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)
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On Friday night, as Carson Wells and his Colorado teammates were preparing for their game the next day against Arizona, he couldn’t wait to face the Wildcats.

“I was thinking about it (Friday) night, I always go off against Arizona for whatever reason,” Wells said Saturday. “I always have good games against Arizona, so I knew coming into this I wanted do have another big day. It just worked out like that.”

Yeah, it was a big day.

During CU’s 34-0 rout of Arizona at Folsom Field, Wells, a junior outside linebacker, was dominant. He recorded five tackles, including four tackles for loss – one of which was a sack. He also picked off an Arizona pass and returned it 50 yards for a touchdown – his first as a Buffalo.

As for that history against Arizona, he’s right; he’s made quite a career of facing the Wildcats. In four games against them, Wells has racked up 32 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, a pick-six and a forced fumble.

In this edition of the Rewind, we look at Wells’ big game, as well as …

  • Maintaining belief through losing
  • Buffs of the Week
  • Notes and quotes
Colorado outside linebacker Carson Wells speaks to reporters during media day at the Dal Ward Athletic Center on Friday, Aug. 13, 2021. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

LEADING OFF: Wells dominates

As he typically does, Wells hit the field during pregame and scanned the Folsom Field stands on Saturday.

“I always try to find my mom before the game and see where she’s at in the stands,” Wells said.

Wells’ parents, who are from Florida, come to Boulder for every home game, but Wells also had grandparents in attendance on Saturday for Family Weekend.

“It was big,” he said. “It’s always nice knowing you have a support system in the stands. It’s always nice to have that.”

The family watched Wells put together one of the best games of his career. Wells, of course, wasn’t alone, as the Buffs shut out the Wildcats and had several defensive players step up, but he was the leader on this day.

“It was fun to see him having some fun,” CU head coach Karl Dorrell said. “He was out there in the backfield making some plays. … He had a very, very productive day along with Nate Landman. Nate had a very productive day too. It was good to see Carson kind of get in rhythm of making some big plays for us. We’re hopeful that he’s going to continue that as we go into this week and through the stretch here.”

A year ago, Wells led the country in tackles for loss per game, with 2.67 per game. He had a slow start to this season, however, with no sacks or tackles for loss in the first two games.

He’s now had at least one TFL in four consecutive games, including six in the past two.

“I’m getting that confidence level back,” Wells said. “We had a new system (this year). I’m not trying to make excuses, but the new system, you slow down a little bit. You’ve got to think a little bit more. You’ve got to get a process that you go through each play. When you get tired, it can slow you down a little bit. But now it’s clicking.”

In addition to adjusting to first-year defensive coordinator Chris Wilson, Wells was not 100-percent healthy early in the year. Last week’s bye helped.

“I was struggling, just dinged up a couple things here and there,” he said. “The bye week was good for me, good for a lot of people.”

To follow that bye with a dominant game left Wells feeling confident.

“It felt good honestly,” he said. “Felt like I was back to my old self. It felt really good honestly just to get back out there and be able to do what I know I could do and build off of that going forward and keep getting better each week.”

Wells has continued to get better under the direction of outside linebackers coach Brian Michalowski. This is Wells’ third season with Michalowski.

“Having him as a resource has been crucial in my growth as a player on and off the field,” Wells said. “We’ve been in a couple different schemes together. The first season we were in a (head coach Mel Tucker) scheme. I didn’t get to pass rush as much. Then last year, we kind of let the chains off. This year, we’re learning a new NFL-type system, so that’s great. We’ve been learning and growing through a lot as well. This is his first big-time job, as well, so he’s just like a student of the game. He gives me what I need each week to be successful. He’s been a huge help.”

It isn’t just pass-rushing skills that Wells has learned. He’s also become an asset to the Buffs when he drops in coverage. His interception against Arizona was the third of his career. He nearly returned one for a touchdown against UCLA in the 2020 opener but was tackled at the 1-yard line by Bruins quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson.

This time, Wells got in the end zone, juking past Arizona QB Gunner Cruz en route to the end zone.

“I had flashbacks. I promise I had flashbacks (during that play),” Wells said. “I wasn’t letting the quarterback tackle me again. That was my first thought. I saw Nate get a block on the tackle. I got out and I saw the quarterback coming and I said, ‘He’s not tackling me.’”

Cruz didn’t get him and neither did any of the Wildcats, as Wells finally scored a touchdown and completed what was a stellar day.

