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CU Buffs football notes: Red zone woes continue against Washington State

Peter Caster/Tribune Staff Photographer
Water sprays into the air as Washington State safety Bryce Beekman (26) hits Colorado running back Alex Fontenot (8) as Fontenot runs upfield on Saturday.
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PULLMAN, Wash. – Getting to the red zone hasn’t been a major problem for the Colorado Buffaloes in the last two weeks.

Finding success in the red zone has been an issue, however.

When Laviska Shenault scored on a 6-yard run with 5 minutes, 6 seconds to play in the third quarter of Saturday’s 41-10 loss to Washington State at Martin Stadium, it snapped a streak of seven consecutive red zone trips without a touchdown.

“I feel like we’re moving the ball really well; it’s just the red zone is just killing us right now,” running back Alex Fontenot said. “Just can’t seem to convert. I don’t even know (why). We’ll try to get it fixed.”

In a 45-3 loss at Oregon on Oct. 11, the Buffs reached the red zone four times, but came away with only three points, on a James Stefanou field goal. They had a Steven Montez interception, a turnover on downs and a missed field goal on their other three trips.

In the first half on Saturday, the Buffs reached the red zone three times, but netted just three points, on a 25-yard Stefanou field goal. The Buffs missed a field goal on their first red zone trip and then Montez threw an interception in the end zone on another possession inside the Cougars’ 20-yard line.

CU moved the ball to Washington State territory on six of its first eight possessions, but got just 10 points. In fact, the Buffs ran more plays in WSU territory (29) than the Cougars ran on the Buffs’ side of the field (28).

“We need to be able to score touchdowns, especially against a team like this that moves the ball and can score,” head coach Mel Tucker said. “That has been an issue the past couple of weeks. Obviously, we’re moving the ball, but we’re not able to finish drives. We missed a couple field goals also, so those are things we have to get cleaned up. You can’t win games if you can’t finish drives and can’t score touchdowns.”

Maddox sits

Junior safety Aaron Maddox did not make the trip to Pullman, for undisclosed reasons.

“I decided not to travel Maddox; it was my decision,” Tucker said. “I really don’t want to go into the details of it tonight. I’ll probably have more information for you next week.”

Maddox, who started the first three games of the season, missed two games with a deep leg laceration. He then returned to the field last week against Oregon.

On the season, Maddox has recorded 23 tackles, on tackle for loss and two third-down stops.

Stenstrom makes debut

Another ineffective night from senior quarterback Steven Montez paved the way for his backups to get some playing time.

Midway through the fourth quarter, with the Buffs trailing 38-10, they turned to sophomore Tyler Lytle. He had played in two previous games, but had not thrown a pass this season. He was incomplete on his one throw Saturday, while getting injured on the play. There was no word on the severity of Lytle’s injury after the game, but he did have ice on his right shoulder.

Third stringer Blake Stenstrom then came in and made his debut. The redshirt freshman from Valor Christian High School had first pass was intercepted and he finished 1-for-3 for 12 yards.

Run game a bright spot

CU finished the night with 179 rushing yards on 36 attempts, with sophomore Alex Fontenot finishing with 105. Fontenot averaged 9.5 yards on his 11 carries.

“For me, the runs, it was just opening up a lot and then it was just frustrating because every time we tried to pass it, it just wasn’t working because of the rain or whatever,” Fontenot said. “So, yeah, that part of it was frustrating. The run game for me, it just felt natural.”

Although they’ve lost three in a row, the Buffs have been solid in the run game, racking up 159, 168 and 179 yards in the last three games.

“We have been running the ball for the past few weeks,” Tucker said. “We’ve been very efficient running the football. That is what we want to be able to do. Fontenot runs the ball hard and he gets tough yards, yards after contact. He has burst, acceleration and we’re creating some space for him in the run game. That has been three or four weeks in a row we’ve been able to do that.”

Shutack gets first start

Senior offensive lineman Jack Shutack got his first collegiate start, at right guard. He became the first walk-on offensive lineman to start a game for the Buffs since Keenan Stevens, who started the final nine games of the 2009 season at center, and the first walk-on to start at any position since safety Ryan Moeller at Oregon in 2014.

A three-star recruit coming out of Nazareth Academy in Chicago, Shutack signed with Rutgers and redshirted in 2015. He spent the 2016 season at DuPage College, but did not play football.

This is Shutack’s third season with the Buffs, as he joined the team in June of 2017. He played in just one game (four snaps vs. New Hampshire) in 2018, but has been a valuable backup for the Buffs this season. Going into Saturday, he had played in three games off the bench, totaling 46 plays.

Notable

Defensive end Mustafa Johnson returned to the field after missing the previous two games with an ankle injury. … True freshman Mark Perry made his first career start, lining up as nickel back, and classmate Tarik Luckett made his collegiate debut, at cornerback. … Sophomore Maurice Bell had the first catch of his career, but it went for a 2-yard loss. … Derrion Rakestraw intercepted a Cougars’ pass, giving him two picks on the year. … Shenault topped the 1,500-yard mark for career receiving yards. He now has 1,521.