A year ago, Colorado’s Carson Wells emerged as one of the most dominant edge players in the Pac-12.
Coming into this year, however, the Buffaloes were hoping one of their other outside linebackers would step up. So far, Guy Thomas has done just that.
A 6-foot-4, 235-pound fifth-year junior, Thomas has taken a giant leap from 2020 and he’s currently leading CU in sacks, with two. He has 18 total tackles, three tackles for loss and three tackles for no gain for the Buffs (1-2), who visit Arizona State (2-1) on Saturday night (8:30 p.m., TV: ESPNU).
“It’s been a lot of fun because coaches have been putting me in positions to make plays and all I do is make them,” Thomas said.
A 2017 graduate of Booker T. Washington High School in Florida, Thomas spent two seasons at Nebraska before transferring to Coahoma (Miss.) Community College in 2019. A year ago, he started four of CU’s six games but played just 80 snaps in the regular season. He totaled 11 tackles and no sacks.
This year, he’s been dominant, particularly in the last two games. He had a career-high 12 tackles against Minnesota and has been on the field for 64 percent of the Buffs’ defensive snaps.
“The difference has been my preparation for the game,” he said. “My preparation has been very different. I’ve been taking it more serious and the coaches are keeping it simple so we can play fast.
“They trust my ability; they trust what I can do. The way the defense is made, it’s made for the guys we have on the defense. I’m one of the guys who can do things the right way and do certain things really good, so I have been making plays because I’ve been doing things the right way.”
Several veterans, such as Wells, inside linebacker Nate Landman and cornerbacks Mekhi Blackmon and Christian Gonzalez, have been as good as expected. But, it’s the emergence of Thomas and others that has helped CU play solid on defense this season.
“(Thomas) is still in a lot of ways a young player,” head coach Karl Dorrell said. “Even though he’s an older player, he’s young in our defense. Each week, as he plays, he gets a little bit better along the way. He’s starting to digest the information well. He’s a dynamic player because he’s got some power, he’s got strength, he’s got speed. He’s a unique talent.
“We’re glad that he is kind of getting better week after week. If he continues that trend for a while we feel he has a really, really dynamic future for us.”
If it wasn’t for Thomas, Quinn Perry would likely be the top candidate for most improved player on the CU defense so far this year. An inside linebacker, he played only 40 snaps during the regular season in 2020.
So far this year, Perry has played 96 snaps and he’s tied for fourth on the team with 15 tackles. He had a career-high 10 tackles against Minnesota.
“This is his first time getting some extended playing time,” Dorrell said. “I noticed him a year ago, even when he wasn’t playing much on our defense; he was mostly our special teams player. I felt he had some really dynamic qualities as a linebacker, and this year he’s one of our mainstays in our defense. He’s one of those guys, along with Guy, that’s getting better with more experience as we go from week to week and he’s getting more confident with what he’s doing.”
CU went 2-0 in Pac-12 road games last year. … The Buffs are 12-10 all-time in the state of Arizona, including wins in the last two trips (last year at Arizona, 2019 at ASU). … Last week, Alex Fontenot rushed for four yards to reach 1,000 yards, exactly, for his career. Teammate Jarek Broussard isn’t far behind, coming into this week with 966 yards (not counting the 2020 Alamo Bowl, as CU doesn’t count bowl stats in career totals). … Tom Ramsey, a former UCLA quarterback who played with Dorrell in college, will be the color commentator for Saturday’s game. … On Saturday, the Buffs will wear gold helmets and white jerseys and pants. CU is 3-0 in that combination since the start of 2015, winning vs. Colorado State in 2018, at ASU in 2019 and at Arizona in 2020.