Folks, one of my favorite football cliches is, “running is a mentality.” The saying goes, you can’t decide halfway through a game to run the ball. You need to decide during camp that you’re going to run the ball, and then you need to take concrete steps towards that goal every day. It’s a toughness thing, a patience thing, and a chemistry thing.
I love it because I believe it. It may be bull honkey, but you tell me right now that Oklahoma in the ‘80s, Colorado and Nebraska in the ‘90s, and Alabama in the 2010s didn’t line up every snap trying to break their opponent’s will. It is an attitude the team has to have. From managing the roster to making the playbook to choosing the starters, everything has to be put through a running lens. It’s probably one of my most “old man yells at cloud” opinions, but Jay Johnson is proving it right.
The Colorado Buffaloes, according to the newly-named SP+ rankings, are fourth in the country in offensive efficiency. Granted, given the defenses they’ve faced, that’s against heavy air, but it’s a still a great mark to hit. More importantly is how they have gotten to fourth in offensive efficiency. It is not by spreading it out like last year, moving at warp speed and throwing the ball around the yard. It is by playing complementary football, as Mel Tucker puts it.
Against Nebraska, the Colorado Buffaloes did not score in their opening drive. But they took up half the first quarter clock. In a first half where CU could not move the ball, the running game and the patience helped the defense survive with only a 17 point deficit. In the second half, when CU finally gained some traction on defense, all those snaps the Nebraska Cornhuskers had to play the run paid off, as they were visibly more tired than the Buffs near the end. When you lean on teams for 45 minutes, It becomes a lot easier to finally make them fall in the fourth quarter. Just look at the push the offensive line gets on this play:
The other thing that play highlights the complete hoss that Brady Russell has been this year. He has been used extensively in the passing game, dragging defenders to first downs, but he has been a sixth lineman over 120 minutes of football. He completely seals that hole for Jaren Mangham and he did that all day against Nebraska. It’s soooooo nice to see a tight end highlighted in this offense, and it’s even better that the tight end happens to be a former walk-on that’s related to an all-time great. Brady Hustle is such a weapon to have, especially when it comes to mentality. That man will hit players over and over again, and eventually he will out-hit whoever is in his way.
There are enough snaps for everyone to get their numbers. Sure, Laviska Shenault isn’t having the explosive start he had last year, but he has been a gravity well for opposing defenders. They are assigning two or even three players to him every play. That’s allowing others like Tony Brown and KD Nixon to show up in the first two games. But it’s also nice that CU doesn’t have to rely on passing 40 times a game to move the ball. They can slow it down, speed it up, but most importantly, run it down the middle until the other team quits. That’s sustainable, and that travels.