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Long road to end zone a worthwhile journey for CU Buffs RB Deion Smith

Buffs searching for answers in run game

BOULDER, CO - Oct. 2, 2021: ...
University of Colorado Boulder’s Deion Smith looks to get around USC’s Chris Steele during the Pac-12 game in Boulder, Co on October 2, 2021. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

It proved to be a meaningless tally in the big picture, as another Colorado loss arrived at the end of another frustrating offensive performance.

In the moment, however, it at least gave the Buffaloes a fighting chance. And in the personal big-picture of running back Deion Smith, it meant the world.

While Smith’s 1-yard touchdown last week against USC was his second of the season, it was his most consequential score since being forced to sit out the pandemic-shortened 2020 season due to a knee injury. As Smith and the Buffs attempt to use the bye week to rediscover a run game that has been largely absent since early in the 2020 season, the fourth-year sophomore does so with a jolt of confidence following his big moment against the Trojans.

“It felt pretty good,” Smith said. “I felt like I was doing all I could to give my team a spark and do what I can in any way to get us back in the game. It felt good, but overall it didn’t feel good because of the outcome of the game. But it felt good to feel like I was contributing.”

When the Buffs put together a promising start to the Karl Dorrell era last season, Smith could only watch, sidelined by a knee injury suffered during summer workouts.

As Jarek Broussard galloped his way to the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year honors, Smith toiled in the background, trying to regain his speed and strength ahead of the 2021 season. He announced his comeback during the season opener against Northern Colorado, recording 32 yards on four carries, including his first career touchdown.

Smith’s TD against the Trojans got the Buffs within 20-7 of USC in the final minute of the third quarter. That modest deficit proved far too overwhelming for the Buffs’ struggling offense, though Smith finished with a career-high-tying seven carries (for only 12 yards).

“In the running back room, we just feel like we’ve got to take more responsibility and just try to give more to the team,” Smith said. “It starts here at practice. And every day when we step out on game day, we’ve got to do as much as we can to help the other guys. To help B-Lew (quarterback Brendon Lewis), to help the receivers, to help the line. I feel like we just have to take it a little bit more personal, so as a whole we can set ourselves apart and even give those other position groups relief.”

CU’s mark of 139.2 rushing yards per game ranks seventh in the Pac-12, but much of that damage was done by posting 281 rushing yards against Northern Colorado. Against their four FBS-level opponents, the Buffs have averaged just 2.9 yards per carry and 103.8 rushing yards per game.

If Smith and company can’t get that ground game on track with a bye week ahead of an Oct. 16 visit from Arizona (1:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network), it might be easy to assume that the rushing attack may remain dormant for the long haul. Arizona goes into its home game this week against UCLA ranked 11th in the Pac-12 in rushing yards allowed (192.0 per game).

“We started this bye week just trying to focus on the things that we need to work on specifically — mechanics, techniques, schemes, little things like that,” Smith said. “I feel this week was a good week to just hit the reset button, restart, and just get back in the lab for another week. Our whole mentality this week is we’ve got to get it done. We’ve got to win.”

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