Going into this season, the Colorado Buffaloes knew they didn’t have much experience at running back.
The Buffs weren’t worried about a lack of talent, though.
Four games into the season, the talent at the position has been evident, as Alex Fontenot and Jaren Mangham have proven to be a solid 1-2 punch in the backfield for CU (3-1, 1-0 Pac-12), which has a bye this week.
So far, the duo has combined for 461 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 4.3 yards per carry.
“I feel like if we get the run game going, that really gets the offense going,” said Mangham, a true freshman. “So, we just want to keep doing what we’re doing. Just come out here working every day to get better.”
The past three seasons, CU had a bell cow at the position, with Phillip Lindsay (2016-17) and Travon McMillian (2018). Lindsay had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and set a school record with 301 carries in 2017. McMillian rushed for 1,009 yards last year.
This season, Fontenot has been the lead back, with 298 yards and four touchdowns on 67 carries, but Mangham has put up 163 yards and three touchdowns on 39 carries. CU hasn’t had two running backs reach 100-plus carries in a season since 2013, but Fontenot and Mangham are on pace to do that.
“I feel like it’s good and it gets us some fresh legs in there,” Mangham said of the rotation.
Fontenot opened the season with a 125-yard, three-TD performance against Colorado State, and then had a solid, 89-yard, 1-TD day last week against Arizona State. Mangham led the Buffs in rushing the other two games, against Nebraska and Air Force.
While the run game has been inconsistent overall, the Fontenot-Mangham duo has been invaluable at key moments of games.
“Our offensive line is just doing a phenomenal job and the wide receivers also doing a phenomenal job (of blocking),” said Mangham, who scored two touchdowns in a 34-31 overtime win against Nebraska.
Although Fontenot has been the leader of the group so far, Mangham has been pleased with the start to his college career.
“I feel like I’m doing pretty good,” he said. “Still got some room to improve. I’m just working on little details, making myself a more complete back. I just want to go out there, keep showing my abilities and keep going out there and helping my team to the best of my ability.”
In addition to Fontenot and Mangham, redshirt freshman Deion Smith has worked into the mix a bit lately. He has seven carries on the season, including four for 15 yards against ASU.
The Buffs also have true freshman Joe Davis and walk-on Chase Sanders. Redshirt freshman Jarek Broussard flashed during fall camp, as well, but he is out for the season after a knee injury.
With less than 7 minutes to play in the second quarter last Saturday at Arizona State, CU safety Mikial Onu leaped to break up a long pass near the goal line. Onu, who leads the Buffs with three interceptions, got his finger tips on the ball, but was unable to pull it in for another interception.
“I was sick about it,” Onu said. “My mom called me, dad called me. Everyone was checking on me because they know how I can get. I mean, I was happy we won and stuff, but I looked over that play at least 1,000 times.”
Making the missed opportunity more frustrating for Onu was that ASU scored a game-tying touchdown four plays later.
Listed at 5-foot-11, Onu isn’t the biggest safety around and Buffs defensive coordinator/safeties coach Tyson Summers has teased Onu a bit this week.
“Coach Summers was like, ‘This is why we recruit height,’ and he had a picture of me being like this far away from getting my hands on it,” Onu said. “I gotta come down with that, especially at that point. I’m not going to dwell on it. Next time that happens, I guarantee you it will be an interception.”
They’ve got spirit
Through four games, the Buffs have had their ups and downs on offense and defense, but one characteristic that has never wavered is their competitiveness. They’ve rallied from deficits and kept their energy up for four full quarters every week.
“I think it comes from (head coach Mel Tucker) and the coaching staff, just being relentless and just living up to that word,” Mangham said. “Just doing all the little things right. They don’t let us get away with anything. So, you know, we come out here and know we gotta work and they ride us every day and they just want us to get better.”
Mangham celebrated his 20th birthday on Friday. … Mangham already has the most rushing yards by a CU true freshman since Patrick Carr had 272 in 2015. The school record for a true freshman is 830 yards, by Lamont Warren in 1991. … The Buffs were off from practice Friday and will take this weekend off. They return to practice Monday to prepare for an Oct. 5 match up with Arizona at Folsom Field (2:30 p.m., TV: Pac-12 Networks).