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By: Joel Broida
Christian Powell's debut at tailback produced 147 yards rushing and three TDs.
Brooks: Powell To TB Moves Past Experimental Stage
Release: September 10, 2012
By: B.G. Brooks, Contributing Editor

BOULDER - No news bulletin here, but freshman Christian Powell's stay at tailback won't be temporary. Colorado offensive coordinator/running backs coach Eric Bieniemy said on Monday that the 235-pound Powell, a surprise starter at tailback last weekend, will remain at that position this week and for the foreseeable future.

"He did a great job," Bieniemy said of Powell's 28-carry, 147-yard, three-touchdown debut at tailback in CU's 30-28 loss to Sacramento State. "He's playing tailback, but he'll get a mixture of fullback plays . . . that was the first time for him to line up seven to eight yards deep (in the backfield) and for him to go out and do what he did says a lot.

"Now just imagine once he starts figuring out how to play the position, how much better he can be. So we're going to give him another opportunity to put it on tape. I love what the kid brings to the table."

With one scoring run of 64 yards and another pair of 1-yarders, Powell, one of three CU signees from Upland, Calif., tied a school freshman record for most TDs in a game. His long scoring jaunt was the fourth longest by a freshman in school history.

Powell had never lined up at tailback even during his high school career, and two days after his first game at the position he seemed a little reluctant to say he had found a home there.

"I'm just waiting to see what happens, waiting to see how things are," he said. "But it's been pretty good for me so far."

Pretty good, indeed. Coach Jon Embree said Powell had earned the opportunity to be given a long-term look: "I think there were some things when we saw him on tape that intrigued us about him as a runner. I think he proved Saturday that he's a capable runner. And he left a lot of yards out there, too. He missed some cuts, but he's learning."

The experiment involving Powell's position shift was born last week at mid-week. Wanting to beef up a run game that had produced 58 yards in the opening loss to Colorado State, Bieniemy said the decision was made to position Powell behind 245-pound junior fullback Alex Wood "and see what he could do . . .

"The thing I love about him is there's no hesitation. He puts his foot down and makes a decision (about the direction to run). On top of that, he carries some weight with him; he finds a way to average 4.5 to 5 yards a carry."

Powell's 28 carries were more than he ever had at Upland High School, and after working overtime in his first day on the job he was feeling the effects on Monday.

"Today, I'm still sore," he said. "But I'll get over it."

He also expects to get more adjusted to the position. "It's a different feeling, but you adjust to it," he said. "It's something new and anything that's new to you is going to be difficult until you adjust to it. Once you get comfortable with it, you go for it."

CU's run game production went from 58 yards to 153, with Bieniemy crediting that increase as much to the offensive line as Powell's new spot in the backfield. "The O-line did a great job with holes, those guys moved the pile," Bieniemy said.

CU used three other tailbacks - sophomore Tony Jones, junior Josh Ford and freshman Donta Abron - against Sac State, but only one of that trio had more than one carry. Jones, the No. 1 tailback coming out of August camp, had two carries for two yards. Ford carried once for seven yards, Abron once for one yard.

Asked what Powell's shift to tailback means for the other players at that position, Bieniemy said, "It means you need to pick up your urgency. Understand, there is no position here set in stone. The time is now."

Bieniemy had planned on Abron - Powell's teammate last season at Upland High School along with CU freshman safety Marques Mosley - getting a longer game-day look on Saturday. In addition to his lone rushing attempt, Abron caught one pass for 10 yards.

"That wasn't what I wanted - and it was because of 'The Christian Powell Show,'" Bieniemy said. "Two plays (for Abron) obviously weren't enough to say Donta has arrived. But from his work ethic and everything he accomplished last week in practice, I was happy he came to me and said, 'Coach, I'm ready to do this.' That's a good thing because now I know the kid's confident to go out and display his ability. He's definitely going to get an opportunity."

Jones rushed for 43 yards on 16 carries in the opener and remains in the tailback picture. He exited the CSU game with a slight shoulder injury and also was troubled by an ankle ailment. "We need him to get healthy," Bieniemy said. "He still brings a lot to this team. You know me, I love playing a number of backs. It makes it more difficult for a team to prepare for."

The Buffs' total offense output of 341 yards (188 passing, 153 rushing) against Sac State was almost 100 more than against CSU (245). Bieniemy said the offense "made tremendous strides" in the second game. "There's a lot of good to take away from this. Three plays stand out in the second half; if we make those nobody's feeling this way. We've come so close . . . we have to finish. At the end of the day we have to finish what we started.