When it was over, Wells looked for mom and dad again.

“I couldn’t find them after and that was disappointing. I found Nate’s parents instead,” he said with a smile. “My second family.”

BOULDER, CO - Oct. 15, 2021: ...
University of Colorado, Boulder’s head coach, Karl Dorrell, before Arizona NCAA football game on October 16, 2021. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

DON’T STOP BELIEVIN’: It’s been a journey for the Buffs

Following the win on Saturday, head coach Karl Dorrell credited players for staying true to themselves and believing in the program through a dismal four-game losing streak. There’s no question there was (and probably still is to some extent) some frustration in the building, but Dorrell said players stayed on board.

“Being true to the foundation of how you grow and learn this game and excel at this game is you go through the teaching elements of it,” he said. “You go through the fundamental discipline of it, and then you go through the execution of it. And usually those first two areas, they struggle, right? Because first of all, (if) they’re not doing it well, it’s not being successful, it’s easy for them to be down on themselves. But if you stay true to it, and they see that light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak, that I’m getting better at it, then all of a sudden that light at the end of the tunnel is a little bit brighter. Then you’ve got plays that are being made that’s a little bit easier because the light bulb came on.

“That’s kind of what this team went through these first three or four weeks is that we weren’t quite hitting on all cylinders. I think that bye week helped us kind of reorganize ourselves and to really sort through it about everybody being responsible for it. And that’s where I think that light bulb came on for all of them.”

Dorrell admitted that as the Buffs struggled through the losing streak “it takes a lot of faith and hope” for players to stay on board. His message, however, was, “Men, I’m telling you we’re this close. We’re this close.”

Several players have commented on the importance and timing of the Buffs’ bye week in reinforcing the belief and cohesiveness.

“I think resilience and trust is the name of this team,” safety Isaiah Lewis said. “We’re not looking to blame anybody. We’re gonna continue to count on our brothers and continue to stick to the plan, so I think that bye week was crucial in getting the details, little minor things fixed up. I think it showed out there on the field.”

Beating Arizona, which hasn’t won a game in more than two years, isn’t a sure sign that CU is back, but the victory and the dominant fashion in which it was obtained, was important for the Buffs.

“It’s a great way to build off of anything is when you win like today; it’s a pretty decisive win,” Dorrell said. “There should be a level of confidence that they feel that they can play even better and do things even more successfully. I think what I liked most as the head of the program is that all three phases really did some great things that showed their abilities to really dominate and have some dominating performances. So there’s a lot to build off of this game, but we’re nowhere close to where we can be and (the players) will tell you that. … But, they know that if we really tighten the screws with our preparation and how we do things and move forward with having the same type of productivity, we have some opportunities to be special this year.”

BOULDER, CO - Oct. 15, 2021: ...
Colorado’s Brendon Lewis looks to pass against Arizona during the NCAA football game on October 16, 2021. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

BEST OF THE BUFFS

Here’s my take on the best of the Buffs against Arizona. It’s a long list, but after four straight losses, several players deserve some recognition:

PK Cole Becker: He’s finding a groove, as he went 2-for-2 on field goals and 4-for-4 on extra points.

CB Mekhi Blackmon: Despite a couple of big penalties – which wound up not hurting the Buffs – he had six tackles, a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry.

CB Christian Gonzalez: Recorded five tackles, including one for loss and one for zero yards and was good in coverage all day.

OLB Joshka Gustav: Played a season-high 22 snaps and finished with 4 tackles, including a TFL, two third-down stops, a sack and a forced fumble (which was recovered by Arizona).

DL Mustafa Johnson: He posted three tackles, including one for loss and one for zero yards and was a beast against the run.

LG Kary Kutsch: Week in and week out, he’s proving to be CU’s most consistent offensive lineman.

LB Nate Landman: Yet another good day for him, as he posted eight tackles, one TFL and two hurries.

QB Brendon Lewis: No question, this was his best game, as he completed 12-of-19 passes for 248 yards and two touchdowns. He should have had a third TD, on the opening drive of the game, as he threw a great pass to the end zone, but it was dropped by the normally sure-handed Dimitri Stanley.

S Isaiah Lewis: Another solid game for the veteran, as he recorded eight tackles, two third-down stops and a tackle for zero yards.

S Mark Perry: He’s starting to hit his stride, as he’s playing solid football lately. He had five tackles and his first career interception.

