Overall, this has been a difficult season for the Colorado football team, which didn’t expect to be sitting near the bottom of the Pac-12 South division heading into Halloween weekend.
It has been, however, a season of growth for some players, including cornerback Christian Gonzalez, who has become one of the top players on a solid CU defense.
“I feel like I’ve played well,” he said. “I’ve left some plays out on the field that I want to make, but I feel like I’ve stepped into a leadership role. I’ve been having fun working with the guys and just playing football.”
Gonzalez faces another tough challenge on Saturday when the Buffs (2-5, 1-3 Pac-12) visit No. 7 Oregon (6-1, 3-1) in Eugene, Ore. (1:35 p.m., TV: Fox). The Ducks have one of the top receiving corps in the conference, and Gonzalez is looking forward to the challenge.
“Oh yeah, that makes the game even more fun,” he said. “I love competition, love going against the best. You’ve got to play the best to be the best.”
As a true freshman last year, Gonzalez earned a starting job and was a fixture in the lineup each week. He finished the five-game regular season with 19 tackles and one pass breakup.
This season, he’s taken his game to another level. He’s recorded 30 tackles and three pass breakups. He’s also recorded five tackles for loss, already the most for a CU cornerback since Chidobe Awuzie had six in 2016.
Gonzalez is pleased with his growth in a lot of areas this season.
“I feel like I’ve made a lot of growth mentally, just being able to move on from one play and not be stuck on one play,” he said. “And, the leadership role; it has helped a lot and it’s made it fun.”
Gonzalez has also become better at playing the ball in coverage and said he spent a lot of time in the offseason working on tracking the ball and finishing plays.
“It comes with more confidence and more playing time,” he said.
Gonzalez is playing with confidence and getting noticed. Oregon offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead singled Gonzalez out this week as one of the top players the Ducks are preparing to face.
“I think No. 3 on the back end is an incredibly talented cover guy,” Moorhead said.
Making his mark
Quarterback JT Shrout isn’t fulfilling the role he wanted this season, but he is trying to make an impact on the Buffs as he sits out with a knee injury.
Shrout, who battled for the starting job all offseason, suffered a season-ending knee injury in August and has recently been cleared to join the Buffs on the sidelines during games. His leadership is important enough that CU brought him to California last weekend and will bring him to Oregon this week.
“He identifies with the quarterback room really well, so it helps keep him involved with being in the game plan week to week,” head coach Karl Dorrell said. “He’s able to do some insightful stuff with guys after they had their rep and they’re out and waiting until their next rep. He’s able to give them some insight about what he sees and give some critiques and all that. I think it’s good to have him around us just because he’s still young in our offense, but we want to keep him involved in it and two, he helps be a buffer with (quarterbacks coach Danny) Langsdorf at times. He has strong leadership qualities.”
Coming into the season, the Buffs were projected to have their most talented group of running backs in years. With the offense struggling, however, the backs haven’t put up the numbers they hoped. Running backs coach Darian Hagan said his group is staying positive, though.
“Coach (Bill) McCartney used to have this saying, ‘The morale is to physical as four is to one,’” Hagan said. “It’s really your mental attitude. It was more important than your physical abilities. We talked about that and those guys understand that and so they’re doing their best and giving their all.”
Jarek Broussard leads the team with 337 yards, while Alex Fontenot has 186 yards and Deion Smith is emerging as a solid No. 3, with 77 yards. Each of them has scored two touchdowns.