On third-and-goal from the 1-yard line, Utah running back Devin Brumfield took the handoff and ran to the gap between the center and left guard.
Colorado linebacker Nate Landman read the play and hit Brumfield at the 2-yard line, but bounced off as Brumfield dove into the end zone for a touchdown that helped the Utes to a 45-15 victory on Nov. 30 that ended CU’s season.
Two months later, that and other missed plays still bother Landman.
“It’s not even just that game; it’s all the plays that you remember,” the Buffs’ senior leader said recently. “One more step or one inch away. Those eat at you, but you have to move on because that happens to every player and every team. We’re going to work hard this year to get those inches in our favor.”
One of the best inside linebackers in the Pac-12, Landman recorded 137 tackles last season – the most by any CU player in 12 years – but he’s driven by the misses. He wants to be a better player and he wants to play for a winner after being a part of three consecutive 5-7 seasons.
“I kind of feel like I have some unfinished business at CU,” he said.
Landman, however, contemplated skipping his senior year and entering the NFL Draft.
“I thought about it for a while, just because you’ve got to weigh the options and the cost benefit of coming back or leaving,” said Landman, who has recorded 260 tackles in the past two seasons. “I talked to (CU head coach Mel Tucker) a couple times, talked to some outside people and my family is a big part of it. At the end of the day, we thought that the best option for me was to come back and improve my draft stock this year.”
Players considering early entry to the NFL can get an evaluation from the College Advisory Committee. The CAC returns one of three grades: potential first-round pick, potential second-round pick or a recommendation to stay in school. As Landman expected, he was recommended to stay in school.
“You’re always hoping for (a first or second-round grade), but I’m real with myself and kind of knew that I didn’t have the greatest year and also we went 5-7,” he said. “Our defense had an OK year and not nearly close to what we wanted.
“I’m fine with my decision (to stay). I’m happy and I’m all in at CU now and I’m just ready for this senior year.”
On the surface, 2019 was another dominant year for Landman. Among his 137 tackles, 112 were solo stops – the second-best single-season total in CU history. He also had two sacks, eight tackles for loss, an interception and five pass breakups.
The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Landman said he’s satisfied with his run defense and, with the help of CU inside linebackers coach Ross Els, saw his pass coverage improve throughout 2019. He knows, however, that he still needs work.
“I’m still improving in the pass coverage and the run game,” he said. “I can always be a little more physical or more sure on some tackles that I missed last year. Also with film study, not only knowing what my defense is doing, but learning what the offense is doing and kind of knowing what they’re going to do before they do it.”
Physically, Landman wants to keep his weight around 230-235 pounds, but he’s trying to get stronger and loosen his hips.
“The big question mark with me was the pass coverage,” he said. “I know where the play is going to happen most of the time and sometimes my body doesn’t let me because I’m a little stiff. That was the biggest thing in my grade was to come back and loosen up my hips and my lower body. That’s my main thing to prove this year.”
In an effort to get better, Landman has spent time this winter with former CU and NFL lineman Matt McChesney, who has trained several high school, college and NFL players over the years.
“Really hungry to be great,” McChesney said of Landman. “Most guys aren’t smart enough, humble enough; or think they know everything and refuse to even sit down and have a session about what they may not know. Nate will dominate at the National Football League level for years to come because he’s always trying to learn. He’s maximizing his ability mentally and physically.”
Individual improvement is a priority for Landman, but so is winning. A leader last year, he’s trying to take his leadership to a new level as the Buffs try to achieve bowl eligibility.
“This is my team and I’m taking charge of it, for sure,” he said.