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CU notes: Nate Landman having impact on prep for Buffs, UCLA

Colorado learning to play without Landman, UCLA prepping to play against him

Colorado linebacker Nate Landman on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, against California in Berkeley, Calif. (Tyler Davis/University of Colorado)
Colorado linebacker Nate Landman on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, against California in Berkeley, Calif. (Tyler Davis/University of Colorado)

On Wednesday, Colorado head coach Karl Dorrell said it’s “very doubtful” that inside linebacker Nate Landman will play this week.

The Butkus Award semifinalist has missed two consecutive games with an undisclosed injury and it’s unclear when he will return.

UCLA head coach Chip Kelly isn’t taking any chances.

“We’re not sure if we’re going to see him,” Kelly told Bruins’ reporters Wednesday. “It would be shame on you to say, ‘We’re just going to prepare like he’s not going to play,’ and all of a sudden and he plays and, ‘Oh we weren’t ready for this.’”

CU (3-6, 2-4 Pac-12) will visit UCLA (5-4, 3-3) on Saturday night (7:10 p.m., TV: Pac-12 Network) and both teams are trying to replicate Landman’s remarkable instincts.

For Kelly and the Bruins, the task is to prepare for facing a linebacker that has been one of the most disruptive players in the Pac-12 for four years.

“He’s really good at keying and diagnosing plays,” Kelly said.”He never really gets fooled by most schemes. He always seems to be in the right spot at the right time, can fit up plays really, really well. You try to simulate as much as you can in practice, but I don’t think anybody can actually simulate how just really instinctual he is. He’s tough to handle.”

Kelly offered some good insight as to how the Bruins attempt to simulate Landman in practice.

“We actually tell the linebackers on the scout team what play is going to be run so they don’t have to key and diagnose it,” he said. “When you play the great linebackers, the Luke Kuechlys, the Ray Lewis’, guys like that, they almost know your play before you know your play and that’s really what an instinctual linebacker is.

“(Landman) understands and has studied the blocking scheme so well that he knows what’s the quick visual cue for him to say it’s this play.”

For CU, it’s not an easy process to teach the other linebackers who to diagnose a play and look for the cues in the offense.

“He’s not only the leader, but he makes all the calls for the secondary and the front,” CU outside linebacker Carson Wells said. “So it’s been a group effort. In my position, I know the front calls. … but I can’t make all the coverage calls. So it’s been kind of like a committee approach to be that voice.”

Inside linebackers Quinn Perry, Robert Barnes and Jack Lamb have had to step up in that regard, along with safeties Isaiah Lewis and Mark Perry, Wells said.

While the Buffs aren’t the same defense without Landman, Wells said the group is learning to play without him and it’s been good for others to step in.

“Nate’s a heck of a player, but when he’s out there, sometimes you tend to rely on him and then you’re not in as big of a role vocally,” Wells said. “You just rely on him to make the calls and then all sudden, he’s not out there and nobody has that in their little progression before the play to make the calls.

“Obviously I want to play with Nate, but the more we play without Nate, the better certain players get at being more vocal.”

Kicking off

Freshman kicker Cole Becker has done well on his field goals this season (8-for-12), but he’s also pleased with his kickoffs. Becker has kicked off 35 times with 22 of them being touchbacks. Of those 22, 17 were kicked through the end zone.

“I think I’ve progressed well this season with them,” he said. “Obviously the altitude up here helps and I hasn’t had as many (touchbacks) when we go to away games at the lower sea level, but I feel like my technique is where I want it to be and as I keep progressing with (strength and conditioning coach Shannon) Turley and this program, I feel I’ll get stronger and bigger and be able to hit more consistent touchbacks.”

At home, Becker has 20 touchbacks on 25 kickoffs, including a current streak of 16 consecutive touchbacks. On the road, he’s had just two touchbacks on his 10 kickoffs.

BOULDER, CO - Oct. 15, 2021: ...
University of Colorado, Boulder’s Trevor Woods takes back a blocked punt for a touchdown against Arizona during the NCAA football game on October 16, 2021. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

Making his mark

Safety Trevor Woods has seen an increased role in recent weeks and has been impressive at times.

The true freshman had his biggest play of the season with a blocked punt, which he returned for a touchdown, against Arizona. But, in the past three weeks, he has started playing more on defense.

Woods saw just 55 snaps on defense in the first six games combined, but he’s played 79 snaps the last three games, including a season-high 32 against Oregon State. Woods has also recorded 17 of his 23 tackles in the past three games.

“He’s a very smart kid,” Dorrell said. “He was one of those true freshmen like (cornerback Christian Gonzalez) a year ago that was able to really digest the information and understand the concepts of what we’re asking him to do. He’s been a real good bright spot for us for some of our young up-and-coming players. He’s made an impact on special teams.

“We’re hoping he continues that progress going into this week and he’s definitely capable of being a really, really good player, like a lot of good safeties we’ve had here in the past.”

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