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Reviving run game would provide huge lift to struggling CU Buffs offense

Jarek Broussard, Alex Fontenot finding little open space

DENVER, CO - September 11, 2021: University of Colorado Boulder's  Jarek Broussard during the Texas A&M game on September 11, 2021 game at Empower Field in Denver.  (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
DENVER, CO – September 11, 2021: University of Colorado Boulder’s Jarek Broussard during the Texas A&M game on September 11, 2021 game at Empower Field in Denver. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

It was supposed to be a reliable backbone for a Colorado offense breaking in a new starter at quarterback.

Instead, the Buffaloes’ run game is stuck between a classic rock-and-a-hard-place.

Getting defending Pac-12 Conference Offensive Player of the Year Jarek Broussard back on a roll, along with Alex Fontenot, undoubtedly would take some of the ever-growing pressure off the shoulders of freshman quarterback Brendon Lewis. However, getting the running game ignited against defenses that don’t have to stress about the Buffs’ nonexistent passing game is less than ideal.

Add the struggles of the offensive line to the equation, and Broussard and Fontenot have enjoyed little open space against CU’s two FBS-level opponents the past two weeks. That run game is just one of many aspects of CU’s struggling offense the Buffs hope to get on track when they visit Arizona State on Saturday night in their Pac-12 opener (8:30 p.m. MT, ESPNU).

“Really we’ve got to just focus on the details and execute. That’s really all it is,” Fontenot said. “To me, it’s just simple mistakes that got us beat (against Minnesota). Of course it gets frustrating, but that’s just football. You’re not going to bust long runs every play. You have games like that where there’s just nothing. Nowhere to go. You’ve just got to get back in it and get better.”

The Buffs fared well enough in the opener against Northern Colorado, with Broussard (15 carries, 94 yards) leading a CU ground game that recorded 281 yards. Yet since the Buffs started lining up against foes their own size, it has been a completely different story.

In a loss against then-No. 5 Texas A&M on Sept. 11, the Buffs did rush for 171 yards with an average of 4.5 yards per carry, but much of that damage was done in the first half. CU managed just 31 rushing yards on nine attempts after halftime.

The CU run game was even more futile against Minnesota. The Buffs’ final total of minus-19 rushing yards was the third-worst single-game total in program history. Broussard and Fontenot were given a combined eight handoffs that netted just 12 yards — and Broussard gained eight of those on his first carry. Backup quarterback Drew Carter, who entered the game in mop-up time, ended up being the team’s leading rusher with nine yards.

“That’s exactly what we need to do, is get Jarek and Alex going a little bit,” CU head coach Karl Dorrell said. “Unfortunately we weren’t able to do that effectively last weekend. We’re going to go back to our formula of what’s been successful for us, and then build from there. Those guys are dynamic players that can do some positive things. That would be nice to take some of that off Brendon’s plate. We’re working hard to really create that balance, particularly in our run game. And also give these young receivers opportunities, too. They didn’t have many opportunities last week. We had a few catches in the game. But we need to get everybody involved a little more efficiently.”

If the Buffs couldn’t get the run game going against a Minnesota team that arrived in Boulder allowing 5.4 yards per rush, they will be doubly challenged to get rolling against the Sun Devils. During BYU’s win against ASU last week, the Cougars averaged just 3.7 yards on 39 rushing attempts, and the Sun Devils enter Saturday night’s game ranked fourth in the Pac-12 in rushing yards allowed at 103.3 per game.

“It’s tough, but we’ve got to get to the point where even if they know we’re going to run it, you can still run it,” Fontenot said. “That’s the point we need to get to. (ASU) has a solid defense, but hopefully we got the right game plan and plays, we’ve got the right players, to make it happen.”