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By: CUBuffs.com
Coach Denver Johnson (right): 'The trick is not to slide back - keep ratcheting this thing forward . . . '
Brooks: O-line No Strangers To Change
Release: October 23, 2009
By: B.G. Brooks, Contributing Editor
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BOULDER - Continuity among starters generally is regarded as a key element in offensive line play, but try floating that theory past the Colorado Buffaloes.

Despite the continued scrambling of personnel, CU's O-line has gone beyond merely coping.

Last weekend against then-No. 17 Kansas, the Buffaloes rushed for 147 yards and three touchdowns in what coach Dan Hawkins and the offensive staff viewed as the O-line's best performance to date.

So what's the big deal about continuity?

"I don't think it's necessarily the rotation of people being out and in . . .  I think with the first five or the whole group, it's being together at practice and building the relationships and confidence of playing with each other," center Mike Iltis said.

"It's knowing no matter who's next to you, they're going to know what to do and do their jobs as hard as you. It's building confidence as a group as the season goes, and not necessarily the personnel in there."

Iltis, a sophomore, speaks from experience. He opened the season at center, but junior Keenan Stevens has started for the past three games while Iltis recovered from an Achilles tendon injury and a concussion.

Iltis reentered the lineup in the second quarter of that game and finished it out. Line coach Denver Johnson said Stevens' play never slipped, only that Iltis was ready to return and likely will start Saturday at Kansas State (10:30 a.m. MDT, Fox College Sports).

 Johnson also said redshirt freshman tackle Bryce Givens, who sat out last weekend, will be available this week but won't start. Sophomore Ryan Miller, said Johnson, will remain at right tackle "for the immediate future."

"We've had a tough time keeping the same five on the field - we really have," Johnson said. "We just try and create as much utility as we can, and shift and adjust ."

The O-line's potential depth was considered an off-season strong suit, but that was while guards Max Tuioti-Mariner (knee surgery), Devin Head (academically ineligible) and Sione Tau (suspended) were being counted.

Then, guard Matt Bahr suffered an August ankle sprain that slowed him for almost the first month of the season. He has returned to the lineup and is sharing time with Blake Behrens on the right side.

Left tackle Nate Solder and left guard Ethan Adkins are the only O-linemen who have stayed at their spots for all six games.

"Thankfully, we haven't had any season-ending injuries, but there have been some that certainly might have retarded our progress," Johnson said.

Still, the confidence in one another and cohesiveness that Iltis mentioned seem to be paying dividends.

"We've been getting better incrementally," Johnson said. "Sometimes when you're getting a little bit better and you're playing teams like West Virginia and Texas on the road, it's not always easy to tell.

"But I believe we were getting better; we took another step forward (in the 34-30 win against Kansas). The trick is not to slide back - keep ratcheting this thing forward and not go backwards."

HEY, REMEMBER ME? CU quarterback Tyler Hansen debuted last season against Kansas State, sparking a 14-13 Buffs victory in Boulder.

The Wildcats were caught by surprise, and Hansen noticed on the field.

"They had no idea who I was; I don't think they knew I was on the roster," he said. "There were actually some guys who came up to me (afterwards) and said, 'Who are you? What are you doing out here.'

"But they'll probably want me Saturday and come after me pretty hard . . . they've got a target on me right now; they want that No. 9."

Hansen wants his first road start of the season to be cleaner than his home debut. He threw one interception and lost a fumble against the Jayhawks.

"I can't give the ball away (against K-State)," he said, adding he believes he'll be "a lot more comfortable" in this game than he was last season.

He also said last season's first road start (at Texas A&M) should acclimate him for what K-State might present: "Definitely . . . A&M was a loud place and I had to deal with the line not being able to hear me . . . I know what that's going to be like, so I can deal with it.

"It feels good to get that first game out of the way - and especially to get a win. I want to build on it and go on with the rest of the year."

Hansen's numbers last year against the Wildcats: Passing - 7-of-14, 71 yards, one TD, one interception. Rushing - 19 carries, 86 yards.

Hansen's numbers last week against the Jayhawks: Passing - 14-of-25, 175 yards, one TD, one interception. Rushing - 11 carries, 64 yards (34 after sack yardage), one TD.

SPEAK TO ME: Even during their final possession with less than a minute remaining, the Jayhawks expected to win last Saturday's game.

Hawkins said he could see it in "their body language, their attitude, the way they did things  . . . and that's the way you've got to have your team play. For our guys to come back and get after it, that was big.

"Todd (Reesing) and Kansas have a body of work behind them that's longer than ours, so that probably gives them a little more viability. But I think we're capable of getting to that stage."

Hawkins said he likes the Buffs' "maturity and camaraderie, they way they've handled things (over the past three weeks)."

WATCH THAT CLOCK: When time expired last Saturday night and Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing's final pass fell incomplete, nickel back Jalil Brown might have been the happiest of the Buffs.

On the previous play, Brown batted down a pass that he now believes he could have intercepted - ending the game rather than prolonging it.

Problem was, Brown believed the clock had hit all zeroes on the game's next-to-last play.

"I thought it was over," he said, sheepishly. "Originally, I was excited and did a little celebrating . . .

"Then, I looked back (at the scoreboard clock) and saw there was still three seconds up there. I was biting my fingernails; it wasn't a good feeling."

Brown, who made a key interception earlier that set up a CU touchdown, said although Reesing's pass "hit my forearm," he believes he was in position to make an interception - had he not thought it was the game's final play.

Not to worry: corner Cha'pelle Brown had his teammate's (and his team's) back, batting down Reesing's final pass to preserve the win.

Jalil Brown, who leads CU in interceptions with two, said the Buffs generally held up well against Reesing and one of the Big 12 Conference's best receiving corps.

"I definitely thought we held up our end of the deal," he said. "Kansas was good, but Kansas State will be totally different in what they try to do. They've got a big running back (Daniel Thomas, 95.6 rushing yards a game) and will try to pound us."

ALIVE AND KICKING (WELL): Placekicker Aric Goodman battled through a groin strain to have one of his best overall games last weekend.

In addition to making both of his field goal attempts (45, 39 yards) and all four of his PATs, five of his seven kickoffs were touchbacks (three through the end zone).

For the season, Goodman has made six of 10 field goal attempts, including a career-long 54 yarder, and all 10 of his extra point tries.

He didn't kick on Tuesday, allowing his injury "to calm down a little," but returned to work on Wednesday "and kicked good, too."

Junior walk-on kicker Ryan Aweida will continue to travel with the team.

The Buffs can use another stellar day from Goodman on Saturday - especially kicking off. K-State's Brandon Banks leads the Big 12 in kick returns, averaging 31.2 yards, and has scored three touchdowns.

Through six games, though, CU has been the conference's top kickoff coverage team (48.1 yard net average) and is third nationally.

Contact: BG.Brooks@Colorado.EDU

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