CU Buffs offense still trying to find rhythm, consistency – The Denver Post

On Saturday night in Corvallis, Ore., the Colorado Buffaloes started a quarterback who had not played much in the previous month, their leading rusher had never been counted on in that role before and their top receiver was a true freshman.

Walk-ons accounted for 10 of the 28 rushing attempts and two of the offensive linemen are in their first month as college starters.

That night was a microcosm of the entire season for the Buffs, who have been abysmal on offense. There are many reasons for that, but the lack of consistency at quarterback, injuries and having to rely on youth and walk-ons has certainly impacted the Buffs (1-6, 1-3 Pac-12), who host Arizona State (2-5, 1-3) on Saturday at Folsom Field (5:30 p.m., ESPNU).

“It hasn’t been easy,” interim head coach Mike Sanford said. “I’m being very honest, it hasn’t been easy, but it’s been fun in the sense that you do see growth. You’re seeing individual growth.”

Collective growth has been difficult, however, leaving the Buffs on pace for the worst scoring average in the 12-year history of the Pac-12. CU is currently averaging 13.7 points per game. The Buffs need to score 111 points (22.2 per game) in the last five games to avoid having the worst season-long average in league history (17.2, by Arizona in 2021).

“The hard part about offensive football is it’s 11 (guys) having to play in perfect synchronization and when those pieces are constantly evolving, namely at the quarterback position, I think that there are some challenges to that,” Sanford said.

Junior J.T. Shrout made his third start of the season in Saturday’s 42-9 loss at Oregon State, but it was his first start since Sept. 17 at Minnesota. He had appeared in just one game between his starts, rallying the Buffs in the fourth quarter and overtime to beat California, 20-13, on Oct. 15.

Opening night starter Brendon Lewis was benched the next week and has since left the team and put his name in the transfer portal. True freshman Owen McCown started three games in a row, but an injury prevented him from playing in Corvallis.

The shuffling hasn’t been limited to quarterback.

CU has had four different starting running backs through the first seven games. Senior Alex Fontenot started the first two but has missed five games in a row with a chest injury. Junior Deion Smith leads the Buffs in rushing, but couldn’t play Saturday because of injury.

With Fontenot and Smith out, true freshman Anthony Hankerson made his first start on Saturday, but was banged up less than two minutes into the game. That left the rushing duties to walk-on Charlie Offerdahl (who has one start) and third-year sophomore Jayle Stacks, who came into the night with only 12 career rushing attempts.

CU has also had six different starters at receiver, three at tight end and started three different offensive line combinations.

During this season, seven true freshmen and three walk-ons have played at times on offense.

Youth isn’t the only reason for CU’s struggles, though. Veteran players have had their issues, as well, including at receiver. CU has had 19 dropped passes, which ranks third in the Pac-12.

Overall, the lack of consistency in who is playing has contributed to a lack of execution and missed opportunities on offense.

A dropped pass on the opening play of the game against Cal cost the Buffs a touchdown. A misfired throw on the third play of the game on Saturday cost the Buffs another touchdown. In both cases, the Buffs wound up punting. Those are two of many opportunities lost by an inexperienced and inconsistent offense.

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“We’ve got to be opportunistic when we have opportunities that are there,” Sanford said. “I think that that’s just continuing to build confidence, continuing to trust our process of practice, and how we practice. I think we did find a groove (at Oregon State), similar to Cal, but it was certainly, unfortunately, way too little, too late, to be able to be competitive and win a football game on the road against a good team.”

Going forward, Sanford and his staff will continue to celebrate individual growth, while hoping the collective unit can find some rhythm.

“I’m not afraid whatsoever of making sure that we put the right people in the right positions and we’re continually learning more and more about skill position players … and who does what well,” he said. “We’ll shuffle things around if we need to be able to optimize our performance early in games.”

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