Colorado’s defense is learning how to play without Nate Landman, but the Buffaloes might get their leader back soon.
On Wednesday, head coach Karl Dorrell said Landman is “closer” to returning after missing the last two weeks with a soft tissue injury.
“He’s champing,” Dorrell said. “In my opinion, he’s not ready yet. He’s starting to negotiate, which is Nate, but he’s making tremendous progress. I think he’s very doubtful this week. There might be a chance next week.”
The Buffs (3-6, 2-4 Pac-12) visit UCLA (5-4, 3-3) on Saturday in Pasadena, Calif. (7:10 p.m., TV: Pac-12 Networks).
Landman, a senior inside linebacker and semifinalist for the Butkus Award, was injured during the fourth quarter of CU’s 26-3 loss at California on Oct. 23. He’s missed the last two games.
According to Dorrell, Landman has not talked to him about shutting down for the season and preparing for the NFL Draft.
“No, there hasn’t been any conversation with any of these guys (about that),” Dorrell said. “We’re a developing program. We’ve got a lot of work to do. I know there’s some older guys that are thinking of those things but none of those things have come up right now. We all feel that we all can get better and I think our mindset right now is playing our best football.”
Work to do
Punter Josh Watts came to CU a year ago from Australia with two years to play. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, led to the NCAA giving all players an extra year of eligibility, and Watts is looking forward to taking advantage of it.
“I still firmly believe that I still need another season here to really cement and my goal is to be the No. 1 punter coming out next year,” Watts said. “That’s what I’m really sort of aiming to do and I think I can achieve that here. So I think I still need some work in some areas, but one more year will really help.”
Watts is currently sixth nationally with an average of 48.3 yards per punt. Of his 51 punts, 22 have gone for 50-plus yards and he’s landed 13 inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.
Despite his national ranking, Watts was not named Wednesday as one of the 10 semifinalists for the Ray Guy Award.
Making an impact
Third-year freshman outside linebacker Joshka Gustav played a career-high 40 snaps on Oct. 30 at Oregon and then topped that mark with 55 snaps against Oregon State.
Filling in for injured Guy Thomas, Gustav has record seven tackles and a pass breakup over the past two weeks.
“He quietly does his job very well,” Dorrell said. “He had a really good game against Oregon State where he made some really some critical plays at some times in the course of the game.
“He’s a very prideful young man. We ask him to be the jack of all trades at that position; he plays on a strong and weak side. He’s able to do those things and all the different coverage adjustments or rush fundamental things that we’re asking him to do. He takes a good deal of pride in being able to master being that guy that can play on both sides. We’re very encouraged with where he is in his development. He’s still a young player and we think he has a lot of upside, just like, in a lot of ways, a young Carson Wells.”
Throughout the season, the Buffs have named captains each week, but they’ve gone with the same group – Landman, cornerback Mekhi Blackmon, quarterback Brendon Lewis and tight end Brady Russell – the past four weeks. “We had the team vote on who they thought the captains should be as we finish the season and those are the four,” Dorrell said. “We’ve been staying with those four. That’s what the team elected to do.” … The Buffs are seeking their first win in Pasadena since a 31-17 victory against the Bruins on Sept. 21, 2002. The Buffs are 0-5 on the road against UCLA since joining the Pac-12.