The Colorado Buffaloes won the Rocky Mountain Showdown 52-31, but it was close up until the very end. here we take a took at three important lessons from the game.
1. Buffs might have something at running back
The Buffs ran all over the Rams for 243 yards and 4 touchdowns. Alex Fontenot, a redshirt sophomore making his first start, was the star of the game with 125 yards and 3 scores, and he looked slippery and patient running behind a strong offensive line. The Buffs ended up not having to pass much at all — they had fewer passing yards than rushing for the first time in forever — but it’s difficult to tell how good Colorado’s rushing attack will be in the future.
The Rams’ defensive line is horrid and the Buffs were opening up huge holes. It’s also difficult to tell whether Fontenot is very hard to tackle or if CSU just doesn’t know how to wrap up. It’s certainly encouraging that CU was so effective in Jay Johnson’s debut as coordinator, but we’ll see how sustainable this new run game is.
2. Pass defense is going to be a hot mess
This became obvious on Colorado State’s first possession. Although the Buffs have some stars, they are thin on defense and are starting numerous players who may not be ready to start. The Buffs have zero pass rush — they only had three rushers and rarely blitzed — and that meant Collin Hill had all day to pick apart their zone coverage.
It didn’t help that CU doesn’t have much perimeter speed and were unable to contain anything. In the passing game, the flats and underneath routes were open every time. Nate Landman and Jonathan van Diest get getting stuck on skill players, which seems like a feature and not a bug in Mel Tucker’s defense. (Landman looked lost all night, for some reason.) The secondary is so thin that Dylan Thomas, a freshman receiver who missed fall camp with an injury, saw major playing time at defensive back.
The only saving grace for the defense was turnovers. Mikial Onu, the graduate transfer from SMU, had two spectacular interceptions. Aaron Maddox, the other starting safety, forced a fumble to open the second half. And at the very end, van Diest had a strip sack that led to a scoop-and-score for Mustafa Johnson. All of that is great — especially Onu channeling Tedric Thompson — but this defense gave up 505 yards and can’t rely on being +4 in turnover margin every week. They have no choice but to make adjustments. Having Davion Taylor schemed into a more prominent role would help improve the defense’s team speed.
3. Viska button is there, always
The Buffs were run-first and run-second, but their talented receiving corps was available whenever they needed something more. It seemed like CU was trying to keep the game tape limited and keep their receivers healthy in a likely win. But whenever CSU threatened, the Buffs were able to open up the playbook and get the ball to their best players. Laviska Shenault Jr., the undisputed best player on the team (and Pac-12), was used only when they truly needed something. Of his 6 touches, four of those came when the Buffs badly needed a first down, and a fifth came on a gorgeous 25-yard touchdown just before the half.
Having a more balanced offense will help CU be unpredictable and it should keep their star healthier. The Viska button is there if they need it. Otherwise, they can run the ball, involve the tight ends, and even throw to the criminally underused Tony Brown. Besides, if Shenault needs to pad his stats, Nebraska is next week.