TUCSON, Ariz. – When Arizona’s offense took possession with 4 minutes, 51 seconds to play in the third quarter on Saturday night, Colorado’s Nate Landman wasn’t on the field.
Colorado held an eight-point lead and Arizona was threatening to slice into that deficit. With Landman in the medical tent, Arizona hit plays for 12, 19, 16 and 33 yards to move to the CU 5-yard line.
Suddenly, during a stoppage in play, Landman emerged from the tent, near the South end of the field and sprinted toward the north end zone. He got there just in time for the next play, when Arizona had first-and-goal from the 2-yard line. Arizona handed off to running back Gary Brightwell and he was quickly hit by Landman and Carson Wells for a 1-yard loss.
On the next play, the Buffs’ Nigel Bethel Jr. picked off an Arizona pass to end the threat, and CU went on to win the game, 24-13.
While that stop wasn’t credited only to Landman, his presence made a difference – and it was fitting that on his first play of the drive, he teamed with Wells for a big play.
It would be difficult to find a pair of defenders in the Pac-12 playing better than Landman and Wells.
“He’s my roommate,” Wells said. “We’ve been together for like two years. Obviously when we went home (during the COVID-19 quarantine period in the summer), I worked out with my dad, but once we got back, we would do the workouts with (CU strength and conditioning coach) Drew (Wilson) and we had a field across from our house, so we would go and do extra work out there and I feel that’s really paying off.”
That’s an understatement.
Landman and Wells combined for 27 tackles, 2.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss and Arizona. Landman finished with 16 tackles, one sack and 3.5 tackles for loss. Wells had a career-high 11 tackles, along with four tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.
The numbers are eye-popping, but not unusual. A week earlier, in a 20-10 win against San Diego State, the duo combined for 16 tackles, eight tackles for loss and three sacks (all by Landman).
Landman was named Walter Camp and Bronko Nagurski national defensive player of the week and Pac-12 defensive player of the week after the San Diego State win. Wells was worthy, too.
While Landman continues his exceptional career, Wells, is emerging as a star. He has 11 tackles for loss in the last three games. To put that number in perspective, it would have been enough to lead the team for the entire season in nine of the previous 11 years.
Led by Landman and Wells, the Buffs have taken dramatic steps forward on defense.
In the first two games, CU gave up an average of 37.0 points and 437.5 yards per game.
The last two weeks, the defense has given up 8.0 points and 288.5 yards per game. CU has given up just one touchdown and three field goals in the last two games.
On Saturday, Arizona didn’t score in the last 43 minutes.
“We knew they were going to go to tempo,” Wells said. “They gashed us a couple plays (early). I feel like we settled in after the first drive; they got that touchdown and we held them to a couple field goals. After that, they really didn’t get much. They got a couple drives, but we just had that bend but don’t break attitude and that really paid off for us tonight.”