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CU Buffs’ Laviska Shenault regaining form

Junior receiver feeling good and coming off best game of season

Colorado's Laviska Shenault caught nine passes for 172 yards against the Trojans on Friday night.
Cliff Grassmick/Staff photographer
Colorado’s Laviska Shenault caught nine passes for 172 yards against the Trojans on Friday night.

Going into last Friday’s game against Southern California, Colorado receiver Laviska Shenault knew it was coming.

On the second play of the third quarter, Shenault ran a slant route of about four yards, caught the pass from Steven Montez and exploded down the field for a 71-yard touchdown.

“We were talking about running the slant against them since day one of the week and we executed it,” Shenault said on Tuesday. “It was the perfect play call for the defense they were in.”

While that play – by far Shenault’s longest of the season – came in a 35-31 defeat, it was significant for the Buffaloes’ biggest star. It wasn’t just the product of a great play call; it was a product of an elite athlete feeling good physically.

“I’m starting to feel better,” said Shenault, who has battled injuries, bumps and bruises all season. “That’s definitely one of the big keys.”

CU (3-5, 1-4 Pac-12) will take a four-game losing streak into a matchup at UCLA (3-5, 3-2) on Saturday (7 p.m. MT, TV: Pac-12 Networks), but the Buffs’ top player is possibly hitting his stride at the right time.

Shenault caught nine passes for 172 yards against the Trojans. He was targeted a season-high 16 times in part because he was able to play more snaps. Early in Week 4 against Arizona State, Shenault suffered a core muscle strain that caused him to miss most of that game and all of the next, against Arizona. He returned for back-to-back road games at Oregon and Washington State, but his snap totals were limited.

Against USC, Shenault looked and felt like himself again and he displayed his usual explosiveness on his long touchdown.

“It definitely felt good because I haven’t done anything like that in forever, so it felt good to finally be able to get out there run around like that,” he said.

After a heavy workload against USC, including a 17-yard run out of the wildcat formation, Shenault said he’s felt good this week in practice.

“Very close (to 100 percent),” he said. “Usually after the game I’m very sore and not able to practice. (Monday) I was able to practice, so that was good.”

Just two weeks ago, he was “trying to do what I could,” he said, but wasn’t anywhere near 100 percent healthy.

Now, he’s getting there and it showed in his production. Of Shenault’s 10 touches against USC, six went for a first down or touchdown, and he often used his strength and power to gain extra yards rather than go out of bounds.

“That’s one thing I’ve been doing my whole life really,” he said. “I don’t like to run out of bounds. I’m going to try to get the most out of everything, out of every play, every catch.”

While Shenault’s overall numbers this season – 34 catches for 514 yards – are not as gaudy as was expected coming into the year, when he’s healthy he makes the Buffs’ offense more dynamic.

Shenault has caught 12 passes on third or fourth down, turning 11 of them into first downs. He’s also the Buffs’ best short-yardage runner. Lining up out of the wildcat, Shenault has run seven times in third or fourth down, picking up the first down every time. He is third on the team in rushing, with 99 yards on 13 carries.

“I love wildcat,” he said. “I get the ball in my hands. Right off the bat I get to do what I want to do with the ball. It’s always good to have a ball with my hands early. I like that.”

Although the wildcat runs and Shenault’s style of picking up extra yards opens him up to more hits, he prefers to play that way and, frankly, so do the Buffs.

“Viska, he’s the type of guy to take a few hits and then go pick up 15 more yards,” Montez said. “When Viska gets the ball in his hands, I want him to stay on his feet as long as he possibly can, because there’s a really big chance that he can break one for us and go to the house. I think Viska running tough is definitely better for the team than him running safe.”