Physical CU Buffs to get test from Minnesota

Through two games, the Buffs are winning battles in the trenches

DENVER, CO - September 11, 2021: University of Colorado Boulder's Nate Landman goes after  Texas A&M'sZach Calzada during the September 11, 2021 game at Empower Field in Denver.  (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
DENVER, CO – September 11, 2021: University of Colorado Boulder’s Nate Landman goes after Texas A&M’sZach Calzada during the September 11, 2021 game at Empower Field in Denver. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
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Colorado didn’t win its football game last week against Texas A&M, but the Buffaloes made a statement.

Standing toe-to-toe with one of the best and most physical teams in the country signaled that CU might be finding an identity.

As CU prepares to host Minnesota on Saturday, it has plenty of work to do on offense and the Buffs still have to prove themselves as a consistent winner, but they are establishing a culture of physicality.

“It was a culture we tried to create during spring ball,” defensive lineman Na’im Rodman said. “Then we just carried on to fall camp and I think it’s just a part of us now. I think we’ve instilled it in ourselves and we know we can be one of the most physical teams anybody plays against every time they go against us.”

On paper, the Buffs appeared to be overmatched against Texas A&M, which is loaded with potential NFL players. CU tight end Brady Russell admitted as much but said the Buffs had a great mindset going in.

“I think one big aspect that has changed is our culture here,” Russell said. “A&M technically, matchup-wise, if you look at the athletes across the board, we shouldn’t have matched up with their defense, right? Like, I shouldn’t have matched up with their defensive ends, and our O- line probably shouldn’t have matched up with their D-line.

“But physically, we’re mean. We want to get after people; we want to put them on their backs. That culture that we’ve instilled in the offseason is now carrying over into the season. I think we can see that. We can do a better job than we’re doing right now of it also, but you can see the results of that culture flip and how people aren’t coming out timid, like ‘Oh, my gosh, this is No. 5 A&M.’ We came out of  the gates running.”

A culture of physicality often shows up in the trenches. That’s an area in which the Buffs have been overmatched in the past. Through two games this season, it is the Buffs winning many of those battles.

So far this year, CU is averaging 226 rushing yards per game and 5.2 yards per carry. They are top-35 nationally in both categories.

Defensively, the Buffs are 13th in the country against the run (58.5 yards per game). They are allowing only 2.5 yards per rush, which ranks 24th.

“I know that the test we went through last week told us that we can battle in those types of trench-type games,” CU head coach Karl Dorrell said. “We need to move forward understanding that really every game from this point forward as we go into our conference schedule will be very similar.”

Saturday’s game will certainly be similar, as Minnesota has a strong running game, fitting the mold of a classic Big Ten team that likes to churn out yards on the ground.

“It’s Big Ten football,” CU tackle Max Wray, who transferred this year from Ohio State, said with a smile. “That’s what I came from, that’s what I’m used to.”

“(A&M) came in as the No. 5 team in the country, the No. 3 rush defense last year and we ran for almost 200 and we were putting it to them for a little while. So I have confidence in our ability to be physical and kind of get away from the trend that the Pac-12 is soft.”

In recent years, several teams in the Pac-12 have moved away from that trend. Stanford and Utah have been known for their physicality, while Arizona State and UCLA have developed tough ground attacks. California and Washington have physical defenses, while Oregon and USC have the toughness to go along with their deep pool of talent.

CU is doing its best to gain a reputation for being physical, as well, and the Buffs have a chance to further establish that against the physical Gophers.

“I expect everybody to come with intensity every week,” Rodman said of the Buffs’ opponents. “We’ve just got to come in ready to go and just have the same mentality every time. We’ve got to hit them before they hit us.”

Game at a Glance

Matchup: Minnesota Golden Gophers (1-1) at Colorado Buffaloes (1-1)

Kickoff: 11:01 a.m. MST

Where: Folsom Field in Boulder. Playing surface: Grass

TV: Pac-12 Networks

Radio: KHOW (630 AM)

Odds: Colorado by 2.5

Series: CU leads 3-0