EUGENE, Ore. – How much difference can a week make?
For Colorado’s offensive line, a lot.
Overall, Saturday wasn’t a great day for the Buffaloes, as they lost at No. 7 Oregon, 52-29, but it was a significant turnaround for the offensive line.
“The O-line was fired up,” receiver Brenden Rice said. “I’ve never seen that out of them all season, so just seeing the change of intensity, we led out with them. They led us out today. They set the example, they set the tone and from that we just bounced off of it. We bounced energy off of them.”
It’s been a while since the Buffs have said that about the line. Coming into this week, the Buffs had allowed a Pac-12-worst 22 sacks and quarterback Brendon Lewis had spent the season scrambling away from defenders.
After a 26-3 loss at California on Oct. 23, when the Buffs allowed six sacks, head coach Karl Dorrell fired offensive line coach Mitch Rodrigue. Quality control coach William Vlachos took over as the main coach of the line.
Against the Ducks, who feature dominant defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, CU allowed one sack and Lewis had time most of the day to operate. He completed 25-of-33 passes for 224 yards and three touchdowns.
“Coach Vlachos made some changes, some scheme changes, some technique changes, and sometimes explaining things differently,” center Colby Pursell said of the change this week. “We had a lot of work to do and so we had to put in a lot of work in practice and meetings to get things corrected. You always hear the term new energy and that’s true. A different coach brings a different style. Guys respond to it differently and you can see that there was some results today.”
While Lewis had time to work, the Buffs didn’t put up big numbers in the run game, with 30 carries for 117 yards. They did, however, get some big plays that set up scores.
Runs of nine, 12 and 11 yards set up the first CU touchdown. They paved the way for Alex Fontenot to score on fourth-and-goal at the 1 in the fourth quarter. And, they opened up a hole for Deion Smith to get a first down on fourth-and-1 late in the fourth to set up another touchdown.
“It was a big difference honestly,” Fontenot said of running behind the Buffs’ line this week. “I was seeing more holes, stuff was opening up. I think protection was overall better, especially against that type of defense.
“They changed a lot of stuff up in practice, the way that they block and the way that they do the run game and pass game overall.”
Just as important as the plays mentioned above was that Thibodeaux, projected as the possible No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft, wasn’t really a factor. He did have three QB hurries but didn’t get any sacks or tackles for loss.
“Obviously, (offensive production) is something we’ve been lacking the last couple of weeks,” Pursell said. “It’s a step in the right direction. (Oregon) is a very good team. They’re a good defense. For us to come out and produce points is good. It’s a step in the right direction. It’s us growing up as an offense.”
It was just one game, but the way in which the Buffs responded to the change and to Vlachos is promising.
“Coach Vlachos gave us some new tools,” Pursell said. “I think those tools worked well, but we knew that we had to come together as a group. We knew we had to perform more. We had to put out extra. We knew that coming in.”