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So far this season, Colorado’s Josh Watts has been one of the best punters in the country.

The Buffaloes’ punt coverage unit, however, needs some work.

Watts ranks ninth nationally with 48.54 yards per punt, and 10 of his 24 kicks have traveled at least 50 yards. Last year, he averaged 41.34 yards, with five of 35 punts going at least 50 yards.

While Watts has improved, there are only five teams in the country that have given up more punt return yards than the Buffs (135). CU ranks 88th in opponent punt return average, at 9.64 yards per return.

“We have to get better at getting off of our assignments with these guys that try to hold us up and get downfield,” CU head coach Karl Dorrell said.

Dorrell said teams are double-teaming the Buffs’ gunners on the punt team and the Buffs have to do a better job of others stepping up.

“That’s kind of how most teams try to neutralize the first guy getting down at the returner,” he said of the double teams. “That’s something that’s going to always occur, but the interior part of the coverage has to continue to get better. And that’s where we need to make sure that we can’t just rely on our gunners to make those plays.”

Last weekend, Arizona State’s D.J. Taylor had 41 yards on four punt returns but also had two long returns – of about 28 and 30 yards – negated because of holding penalties.

CU hasn’t allowed an opponent to break a big return, but the Buffs have given up six of at least 12 yards.

This week’s opponent, Southern California, has just four punt returns for 35 yards this season.

Avoiding frustration

With quarterback Brendon Lewis struggling with the passing game, CU’s receivers aren’t putting up big numbers. In fact, the Buffs don’t even have a receiver with as many as 50 yards on the season; Daniel Arias leads with 45.

Fourth-year sophomore receiver Dimitri Stanley said it doesn’t do any good to show frustration. Rather, it’s best for him and his fellow receivers to do the opposite.

“As a quarterback, (Lewis) has a lot on his plate,” Stanley said. “He’s making a lot of reads and he’s getting flushed out of the pocket at times and a lot of guys in his face at times. … You’ve just kind of got to trust him, trust his reads, know that he is getting better and he will start making those plays. And then as receivers, we kind of just got to do our job, get open, make it easy for him and catch the ball.”

CU is loaded with young talent at receiver. It wasn’t long ago that each of them was putting up big numbers as stars for their high school teams.

“It’s hard for those young guys, especially when they come from big schools that they’re big-time at, getting the ball every play and making a lot of those plays,” said Stanley, who has six catches for 42 yards. “It’s kind of hard when they’re not getting the ball as much now, so you kind of keep them level-headed, as well as a young quarterback who kind of came from the same situation.

“You’ve kind of just got to uplift everybody, make sure that we stay on the same page and head towards a common goal.”

Notes

USC hasn’t lost back-to-back games to unranked opponents since late in the 2018 season. … Since the start of the 2020 season, CU linebacker Nate Landman has played in eight and a half games, while racking up 103 tackles. That includes 15 tackles for loss and 13 tackles for zero yards. … USC’s Drake London is tied for the national lead with 39 receptions – which is 12 more than all of CU’s wide receivers combined.

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