In a perfect world, Daniel Munyer would settle in at one offensive line position and finish out the last 21/2 years of his Colorado football career.
But CU's football world has been a little shy of perfect this month and Munyer and his buds in the O-line remain realists. If there is to be a turnaround, they know where it must start. They also realize there are sacrifices to be made.
In the last two games, due to teammates being injured, Munyer has been called on to play left guard, right guard and center. He has stepped in and stepped up - although the back-and-forth adjustments have been challenging.
"Pretty difficult, actually," Munyer said. "From a technique standpoint you have to remember where your (blocking) help is, where you don't have help. You have to make sure of your correct sets, how far back you are, little things like that . . . but they can make a big difference.
"I'm pretty comfortable with it now. I've practiced at all three since the summer, so when I'm thrown in there it's not like a big surprise. I'm ready to go. I feel like I'm getting a knack for the game every week and calming down every week, making sure I execute right. Ideally, you'd like to (settle at one position), but there's always situations where you're going to be called on and you've got to respond to that."
Munyer, a redshirt sophomore, might open at center again Saturday afternoon at Washington State (2 p.m. MDT, FX) in CU's Pac-12 Conference opener. But that depends on the availability of starting center Gus Handler, who missed the Fresno State game with an ankle sprain and currently is listed as questionable.
Redshirt freshman Brad Cotner and Munyer shared the position last weekend, but Cotner is out this week (and possibly four more) with a big toe injury. That leaves starting left guard Alex Lewis in an emergency role at center, a position his father (Bill) played at Nebraska and for seven NFL seasons.
Cotner's injury, said CU line coach Steve Marshall, is "a real shame . . . he's busted his tail for two years and finally got the opportunity. I knew he was hurt, he said he was fine - but he wouldn't walk in front of me. We finally pulled him in the third quarter (after 31 snaps); he tore up that toe pretty good."
Depending on Handler's health, Marshall's starters Saturday could be Handler/Munyer at center, Lewis at left guard, Munyer/Ryan Dannewitz at right guard, David Bakhtiari at left tackle and Jack Harris at right tackle. Or some combination thereof probably involving Dannewitz, whose versatility matches Munyer's.
Redshirt freshmen Stephane Nembot and Marc Mustoe, both tackles, and true freshman guard Jeromy Irwin played last weekend. Marshall said all three could play in sub roles this week. He also mentioned freshman Alex Kelley as a possibility at center.
No matter who Marshall's first five are, Saturday's priority will remain what it was in week one - running the ball successfully. In individual meetings this week with the O-linemen, coach Jon Embree strongly emphasized the need for "four ugly yards at a time," according to Munyer and Lewis.
"We need to control the tempo and keep the defense off the field," Munyer said. "We want 12- to 14-play drives . . . three, four, five yards at a time so our defense can make all their adjustments and do what they need to do. That's what our goal is right now."
The Buffs have shown a potent running game only once this season, gaining 153 yards (freshman Christian Powell got 147) two games ago against Sacramento State. The ground total against Colorado State was 58, with 110 against Fresno State.
In Powell, said Marshall, "We found a guy who can really run the ball . . . he's a talented young guy. As we evolve offensively, we've got to do a better job up front from a consistency standpoint and we as coaches have to find ways to put those young guys in the best possible positions. I think each week we're moving in that direction. Are we there yet? Absolutely not.
"But it's not a lot different than pass protection . . . it's not a 10-man process, it's an 11-man process. That's kind of the state of our offensive football team in all phases."
Falling behind 35-0 in the first quarter at Fresno State, CU's offensive game plan evaporated - or as Lewis put it, "That closes your playbook, it shuts off half your playbook. Our O-line is confident in what we're doing and we're going to keep doing it. We've just got to refine the craft. We're definitely going to come out at Washington State and run the ball. We'll see from there."
The Buffs also allowed five quarterback sacks last weekend, running their three-game total to a Pac-12 worst 12. All sacks don't fall to the O-line. "Every sack has a story," said Marshall. "There are reasons . . . we've given up a few sacks because we've been behind quite a bit and been throwing more than we should have to. We've got to continue to do a better job protection wise, a better job of running routes and getting open . . . it's an 11-man process."
Still, accurate or not, he and his group usually find themselves as primary targets for the finger-pointers.
"Whenever something goes wrong (offensively) it always falls back on the O-line," Munyer said. "So we kind of have to accept that. You realize you have to make the corrections . . . we just want to control whatever we can, correct our own mistakes."
Added Lewis: "When you're at the bottom (in sack stats), there's only one way to go - up. As an O-line, we have to watch tape, find corrections, fix them and get the ball rolling again. This program is going through some tough times right now and the O-line is going to be a major factor in turning things around. If we don't turn it around, the team's not going to go anywhere."
Washington State's defense features multiple fronts and has sacked opposing QBs eight times in three games, tying the Cougars for fourth place in the Pac-12 with Utah and Oregon. WSU senior defensive end Travis Long is the conference's sack leader (four), and Marshall says Long "plays all over the place - as their 'will' (linebacker), their 'plug' (linebacker) or down in a four-down front. It seems like he's been there forever; I remember us playing against him when I was at Cal. He's really developed into a good player. You can see them each week deciding what they're doing the best and how they're fitting their personnel in."
If the Buffs can balance their offense this week, it obviously will ease the burden on Marshall and his players in QB protection. But given the sacks already allowed, Marshall added, "Do I think (opponents) will come after us? Absolutely. Every week is no different. If we were 3-0 it would be no different than now."
But at 0-3, stuff has been coming at the Buffs from every angle - on the field and off. Munyer said with conference play starting, he feels a new energy among his group and the offense. "We're very excited," he said. "We're ready to get this thing going . . . ready to get our first win."