CU football notes: Offense out to good start with Jay Johnson

Colorado offensive coordinator Jay Johnson is happy with the way the offense has been performing.

Jay Johnson came to Colorado last winter knowing he had a lot of weapons at his disposal.

After four games, the Buffaloes’ offensive coordinator is settling in as a play-caller with a group that is led by senior quarterback Steven Montez.

“I think so,” he said. “Obviously, a lot of it is continuity and developing consistency. And I think a lot of that piece really starts up front. They’re kind of getting together and just learning that communication piece because what they do lends to whatever else happens.”

CU (3-1, 1-0 Pac-12) ranks fifth in the conference with 35.8 points per game and seventh with 434.8 yards per game. The Buffs are also third in third-down conversation rate (48.4 percent), first in turnover margin (plus-7, with only four turnovers) and sixth in the red zone (87.5 percent scoring rate).

While star receiver Laviska Shenault has not exploded, as some expected (because of double-teams and, now, injury), Montez has been efficient, with a 159.3 rating (his career high for a season is138.0), Tony Brown, KD Nixon and other receivers are stepping up, and the running back duo of Alex Fontenot and Jaren Mangham has performed well.

The line, meanwhile, had a rough game against Air Force on Sept. 14 (a 30-23 overtime loss), but has been solid otherwise and is coming off its best game in a 34-31 win at Arizona State. The Buffs have had the same five starters for all four games.

“It helps a lot,” center Tim Lynott said of the continuity. “I think coming in prepared, knowing what every guy’s going do is probably going to be more beneficial for us.”

The Buffs have scored 34-plus points in three of four games this season. To keep the offense rolling, they’ll have to beat an Arizona defense that is playing with some confidence.

The Wildcats (3-1, 1-0) have allowed just 31 points in the last two games combined, yielding 17 or less in back-to-back games for the first time since 2013. They also lead the country with nine interceptions.

“I just think they’re opportunistic,” Johnson said. “They’re kind of in the right spots at the right time and taking advantage of those things that the offense might leave on the field. So more than anything and just opportunistic.

“The first thing we start practice with is ball security. It has to be the root of our program, and it is with (head coach Mel Tucker). That will be a pivotal, pivotal part of the game, as it is every game.”

Improving on D

With youth and inexperience sprinkled all over the defense, the Buffs were expected to have some growing pains on that side of the ball this season. The Buffs have been vulnerable to big plays and early game struggles, but they are also encouraged by the overall progress.

“I think we’ve been getting better each and every day and every week throughout every game,” junior linebacker Nate Landman said. “We have being playing our best football in the second half (of games). We’re a young defense, so adjusting to things in the first half is a little difficult and getting those halftime adjustments helps a lot. But definitely our main goal is to be a more solid defense in the first half and help our offense be on the field more.”

Hoping for Tate

Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate has put up monster games against CU the past two years, but, as a competitor, Landman would like another shot at him.

“Oh yeah, definitely,” he said. “You know, seeing what he did to us that year (2017), I still remember that game. And I remember what he did last year. Having him come into our house again, I’m excited to play him because he’s a great athlete and one of the most athletic guys in college football. We want to prove ourselves as a defense that we’re capable of stopping him.”

The Buffs aren’t sure if they’ll get that chance, though. Tate missed last week’s game with hamstring and ankle injuries and it’s unclear if he’ll play this week.

Nearing a sellout

As of late Wednesday afternoon, CU had sold more than 49,000 tickets for Saturday’s game, putting them within reach of a sellout. Folsom Field’s capacity is 50,183.

CU has already had one sellout this season, Sept. 7 against Nebraska. The last time the Buffs had two sellouts in the same season at Folsom was in 2005.  From 2006-18, the Buffs had just two sellouts in 77 home games.

Through two home games, the Buffs have averaged 51,055.5 fans at Folsom, which is 102 percent of capacity – a number that leads the Pac-12.

CU has sold at least 49,000 tickets for three consecutive home games for the first time since 2001.