Heading into the season finale, there are a lot of things the Colorado football team can work on fixing.
After last week’s 20-17 victory against Washington, there is one area in particular that head coach Karl Dorrell is addressing this week.
“The biggest issue that we are working on both sides of the ball is third down,” Dorrell said. “We’re not getting off the field on defense, and we’re not staying on the field offensively. So we’ve got to be better in those two areas. We’re going to work on those things and get ready for a great game plan versus Utah this week, who we know is a very good football team.”
On Friday, the Buffs (4-7, 3-5 Pac-12) visit No. 16 Utah (8-3, 7-1) in Salt Lake City (2 p.m., TV: Fox).
The Buffs managed to beat Washington last week despite a miserable performance on third downs. Washington converted 14-of-21 third downs, gaining 198 yards on those 21 plays. Eight times the Huskies needed six yards or more and still got the first down and they hit for plays of 16, 21, 14, 21, 17, 11, 20, 28, 32 and 14 yards on third downs.
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“I think there are some coverage things we’ve got to really clean up,” Dorrell said. “I think that was the biggest culprit. By the way, we did have three sacks in the game (on third downs), which we haven’t had either, so we had some really good things defensively that did occur in the game. But third down was some coverage things that we need to definitely clean up.”
Because of injuries, CU has had a lot of young players in the secondary, and Dorrell said, “We’ve got to make sure we’re doing systems that they’re familiar with and that they feel like they can perform. So we’re really scrutinizing that on the defensive side, really utilizing the things that our players can do well, and not try to put too much on their plate.”
Prior to last week, the Buffs had been decent on defense against third downs, allowing 39.1 percent.
Offensively, the Buffs were 2-for-13 on third downs against the Huskies and both conversions came on a 90-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. The Buffs started 0-for-10.
Third-down conversion offense has been an issue all season, however. The Buffs rank 124th nationally in converting just 31.2 percent of the time.
This week, CU face a Utah offense that is eighth in the country, converting 49.24 percent of its third downs. The Utes stop the opposition on 37.1 percent of third downs, ranking 49th in that category.
Center Colby Pursell, a fifth-year junior, went through the senior day ceremony on Saturday but said he hasn’t decided if he’ll return next year or not. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pursell could take advantage of playing one more season.
Because Saturday might have been his last game at Folsom Field, he chose to go through the ceremony.
“It’s a big day for my family, as well,” he said. “It was awesome for them to be able to come out here and experience it. Especially since the uncertainty next year, I want to make sure that we have this opportunity together.”
Nikko Reed is a true freshman cornerback who has been thrown into the fire because of some injuries, but he’s also earned the playing time. On Saturday, the 5-foot-10, 165-pounder had a key interception that helped the Buffs to the win.
“His confidence and attitude is off the charts,” Dorrell said. “He came in that way when he was here this summer. He wasn’t intimidated. … He came in saying, ‘I fit right in and I can compete, I can help this team; put me in coach.’ Literally, ever since he stepped on the field, he’s had that attitude, and he’s been able to perform.
“Him making that play in the end zone, he’s done that in practice. He’s done it with some of our best receivers. So he’s just a really a true competitor and we all trust him.”
Dorrell then added, “You haven’t even seen him as a returner yet. Wait until he returns.”
With receiver Brenden Rice out this week, Reed could get a chance to return kickoffs.
“You’re going to see a little bit more of what Nikko Reed can do because he’s a dynamite athlete and he’s very confident,” Dorrell said.
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