"There is some good. That's what I've been telling them - 'Fellas, turn the tape on. You're going to enjoy watching this game (offensively) with the exception of about three plays.'"

The three plays in question were a running call that was sabotaged by confusion in the blocking scheme and a pair of third-down passing plays that were foiled by a dropped ball and an errant pass.

"I'm happy with the output, I'm not satisfied with the outcome," Bieniemy said. "But our kids are playing much better. I know it's hard to sit here and justify that when the end result is that you lost. But we see it. As coaches the only thing you can do is take away the positive and keep building on it."

Bieniemy, CU's all-time leading rusher (3,940 yards), hasn't been immune to the criticism aimed at the Buffs for their 0-2 start. As a former player, he said he understands fans' frustration, adding, "I know nobody wants to hear that."

 He also said his wife, Mia, reminded him that he made a choice to leave the NFL "to come back home." She also passed along this advice: "Make sure you uplift these kids and keep bringing them along."

Bieniemy said his wife "has a great football mind; she's been with me forever. She said she can see improvement; it looks like a much better team. But at the end of the day, it's a play here and there. If we make them, hey, we're singing the fight song."

His years as a CU player first taught Bieniemy to turn down the volume on negativity. "I've had my fair share of negative press; I've learned to tune things out," he said. "Whatever's being said does not come to me. We do a great job of shielding it away from home; nothing's stated within these walls (of the Dal Ward Athletic Center) . . . I have tunnel vision. I'm focused on Fresno State."

Making his offensive players understand the improvement he saw on Saturday won't be difficult. "You just look at the tape," Bieniemy said. "The eye in the sky doesn't lie. There's so much good to be shown from that tape. A play here or there, if we make it, (losing) is not an issue."

WOOD TO GET PLAYING TIME AT QB: Embree said Monday afternoon that Jordan Webb remains the Buffs starting quarterback, but backup Connor Wood would be used Saturday night at Fresno State.

"We're still going to go with Jordan, but we'll get Connor in there," Embree said. "I don't know if it'll be third series, fourth series or whatever. But we'll get him going in there, give him some reps."

Webb missed the brief afternoon practice because of a class conflict, giving Wood the majority of the reps with the first offense and Nick Hirschman snaps with the second unit.

Wood has played in one of CU's first two games - and that for only one snap after Webb was forced to leave the Sac State game because his helmet came off. On his only play, Wood completed a screen pass to receiver Gerald Thomas for a 28-yard gain.

Embree indicated he had hoped to get Wood, a transfer from Texas who sat out last season, more early playing time. "When your backup hasn't played you still need to find a way to do that, get him going and playing," Embree said. "A couple of times we'd talked about doing it . . . it was just something we've talked about wanting to get done. We'll be able to do it this week."

CONCLUSIONS FROM POST-GAME STAFF MEETING: At his post-game media conference Saturday, Embree said immediately afterward he was going into a meeting with his assistants. Bieniemy said there were high levels of disappointment and frustration, but no panic: "I guess more than anything . . . nobody got caught up in the emotions (of the loss). It was, 'How do we fix it?'"

Defensive coordinator/secondary coach Greg Brown added that every staffer was "scratching their head, looking for a way to improve and get a win. We all have to improve in every aspect."

Brown did concede that re-focusing players after such a difficult loss is "always a challenge. But we expect nothing less than 100 percent. We're not going to lie down. Your choices are lay down and die or get up and fight."

Embree said he called the meeting to make certain he and his assistants were "all on the same page" and answer some questions immediately "instead of sleeping on it and having to answer them the next morning."

INJURY UPDATES: Senior middle linebacker Doug Rippy (knee) is doubtful for the Fresno State game, while junior center Gus Handler (ankle) and sophomore cornerback Greg Henderson are "probably 50-50." Henderson was injured in the CSU game, Rippy and Handler against Sac State.  Senior safety Ray Polk remains sidelined with a high ankle sprain suffered in the first quarter against CSU.

BUFF BITS: A 2 p.m. (MDT) kickoff has been set for CU's Pac-12 Conference opener at Washington State on Saturday, Sept. 22. The game was selected for national telecast on FX.

Contact: BG.Brooks@Colorado.EDU

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