Darian Hagan didn’t hesitate when asked if Jarek Broussard is possibly better than he was a year ago.
“Oh, he’s better,” Colorado’s running backs coach said. “He’s way better.”
Although he got to play in only six games because of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Broussard put together a remarkable season. Including the Alamo Bowl – which CU doesn’t count for season statistics – Broussard rushed for 895 yards and five touchdowns on 156 attempts and earned Pac-12 offensive player of the year honors.
This, however, is a new season.
“Last year was a big year for me and I’ll never take that away from myself,” he said. “But I think ahead. Yeah, I did all those things, but that’s the past. Who really cares? People are looking forward to what I’m going to do this year to see if it’s a hoax or not. I’m just looking forward to going out and playing.”
Broussard is also looking forward to being a more dynamic threat than he was last year when he posted four 100-yard games, including a 301-yard effort against Arizona.
“He’s taken his game up to a point where he’s really, really detailed compared to last year,” Hagan said. “Last year, at times he would ad-lib. He’s not doing that now. He’s got a good foundation in our offense. And in pass protection, he’s lights out from where he was. He’s really, really sound in protection.
“I think he’s a special talent. A lot of people see it when he’s carrying the ball, but overall he’s gotten better at all phases.”
What could make Broussard even more dangerous is that he’s got help this year.
With Alex Fontenot and Deion Smith out for the season in 2020, Broussard racked up 26.0 carries per game, which ranked second in the country. CU’s other tailbacks combined for 46 carries and 95 yards.
This season, Fontenot – the Buffs’ leading rusher in 2019 – and Smith are healthy, while Joe Davis, Ashaad Clayton and Jayle Stacks are a year older.
Broussard will never complain about getting a lot of carries but is excited about sharing the work with his talented teammates.
“We’re all skilled, we all can do amazing things,” Broussard said. “The main goal at the end is always to help the team win. If I could go in and make an explosive play and then I can take a break and another guy could do the same thing and there’s no drop-off, who cares (about the number of carries)? We’re winning, we’re padding the stats, it’s good.”
CU hasn’t had this much talent at running back in almost 20 years. Hagan said it’s a special group and one that could make the Buffs better as a whole.
“I’m looking forward to it because when you have a lot of guys that you can depend on, especially on offense, I think it simplifies things and helps us,” Hagan said. “When your number’s called, you’ve got to deliver; you’ve got to be consistent.”
Hagan said he hasn’t had a conversation with Broussard about reducing the number of carries from last year, but said, “He understands that last year was a different ballgame. Now everybody’s back healthy and those guys deserve opportunities.”
So does Broussard, who has enjoyed a good offseason and is no longer wearing the knee brace that slowed him down a bit in 2020.
“With last year being my first time playing, I’ve got a better feel for the offense (this year),” he said. “I’m just a lot more comfortable being out there. You can play faster and know exactly what to do and I feel like that’s something I really improved on a lot.
“My confidence is really good right now. I feel good. I’m ready to ball.”
A quick look at each position on the CU offense:
Quarterbacks: For the second year in a row, the Buffs go into the season with zero starting experience at quarterback. Last year’s starter (Sam Noyer) and top backup (Tyler Lytle) both transferred and incoming transfer JT Shrout injured his knee in camp. That left the door wide open for freshman Brendon Lewis, an exciting dual-threat with major upside. The Buffs believe in his ability, but he’s got to stay healthy. There’s only freshman Drew Carter and a pair of freshman walk-ons behind him.
Running backs: The Buffs are loaded with talent, starting with Jarek Broussard, who was one of the nation’s best in 2020. Alex Fontenot led CU in rushing in 2019 but missed 2020 with a hip injury. He’s had a great offseason as he looks to regain his spot from two years ago. Former four-star recruit Ashaad Clayton is one of several young backs angling for time, as well, along with Deion Smith, Joe Davis and Jayle Stacks. They’ll all get a chance to play and it could be a dynamic group.
Tight ends: Brady Russell was off to a great start in 2020 before an injury derailed his season. Healthy again, he should be a critical part of the offense, not only as a receiver but as a blocker. He can be a nice weapon in the passing game. Former quarterback/walk-on Matt Lynch earned a scholarship in the offseason and he could be the No. 2, but former linebacker Alec Pell has had an exceptional offseason.
