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Colorado football notes: LB Aubrey Smith finds role with Buffs

Colorado linebacker Aubrey Smith (32) during an NCAA football game on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022, at Air Force Academy, Colo. (AP Photo/Bart Young)
Colorado linebacker Aubrey Smith (32) during an NCAA football game on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022, at Air Force Academy, Colo. (AP Photo/Bart Young)

During Colorado’s bye week earlier this month, true freshman linebacker Aubrey Smith was called into interim head coach Mike Sanford’s office.

Sanford told Smith that the Buffs were revamping the defense and that they were creating a position that suited his skill set.

“When he told me that I was happy. I was smiling the whole day,” Smith said Tuesday.

Playing in his new role, Smith made an impact in the Buffs’ 20-13 overtime win against California on Saturday. He played just nine snaps, but had two tackles and forced a fumble that terminated a Cal possession early in the fourth quarter.

“It was very fun, because (it was the) first game in here really playing a lot,” he said. “When I forced that fumble it was like dream come true. … When I did that, the stadium was rocking. I felt like a kid in a candy store. I was really excited.”

Smith played 10 snaps on defense against Air Force and Minnesota earlier this season, but those snaps were mostly late in games with the outcome decided. Sanford and new defensive coordinator Gerald Chatman, who took over that role on Oct. 2, found a way for Smith to make a bigger impact. That should continue when the Buffs (1-5, 1-2 Pac-12) visit Oregon State (5-2, 2-2) on Saturday in Corvallis, Ore. (6:10 p.m., Pac-12 Network).

“With the coaching change, after that is when I knew I could really do this,” Smith said. “At first I was kind of antsy, I was questioning myself a lot. But then after the bye week, after Arizona we got used to doing the new scheme and new plays, I felt like it was easier. Also I felt very confident in the game plan.”

Coaches created a new “star” position, which is basically an outside linebacker/safety hybrid. Senior Robert Barnes is the starter and recorded a season-high seven tackles and 55 snaps on Saturday. Smith is his top backup.

“It’s basically like another safety on the field where I can fit the run,” Smith said. “At the same time, I can play man on a tight end and running back or I could play like a zone. So really, I’m like an athlete just playing out there. I have multiple jobs where I can blitz, drop back in coverage or play man. That spot makes me really use all my tools that are in my box.”

Wiley motivated

After starting the first two games of the season, right tackle Jake Wiley found himself in a backup role for two games. The fourth-year sophomore from Eaglecrest High School has found his way back into the lineup the last two games, however.

“I complimented him this week because we sat him for two weeks and he worked his butt off in practice and deserved to go out there and then went out there and played well,” offensive line coach Kyle DeVan said. “It’s a performance-based business and Jake’s done a great job with that.”

Wiley played just five snaps in a 45-17 loss to UCLA on Sept. 24, but has played 112 of 130 offensive snaps in the last two games.

“Every game, honestly, I just feel I don’t want to let everyone else on the team down,” he said of his motivation. “I feel like, for me, my performance on Saturday was really playing for everyone else. … (At Air Force in Week 3), I didn’t have one of my best games. After that it kind of lit a fire under me to get better and really lock in on the task at hand, just keep getting better.”

CU’s other opening day starter at tackle, Frank Fillip, has had to adjust, as well. A starter in the first four games at left tackle, Fillip has been replaced by Gerad Christian-Lichtenhan. Fillip didn’t play in the fifth game, at Arizona, and then rotated with Wiley and Christian-Lichtenhan on Saturday, playing 26 snaps.

“He’s actually handled it really well,” DeVan said. “I’m very proud of him and very proud of really all the guys that have rotated. He’s done a great job and really battled through some things that he didn’t do well early on and put himself in a position to (earn a spot in the rotation).”


As of Monday, Oregon State quarterback Chance Nolan had not been cleared from concussion protocol. Third-year freshman Ben Gulbranson has started the last two games, leading the Beavers to wins against Stanford and Washington State. … None of the current Buffs have played at OSU’s Reser Stadium, as CU’s last trip to Corvallis came on Oct. 14, 2017. In that meeting, it was OSU that was led by an interim head coach, and CU won, 36-33.