The 2018 Colorado Buffaloes are ranked No. 19 in the nation and are undefeated, having achieved a 5-0 record after defeating the Arizona State Sun Devils last Saturday at Folsom Field.
Much of that success has come from Colorado’s explosive offense, which is averaging 38 points per game thus far. While CU’s defense has been good, the Buffs’ offense has largely been great.
Junior quarterback Steven Montez is playing the best football of his career. He’s tossed 11 touchdowns compared to just two interceptions. His 75.2 completion percentage is second in the nation. He trails Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa in that department by just .08 percent.
Montez has been complimented by sophomore phenom Laviska Shenault, Jr., who is third in the nation in receiving yards and is the Buffaloes’ leading receiver with 51 receptions, 708 yards and six touchdowns.
While Montez and Shenault, Jr. have received praise and appreciation, the Buffaloes have enjoyed the presence of another multidimensional weapon in the form of senior transfer tailback Travon McMillian, whose contributions have seemingly flown lower under the radar than those of his teammates. If Shenault, Jr. and his 23 receptions of 10 or more yards have served as the Buffs’ offensive right hook, McMillian and his 35 rushes of five-plus yards have been their left jab.
“He gets the important yards,” running backs coach Darian Hagan said. “He’s a guy that’s not easy to tackle. Safeties are condensing in because he’s breaking a lot of tackles. He’s opening up the passing game by just being physical.”
McMillian received one year of NCAA eligibility to play for Colorado as a graduate student, having earned a finance degree from Virginia Tech this past May. He played all four years for the Hokies and McMillian owns a career yards per carry average of 4.8 yards. He’s the 16th-leading rusher in school history.
Leading up to his graduation, he started putting the feelers out for schools to transfer to. He made his decision after visiting Colorado.
“When I first committed to Virginia Tech, it was important to me to have a family atmosphere in the locker room and with [my] team,” McMillian said. “I felt that when I was [visiting Colorado]. All the guys in the locker room made me feel really welcome here so that’s what made me come.”
Head coach Mike MacIntyre and the Buffaloes should be happy to have him. Through Colorado’s first five games, McMillian has steadily emerged as the go-to guy in the backfield. His 528 rushing yards lead the Buffaloes. In fact, they are more than triple the amount of any other Colorado tailback.
“Travon has played really well,” MacIntyre said. “He’s come in here and just been a phenomenal team guy. He’s really tough [and] he carries the load. He’s a big part of our offense and we need him to be around that 100-yard mark each game. He’s shown that he can do [that].”
The stats from this year agree. So far, McMillian has rushed for over 100 yards in each of Colorado’s games, save for Nebraska. Last Saturday, in CU’s 28-21 victory over Arizona State, he had a season-high 30 carries for 136 yards. On the year, McMillian boasts an average of 6.29 yards per carry.
His success is the result of a rigorous past few months full of training, film study and overall preparation.
“This entire offseason I dedicated my life to my footwork, jump cuts, pass protection and just having good eyes,” McMillian said. “That’s what it’s really about. When you’re a running back you’ve got to see the [line]backers, see the flow of the defense and know the running scheme. I worked extremely hard this offseason to really become a better student of the game.”
The Buffs are hoping that his successes will continue this week, as the Buffaloes prepare to take on USC on the road in Los Angeles. Currently, Southern Cal is 71st in the nation in run defense and has allowed enemy tailbacks an average of 4.51 yards per carry and 163.2 yards on the ground per game.
McMillian’s sheer size should help him against the Trojans and future Pac-12 competition. At 6-foot-0 and 210 pounds, he’s a stark contrast to the last four years of Colorado’s ground attack, which centered around current Denver Bronco Phillip Lindsay. While Lindsay was certainly shifty and talented, he stands at 5-foot-8.
“A bigger back can make contact and get extra yards just because,” Hagan said. “When you’re a smaller guy, you can get the explosive plays, but you can’t get the five- or six-yard runs consistently.”
That size has also allowed McMillian to help in supporting roles, namely ones where he isn’t touching the ball.
“Travon is a really good back,” Montez said. “He’s killing it right now and he loves to pass block too … he does it all for us.”
In Colorado’s win over New Hampshire, McMillian rushed the ball 15 times. The next week against UCLA, he had 21 carries, leading into his season-high 30 touches that he had en route to defeating the Sun Devils last week.
As McMillian continues to be a chief architect of the Buffaloes’ ability to move smoothly and effectively on offense, expect his carries to remain plentiful.
“His confidence level has always been high and I think every week he’s getting more and more comfortable,” Hagan said. “We’re getting more and more comfortable with him and designing plays for his expertise.”
McMillian and the Buffaloes will face a tough test in the Southern California Trojans on the road this Saturday.
The Buffs and Trojans kickoff from L.A. Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, Oct. 13. Kickoff is at 6:30 p.m.
Contact CU Independent Head Sports Editor Justin Guerriero at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @TheHungry_Hippo.