As of Wednesday morning, the Colorado football team wasn’t sure when it will play its next game.
The Buffaloes know, however, that the next time they line up, they will do so without their highest profile player. They’re spending time this week trying to replace star linebacker Nate Landman, who suffered a season-ending injury in Saturday’s 38-21 loss to Utah.
Landman’s father confirmed to BuffZone.com that his son ruptured his right Achilles’ tendon late in the first half against the Utes. Landman had successful surgery on Tuesday. The recovery period is often at least nine months for an Achilles’ tendon rupture.
Landman is a senior, but the NCAA has granted all players an extra year of eligibility because of the coronavirus pandemic. Landman has not publicly announced whether he will return to CU in 2021 or enter the NFL draft.
“Seeing him go down like that, me personally it broke my heart because he deserves everything,” fellow linebacker Akil Jones said. “He’s worked so hard, but I mean it is football and things happen. It’s sad to say, but things did happen to him. It’s next man up but our team, all around, we’re trying to pick it up.”
The Buffs (4-1, 3-1 Pac-12; No. 25 in College Football Playoff rankings) have no choice but to move forward without the heart of their defense. Teams in all sports talk about the “next man up” philosophy when there’s an injury, but sometimes the injured player isn’t easily replaceable.
“He’s a Butkus (Award) finalist that we just lost, definitely an All-American,” said outside linebacker Carson Wells, who is Landman’s close friend and roommate. “You miss that leadership, too. He’s a great leader, gets everybody going and just knows what to say in the moment.”
A senior from Danville, Calif., Landman is an All-American candidate. He earned national defensive player of the week awards after CU’s third and fourth games. He’s been Pac-12 defensive player of the week twice this season. He was a semifinalist for the Butkus Award, which is presented annually to the nation’s top linebacker, but was surprisingly left off the list of five finalists this week.
With seven tackles against Utah, Landman moved into a tie for 10th on CU’s career list, with 338. He’s 12th for career tackles for loss (35) and third on the list for career third-down stops (46).
“Nate is a big piece of our defense and he’s been that way for the last couple of years,” head coach Karl Dorrell said. “It is a piece that is hard to fill. He makes a lot of great plays instinctively and plays the game a lot more instinctively than a lot of players on either side of the ball, so that is a big piece. It is unfortunate for us.”
In the moment on Saturday, the Buffs struggled without Landman. CU led 14-7 before his injury, while allowing just 3.53 yards per rushing attempt. Although there were several contributing factors to the loss to Utah, the Buffs were outscored 31-7 and gave up 5.57 yards per rush after Landman’s injury.
Having time to prepare, however, the Buffs are confident in their reinforcements. Juniors Jonathan Van Diest and Quinn Perry and freshman Marvin Ham II are the top candidates to take Landman’s spot in the lineup.
“We still have very, very qualified and capable (players), physically, mentally, and productively,” Dorrell said. “We have good young players who can do those things and they are going to have to do those things. This is a week that some of those guys are going to be repped. This week they are going to get plenty of chances to get tuned up to play.
“We are not asking for them to perform like Nate. We just ask for our players to play the best they can within their skill set, within the things they know in doing our defense, making the right assignments, filling gaps, and doing those things. We should be very capable of doing those things.”
Landman’s replacement will have to step up, but so will Jones, who has started 10 of the last 12 games next to Landman.
“I’m gonna have to be more vocal on the field, for sure, without a doubt in my mind,” he said. “I have to start making more calls. I was able to rely on Nate. … Now the team’s gonna rely on me, as well.”
It’s not just the inside linebackers who have to pick up the slack. Jones said Wells – who has played at an All-Pac-12 level all season – is a leader and has been stepping up in practice.
“We’ve also got our line, which was doing a phenomenal job with practice this week,” Jones said. “They have been more aggressive, stepping up, as well. So really it’s just an all-around mindset that it’s not just one person who needs to step up. It’s the whole, collective group.”