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Colorado Buffaloes Football: Midterm Grades

Grading the Buffs’ performance after four games.

Nebraska v Colorado Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Midterms are here for CU students this week and next. If you’re a student, close this tab and study. If you’re not a student, every week is midterm week now, so enjoy this article because it might be your only break today. Anyway, let’s give the Colorado Buffaloes some grades.

Passing Offense: A-

Other than Steven Montez having an off game against Air Force, the passing offense has been clicking. The offensive line has done a solid job giving Montez time to go through his progressions, which means they are spreading the ball around the field. The Buffs aren’t passing nearly as often as last year, but they are very efficient when they do. Montez has the highest passer rating (159.3) and yards per attempt (8.7) than ever before. Even though Laviska Shenault’s numbers are down, he’s been invaluable because he demands so much attention from the defense. He’s freed up K.D. Nixon and Dimitri Stanley to find space underneath, and it also means Tony Brown get left on an island, where he’s been phenomenal.

Rushing Offense: B

The rushing attack isn’t nearly as efficient as the passing game, but it doesn’t need to be, nor does it even try to be. Jay Johnson’s offense needs the run game to establish balance and set up plays for later. CU’s offense always starts slow and finishes strong, because in the first half the Buffs are setting up chunk plays later. For this strategy to work, the Buffs just need to be solid on the ground, which they absolutely have been. Alex Fontenot doesn’t have elite quickness or speed, but he’s a downhill runner with natural elusiveness. Jaren Mangham has a bit more speed, but he’s really excelled at reading his blocks and just following Will Sherman into the end zone. This space requires additional shoutouts to the interior offensive line, particularly Kary Kutsch, as well as tight end Brady Russell.

Rushing Defense: B+

The Buffs have actually been very good against the run game this season. This comes along with several caveats: (1) they lack team speed and struggle defending the edge, (2) Air Force is extremely tricky to play against, so I’m not going to weigh that game too heavily, and (3) allowing multiple 1-yard touchdowns to Eno Benjamin isn’t criminalizing. So, other than Air Force, the Buffs have allowed 418 rushing yards on 3.98 yards per carry. That is outstanding. We were worried about the interior defensive line because Jalen Sami and Austen Williams are both freshmen, but they have been great. Then there’s Nate Landman blowing up plays, Aaron Maddox playing well in the box (get well, Aaron), Akil Jones being a surprise contender, and even Nu’umotu Falo doing well in his 9th year on campus. They just need to figure how to defend the edges and they will have a really good rushing defense.

Passing Defense: C-

Thank goodness for turnovers, or this secondary would be failing. I don’t know if it’s because the Buffs are changing from a man coverage scheme to zone coverage, or if this player personnel isn’t fast enough to play zone, or if the linebackers are just so slow that intermediate routes are always open. It could be all three. It’s almost sad that CU has struggled this badly in coverage against Colin Hill (he just tore his ACL), infamously inconsistent Adrian Martinez, literally Air Force, and true freshman Jaden Daniels. I suppose the Buffs are okay for now, as long as they keep getting turnovers and making halftime adjustments, but I’m genuinely worried about CU playing legit QBs like Justin Herbert or Anthony Gordon. It would help if Mustafa Johnson was healthy, so please make dua for the big playmaker.

Special Teams: A-

James Stefanou has been automatic, other than an extra point that was blocked that ipso facto cost CU a win, although Air Force missed a PAT earlier in the game so maybe it was the universe taking one back? Alex Kinney (45.4 yards per punt) has done as well as any fifth-year starter should. (How great is that CU has two special teamers as consistent as Stefanou and Kinney? We should appreciate them more.) But maybe — just maybe — CU’s kick returners should stop fumbling. Shenault’s fumble against Nebraska was almost a death blow and Nixon’s fumble against ASU could have been a momentum changer.

Coaching: A-

Mel Tucker is the real deal. He’s brought in a culture of trust and toughness that we haven’t seen since at least 2016. His in-game strategies could be better, but his adjustments and halftime talks are makings of a folk hero. We’re four games into the Tucker era and CU fans are already hoping he sticks around for the long haul. Perhaps it’s a little too early to hop on the bandwagon, but you can just feel the optimism around the football program.

Cumulative GPA: 3.08