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Strong start in trenches for CU Buffs

Offensive, defensive lines play well in opening win against UCLA

CU Athletics
Colorado left tackle William Sherman and the rest of the offensive line paved the way for 264 rushing yards by the Buffaloes.

Sam Noyer taking over as starting quarterback and Jarek Broussard starring at tailback were the two obvious changes in the Colorado offense from last year.

Perhaps the most important difference with the Buffaloes, however, was how they dominated in the trenches during Saturday’s 48-42 season-opening win against UCLA.

For several years, the Buffs have struggled with consistency on the offensive and defensive lines. This year, however, the Buffs have a lot of experience coming back on the lines and the performance against UCLA suggests the trenches could be a strength for CU (1-0), which visits Stanford (0-1) on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. MST (TV: ESPN2).

“I felt offensively we did a nice job with our debut and had a lot of production in the run game and they protected Sam really well in the passing game,” head coach Karl Dorrell said of the offensive line. “Those guys, I thought, are off to a really good start.

“Our starting offensive line played well. Did they play perfect? No, they played with a winning average but they need to continue to get better at a number of things that we felt are going to be issues for us moving forward. But I’m very encouraged with what we’ve done offensively.”

William Sherman (left tackle), Kary Kutsch (left guard), Colby Pursell (center), Casey Roddick (right guard) and Frank Fillip started and played the first 66 snaps together. After Pursell went down with an injury, Josh Jynes played the final 26 snap at center.

The line helped CU pile up 264 rushing yards, the program’s best total since 311 yards vs. New Hampshire on Sept. 15, 2018. It’s the most rushing yards by a CU team against a Pac-12 opponent since racking up 300 against Arizona on Oct. 7, 2017.

BOULDER, CO – November 7, 2020: The Colorado defensive line squares off against the UCLA offensive line at Folsom Field. (University of Colorado Athletics)

UCLA registered just one sack against the Buffs, but that came on a play in which Noyer threw the ball away and was flagged for intentional grounding. Noyer was hurried on five of his 31 throws, but hit on just one of them.

“Nothing’s ever perfect,” Kutsch said of the line’s performance. “The numbers say we did pretty well in the end, but there’s always things we’ve got to fix. Overall, we are pretty happy with it.”

Defensively, the Buffs returned their three starters from a year ago – Mustafa Johnson, Terrance Lang and Jalen Sami – and that trio played the bulk of the game. They didn’t register impressive numbers (three tackles and one sack, all by Johnson), but kept pressure on Bruins quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson.

The starting trio combined or five QB pressures and played solid against the run. Thompson-Robinson 65-yard touchdown run, but the Bruins had just 110 yards on their other 24 carries.

“We were solid,” defensive line coach Chris Wilson said. “There’s some (good) things in regards to applying pressure; they were pretty sound in the run game and we’re just going to try to keep improving this week and see if we can build on what we were able to accomplish last week against a pretty good UCLA team.”

Sami, the Buffs’ sophomore nose tackle, said he was pleased overall with how the line played.

“Our main focus was trying to keep him in the pocket and close that gap, that window he has, and just make him make plays with his arm instead of with his feet,” Sami said. “We tried to force him to throw the ball more than running. I feel like that’s what we did.”

Sami added that Johnson getting the only sack is “motivation for me and T-Lang, and all the other defensive linemen and outside backers that we need to get sacks. We need to have pressure to the quarterback and we need to make those plays and help out our DBs. It definitely gives us juice for next week.”

On both lines, the Buffs had some juice against the Bruins. Although Pursell is doubtful to play Saturday at Stanford, the Buffs hope the performance last week is a sign of things to come.

“On both sides of the ball it was a solid performance,” Dorrell said of the lines. “Definitely some things we can improve. But definitely, I’ve been pleased. I’m pleased with how we started and we’ll see what we do in terms of making those steps of improvement this week.”