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Day after thoughts: Buffaloes finish non-conference play unbeaten

Takeaways from the win at Folsom

NCAA Football: New Hampshire at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Behind a solid rushing attack, the Colorado Buffaloes took care of business Saturday, improving to 3-0 with a 45-14 win over the New Hampshire Wildcats. It’s the fifth season in program history the Buffaloes have scored 30-plus points in the first three games of the season. It’s also the second straight season the Buffaloes made it through non-conference play unscathed. Head Coach Mike MacIntyre and company now have a week off before they begin Pac-12 play.

Here are my three biggest takeaways:

1. Buffaloes break free on the ground

After being held to just 44 net rush yards on 35 attempts last week in Lincoln, the Buffaloes torched the Wildcats for 311 rushing yards Saturday. Virginia Tech grad-transfer Travon McMillian paced the way with 162 yards and two touchdowns. It marked the second time he eclipsed 100-plus yards in a game this season. Junior Beau Bisharat added 92 yards on 13 attempts, while redshirt-freshman Alex Fontenot looked impressive rushing for 31 yards on eight carries, including a 15-yard run for his first career touchdown. If the Buffaloes expect to make run in the Pac-12, it’ll be imperative they are able to run the ball effectively. This should allow Steven Montez (14-19, 166 yards, TD vs. UNH) to get the ball to Laviska Shenault (5 rec, 67 yards, TD vs. UNH) and his many weapons at wide receiver.

2. Mustafa Johnson is making his presence felt

Through three games, Montez, Shenault and Nate Landman have grabbed most of the headlines for the Buffaloes. And rightly so. Sophomore defensive end Mustafa Johnson however, is quietly becoming a force to be reckoned with. The junior-college transfer had three tackles (two for a loss) including a sack in Saturday’s win. On the season, Johnson has 14 tackles (six for a loss) and leads the Buffaloes defense with three and a half sacks. The Buffaloes had five sacks against New Hampshire to bring their total to 10 on the season. During their Pac-12 South winning 2016 campaign, the Buffs had 36 sacks. That total dropped to 22 last year. Finding a threat to opposing quarterbacks could make a big difference in conference play. The Buffs may just have that threat in Mustafa Johnson.

3. Buffs need to keep the foot on the pedal

The Buffs rolled through non-conference play and now have a week off before they take on UCLA in primetime on Friday, September 28th. How will this bye week affect them? “I don’t think they’ll get complacent. We’re going to go back down the hill (for practice),” MacIntyre said following the New Hampshire game. “We finished our preseason now it’s time for the Pac-12 season so we’re going to go down there and have three aggressive practice and prepare for UCLA after that.”

Here are three things they should shore up before taking on UCLA:

a. Stopping the Run – The Buffs limited the Wildcats to 42 net rushing yards Saturday, a big turnaround after surrendering 329 to the Cornhuskers last week. Thankfully the Buffs get to avoid Stanford’s Bryce Love in the regular season, but there are still plenty of tailbacks in the conference that they’ll need to focus on shutting down.

b. Protecting Montez – Colorado’s offensive line allowed two more sacks on Saturday, bringing this season’s total to nine. Some of those sacks could be attributed to quarterback decision making, but either way, the Buffaloes line needs to tighten up before conference play begins.

c. Limiting big plays – Through three games, D.J. Eliot’s unit has given up 12 plays of 20-or-more yards. New Hampshire, who entered Saturday’s contest having scored a total of 10 points, had three such plays including a 71-yard touchdown reception. Big plays are going to happen from time-to-time, but if the Buffs defense can limit their frequency, this team has an outside shot of winning the Pac-12 South for the second time in three years.

NEXT UP: Friday, September 28 vs. UCLA (0-3) – 7:00 PM MT, Fox Sports 1

The Buffs and Bruins get a week off before beginning Pac-12 play on September 28th. Unlike Colorado, UCLA went 0-3 in non-conference play, with losses to Cincinnati, Oklahoma and Fresno State. Last season, Josh Rosen and UCLA defeated the Buffaloes 27-23 in the Rose Bowl. Since joining the Pac-12 conference, the Buffaloes have only beaten the Bruins once, a 20-10 victory in Boulder in 2016. UCLA leads the all-time series 10-3.