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Carson Wells looks to regain big-play spark for CU Buffs’ defense

After strong 2020, Wells not getting into backfield as often

DENVER, CO - Sept. 11, 2021: ...
University of Colorado Boulder’s Carson Wells is held while trying to get to Texas A&M’s Zach Calzada during the September 11, 2021 game at Empower Field in Denver. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

Carson Wells was somewhat of a revelation during the shortened 2020 season

Wells already had established himself as a key cog on the Colorado defense, but Wells’ sudden jump to stardom last year mirrored the sudden rise of a Buffaloes team that finished 4-2. By the end of the season, Wells had posted 14 tackles for loss, averaging an FBS-best 2.7 per game. Wells was in a class by himself — no other player at the FBS level even averaged two per game.

However, like the Buffs themselves, it has been a different story for Wells so far this season. While Wells has put together solid efforts through CU’s 1-3 start, those big plays behind the line of scrimmage have been more difficult to find, as he takes a total of just two tackles for loss into Saturday’s home date against USC (noon, Pac-12 Networks).

Asked if opposing defenses are more cognizant of staying away from him, or if he’s getting increased attention from opposing blockers, or if big plays simply are harder to come by for a defense that at times has labored through heavy minutes on the field, Wells indicated it was none of the above.

“Just play better,” Wells said. “Even if they do make those adjustments, I’ve still got to make those plays. It can be frustrating at times, knowing I should make those plays but I haven’t been able to. I’ve just got to stay focused and know my time will come.

“Like (defensive coordinator Chris) Wilson has said, we’ll play like 90 percent of the plays well, then we’ll bust on some dumb stuff,” Wells said. “Nothing we can’t fix. Going into USC, we’ve never beaten USC. That’s a big thing we’re looking forward to on Saturday. It’s just little things like the penalties. I did a couple plays….veteran players can’t make those mistakes. I’ve got to play better and I’ve got to get everyone around me to keep trying to get themselves better, too.”

Wells has posted 11 tackles overall and shares the team lead with four quarterback pressures. He and his defensive teammates have watched their margin for error drop precipitously due to the Buffs’ floundering offense, and the focus this week in preparation for the Trojans has been to eliminate the ill-time mistakes that cost the CU defense dearly during last week’s loss at Arizona State.

Twice the Buffs recorded third-down stops in the first half, only to watch the Sun Devils retain possession due to personal fouls on Terrance Lang. The defense also had an opportunity to make a critical stand early in the second half to perhaps get the ball back after the Buffs briefly wrested the momentum with 10 consecutive points, cutting the ASU lead to 14-10. Instead, the Sun Devils made it look easy on a six-play, 71-yard touchdown drive and never looked back.

“We had a couple plays in the backfield, on the quarterback, this last game that were negated because of (penalties),” CU head coach Karl Dorrell said. “We had the sack opportunities and things like that. We’re trying to do things in the correct manner. Our defense, their body of work for the most part has been more positive than negative. But the negatives that are killing us right now are the penalties. We’ve got to continue to fix a lot of things in relating to front and coverage, issues with our linebackers and secondary.

“But I would say their body of work has mostly been on the positive side. It really has been. We’re doing the right things defensively, we just have to tighten the screws.”