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The CU football team has been plagued this season by missed opportunities, costly penalties and the inability to finish.
Much of the inconsistency that has reared its ugly head during the Buffs’ 0-5 start is reflected in the team’s offensive line.
Coming into the season, the offensive line was regarded as one of the team’s biggest strengths. The unit returned four upperclassmen and one sophomore, Daniel Sanders, who started four games last season. Two of the upperclassmen, senior center Mark Fenton and senior left guard Brian Daniels, were tabbed as preseason All-American candidates by various publications prior to this season.
Up to this point, however, the experience for Colorado’s line hasn’t produced the results that many followers of the program expected. The group is at the front of an offense that ranks last in the Big 12 in scoring, at just over nine points per game, and has allowed the most sacks, 17, of any team in the conference.
Despite the offensive struggles of the team, the players on the line feel like improvement has been made.
“I feel as an offense we’ve really started to click the past couple of weeks. We’re moving the ball well, but we got to score,” said junior left tackle Tyler Polumbus.
There is some evidence to suggest that the CU offense has improved rapidly since the team’s opening loss to Division I-AA Montana State. In two consecutive losses to Georgia and Missouri, the Buffs gained 686 yards of total offense for an average of 343 yards per game. In the three games prior to Georgia and Missouri, the offense tallied a paltry 194 yards per game. Unfortunately for the Buffs, the increased offense hasn’t translated to the scoreboard.
“We got to finish. We’ve had chances to put away two teams and we haven’t done it,” Polumbus said.
CU offensive line coach Chris Strausser echoed Polumbus’s sentiments.
“We got to do a better job of getting our horns out once we get inside the 20 and just kind of having that mentality that we’re not going to be stopped and we’re not going to be satisfied with a field goal. And to me, it is just as much mentality as anything,” Strausser said.
At no point during the season has the Buffs’ inability to finish drives in the red zone become more apparent than after their 28-13 loss to Missouri this past weekend. The CU offense drove down inside the Tiger 20-yard line on numerous drives, but were unable to capitalize.
“I think when we get down there we need to get that killer instinct. I think the offensive line has done a good job down there, it’s just been a situation where it hasn’t worked out the best for us,” Daniels said. “As an offensive line, that’s a place where you want to take your guy and push him in the end zone. That’s a place where we’re going to work a lot.”
Early in the season the offensive line was a part of an offense that had many changing parts. During spring and fall practice, new CU Head Coach Dan Hawkins was constantly rotating as many as three different quarterbacks under center in hopes of settling on one. After the second game of the season, Hawkins chose junior Bernard Jackson, and the line is comfortable with him behind center.
“As an (offensive line) we’ve always been comfortable with Bernard. He’s a guy that can sometimes take our mistakes and turn them into huge plays. We’ve always had confidence with Bernard and I think he’s getting more and more comfortable with the offense each week,” Daniels said.
Polumbus believes that the points will come, but that the whole offense must do a better job making sure everyone is on the same page.
“Every guy has to do their job. Offense is really fun because it takes all 11 guys. If one guy doesn’t do his job, then it all breaks down,” Polumbus said.
Making things tougher for the offense to get on the same page is the loss of Mark Fenton. Fenton was injured in the first half against Georgia after he sustained a cracked fibula. He is expected to miss at least two more weeks. Senior reserve center Bryce MacMartin is playing center in the meantime.
“I really felt he would (do a good job of filling in) because he’s been such a good leader as a guy who wasn’t typically playing,” Strausser said. “Typically guys struggle as a backup guy, but he has progressed the whole time.”
“Bryce is a guy who knows the offense as good as the quarterback. He’s a guy who is on top of his game and knows all the defenses,” Daniels said. “He can step in there and make all the calls. He’s done a great job.”
Strausser knows that with each passing week the pressure builds on the offense to put up a big point total, but he said he just wants his guys to focus on the little things.
“I don’t get too hung up on what’s being said too much. Certainly (the offensive line’s) job is as hard as anybody’s. It’s the details that matter and we’re starting to catch up with those,” Strausser said.