have advantages, personnel wise,” co-offensive coordinator Klayton Adams said. “We have to try to give ourselves a few schematic advantages, and the key to that is not overcomplicating it and putting players in position where they don’t play fast. We have to play fast and confident and we haven’t been able to do that recently.”

In a 42-34 loss at Arizona on Nov. 2, the Buffs ran for just 40 yards on 32 carries, and Adams, who coaches the offensive line, said that group simply struggled that night.

“We’re going to have play a lot better than that if we want to give our team an opportunity to win,” Adams said. “There’s 11 players on offense, so anything we do (as a five-man offensive line) is going to have a negative or positive impact on the team. When we’re not playing well the offense doesn’t play well.”

During Saturday’s 31-7 loss to Washington State, the Buffs had 75 yards on 16 rushes, but Adams was more encouraged by that performance.

Take out the sacks, and the Buffs had 95 yards on 12 carries (7.9 per rush). Most of that came on a 64-yard burst by Travon McMillian, but half of those 12 carries were efficient runs. An efficient run is classified as getting at least 4 yards on first down, half the distance on second down and reaching the first down marker on third down.

The main issue with the run game Saturday, Adams said, was that the score forced CU to get away from it.

“We put ourselves in a situation in the game where we had to try to throw it to win,” Adams said. “Against that style of defense, there’s going to be some big hits and some negative yardage plays, so you want to limit the negative yardage plays and continue running it to try to hit the big runs. We weren’t really in position to get more of those in the second half, because we were trying to put ourselves in position to win the game with bigger chunks in the pass game. I think that was kind of the story of Saturday.”

CU hopes it’s a different story this Saturday.

McMillian, a senior graduate transfer from Virginia Tech, has had a great season (910 yards, six touchdowns) and the Buffs would love to utilize him as a major weapon against the Utes.

So far this season, Arizona State’s Eno Benjamin (175 yards) and Washington’s Myles Gaskin (143) are the only players to rush for more than 90 yards against Utah.

Tough calls

Sophomore linebacker Nate Landman was ejected for targeting Saturday for the second time this season. In both cases, Landman made a good, solid tackle, but the movement of the runner caused situations that led to the hits being technically defined as targeting.

“He was trying to hit the guy low, because we have to hit in the target area,” MacIntyre said. “It’s the way it goes and we have to abide by the rules.

“Both of his, they were the right calls, but they’re really hard (calls). It’s not like he launched, it’s not like he aimed, it’s not like the (opponent) wasn’t running. The guy was moving. It’s a hard deal.”

Targeting has been an evolving penalty in recent years and there’s been a lot of debate about the automatic ejections. MacIntyre believes the rules will continue to evolve.

“No. 1, the safety of the players on both sides is the most important thing, and that’s why the rules are in,” MacIntyre said. “I think it will progress as time goes along, as more and more of these things are seen as, ‘Wait a minute, that was not egregious.'”


MacIntyre said receiver Laviska Shenault had some soreness after Saturday because he had not played in three games, but that his injured toe was not a problem. … Receivers KD Nixon (hip) and Jay MacIntyre (concussion) and safety Evan Worthington (concussion) continue to be day-to-day. … CU’s game at California, on Nov. 24, has been slated for a 5 p.m. (MST) kickoff. The game will be televised on the Pac-12 Networks.

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at or twitter/com/BrianHowell33.