WR Brenden Rice: He had the breakout game he’s been sorely needing, with three catches for 111 yards, including a 62-yard touchdown. He also ran twice for nine yards.

P Josh Watts: It’s becoming a weekly thing to put Watts on this list. He averaged 48.0 yards per punt, including a career-best 64-yarder.

OLB Carson Wells: Arguably the best player on the field Saturday, he had five tackles, including four tackles for loss and a sack. He also had a pick-six that gave CU a 20-0 lead.

S Trevor Woods: Named Pac-12 special teams player of the week, his blocked punt and return for touchdown in the third quarter changed the game. He added two tackles in 12 snaps on defense.

NOTES AND STATS

  • CU’s active career leaders in interceptions are both linebackers. Nate Landman and Carson Wells both have three career interceptions. The only other Buff with more than one is cornerback Mekhi Blackmon.
  • Wells and Landman also rank among the top three for active sack leaders at CU. Mustafa Johnson leads the way, with 15, while Wells (12) and Landman (11) aren’t far behind. Terrance Lang has nine.
  • One more Wells note: Since the start of the 2020 season, he ranks third nationally with 23.5 TFLs – and he’s done that in just 12 games. The only two players ahead of him are Will Anderson Jr. of Alabama (25.5 in 20 games) and Justin Rice of Utah State (25.0 in 17 games, including 18.5 at Arkansas State last year). I’ll also give credit to Utah’s Devin Lloyd, who has 23 TFLs in only 11 games during that stretch. He’s been excellent this season.
  • With the win on Saturday, Dorrell improved to 5-2 in his career against Arizona. The only other team he’s defeated five times is Stanford (5-1). He has four wins against San Diego State (4-0) and Washington (4-1).
  • Brenden Rice’s big day (111 receiving yards) snapped a streak of seven consecutive games in which the Buffs didn’t have a 100-yard rusher or receiver. That matched the longest streak for CU since a seven-game stretch in 2004 (last 5 games) and 2005 (first 2 games).
  • Landman was credited with eight tackles by CU on Saturday. That gives him 399 for his career – one shy of becoming the sixth Buff to reach 400.
BOULDER, CO - Oct. 15, 2021: ...
University of Colorado, Boulder’s Jarek Broussard gets around the end past Arizona’s Mo Diallo during the NCAA football game on October 16, 2021. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

QUOTES OF THE WEEK

Running back Jarek Broussard on the team celebrating in the locker room after the game: “Just going out there and winning today, we were already close and bought in. I also mentioned that you lose your faith (when losing) but I mean, we’re a team at the end of the day and we’re all brothers. We have that brotherhood, we all believe in each other. Losing, of course there’s not going to be a party in (the locker room), but if we win, for sure it’s gonna be a party in there.”

Cornerback Christian Gonzalez on what the win means to CU: “It’s huge. It’s something we needed. We all talked about it, but it wasn’t a surprise to us. It was what was expected and we came out and did it and it feels great.”

Broussard on the performance of quarterback Brendon Lewis: “Today we got to see B-Lew getting more and more comfortable back there. He dropped a few good balls in for touchdowns and I feel like going forward it’ll bring our confidence level up.”

Brendon Lewis on his confidence to throw a deep pass to Brenden Rice for a touchdown: “I’ve always had confidence in B-Rice that he can make those type of plays. He just really hasn’t gotten the chance and he got the chance today. He showed that he can make those plays. So I feel like during the rest of the season our trust is gonna build more and more and we’re gonna see more of those plays being made.”

Linebacker Nate Landman on the defense posting a shutout: “We get out there and that’s our goal is a goose egg. As long as our offense puts up three points our mentality is that if we shut them out, we win the game. I think that boosts our confidence as a starting defense and for the younger guys on the team as well.”

Landman on punter Josh Watts being a weapon: “I think I saw something before the game that PFF rated our special teams like No. 5 or whatever it was. Josh’s leg is huge. The way he can flip the field helps the defense out and then in turn helps the offense out if we can get a quick stop. I think he’s pretty under-appreciated for the things he can do but maybe on the outside world, but super appreciated on the team.”

COMING UP

Back to the Bay, as the Buffs head to Berkeley, Calif., to face a struggling California team. The Bears are 1-5 with the only win against Sacramento State of the FCS, but they also have four one-score losses. Last week they lost at No. 9 Oregon, 24-17.