Receivers: It’s a fairly young, but talented group. Fourth-year sophomore Dimitri Stanley leads the way and he has all-conference potential. So does freshman La’Vontae Shenault, who played well in his four games last season. Returning freshman Brenden Rice had some explosive plays and could be one of the top targets for Lewis. Montana Lemonious-Craig, Daniel Arias and Jaylon Jackson should also figure into the mix.
Offensive line: If the Buffs could ever get fully healthy, they’d have a pretty solid group up front. Tackles Max Wray and Frank Fillip have battled some injuries, with Fillip expected to miss the first two or three games. A transfer from Ohio State, Wray could slide into the starting spot at left tackle. Jake Wiley has had a good offseason and could start at right tackle for Fillip in the early going. The interior of the line is led by experienced center Colby Pursell and left guard Kary Kutsch. They are solid leaders and they anchor the line. Right guard is a battle between incumbent starter Casey Roddick and Kanan Ray. Chance Lytle has starting experience and can play guard or tackle, giving the Buffs valuable depth. Iowa transfer Noah Fenske and guard/center Josh Jynes are solid backups, as well.
Projected depth chart
Position First team Second team
QB Brendon Lewis, Fr., 6-2, 225 Drew Carter, Fr., 6-3, 195
RB Jarek Broussard, So., 5-9, 185 Alex Fontenot, Jr., 6-0, 205
TE Brady Russell, Jr., 6-3, 255 Matt Lynch, Sr., 6-5, 245
WR La’Vontae Shenault, Fr., 6-2, 190 Daniel Arias, Jr., 6-4, 205
WR Brenden Rice, Fr., 6-3, 205 Montana Lemonious-Craig, Fr., 6-2, 185
SL Dimitri Stanley, So., 6-0, 195 Jaylon Jackson, Jr., 5-10, 180
LT Max Wray, So., 6-7, 285 Chance Lytle, Jr., 6-7, 340
LG Kary Kutsch, Sr., 6-5, 310 Josh Jynes, So., 6-3, 310
C Colby Pursell, Jr., 6-4, 305 Noah Fenske, Fr., 6-5, 305
RG Casey Roddick, So., 6-4, 335 Kanan Ray, So., 6-4, 295
RT Frank Fillip, So., 6-7, 295 Jake Wiley, Fr., 6-6, 290
SNAPSHOT: CU offense
- Darrin Chiaverini (6th season): Coordinator/Receivers
- Bryan Cook (1st season): Tight ends
- Darian Hagan (6th season): Running backs
- Danny Langsdorf (2nd season): Quarterbacks
- Mitch Rodrigue (2nd season): Offensive line
Five to watch
RB Jarek Broussard, So.: Last year’s Pac-12 offensive player of the year is back and leading a talented group of running backs.
QB Brendon Lewis, Fr.: Flashed his talent in his debut at the Alamo Bowl in December. Now he’s got the keys to the offense as the starter.
C Colby Pursell, Jr.: One of the most experienced players on the team, he anchors what should be a solid and deep offensive line.
TE Brady Russell, Jr.: A skilled pass rusher and blocker, the Buffs missed his presence when he missed the last five games of 2020. His return is a key to the offense.
WR La’Vontae Shenault, Fr.: Played just four games last year, but he caught 17 passes for 193 yards and has the ability to be one of the top playmakers on the team.
Rankings Avg. Pac-12 National
Scoring 28.5 9 63
Total offense 413.8 5 48
Rushing 212.3 3 23
Passing 201.5 10 87
Passing efficiency 115.4 11 106
Sacks allowed 1.17 2 10
3rd-down % 42.7% 7 48
Red zone scoring 91.3% 2 14
Numbers to know
1: Freshman quarterbacks to start a season opener for Buffs – Cody Hawkins in 2007. Brendon Lewis is slated to become just the second to do so.
6.3: Average yards per carry during the regular season for Jarek Broussard last year. That’s the most by a CU leading rusher since Chris Brown averaged 6.3 in 2002.
11: Career passes thrown by the healthy quarterbacks on the CU roster (not counting JT Shrout, who has a knee injury). Brendon Lewis went 6-for-10 for 95 yards in the Alamo Bowl, while recent walk-on James Mott went 1-for-1 for 5 yards for the University of Chicago in 2019.
51: Career catches for sophomore receiver Dimitri Stanley, making him the Buffs’ active leader.
57: Combined career starts for the members of the Buffs’ offensive line. Colby Pursell leads the way with 20, followed by Kary Kutsch (16), Frank Fillip and Casey Roddick (eight each), Chance Lytle (three) and Josh Jynes and Kanan Ray (one each).