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By: Chip Bromfield, ProMotion Ltd.
Alex Lewis says better communication will boost CU's run game.
Brooks: O-Line Chews On Humbling First Performance
Release: September 06, 2012
By: B.G. Brooks, Contributing Editor

BOULDER - Since last weekend's loss to Colorado State, when Colorado's ground game went underground, the questions have come at Alex Lewis in swarms.

Other members of the offense haven't escaped the pestering either. But grilling Lewis as to why the implosion happened and how to fix it is as good a starting point as any. He's the starting left guard on CU's offensive line, which paved the way for all of 58 rushing yards and at times appeared dazed and confused.

"I don't really have a specific number of questions I've gotten, but I'm getting asked (by students) on campus and even by my professors . . . everybody is talking about how we're going to establish a run game," Lewis said.

It's really a two-part question, with how to better protect the quarterback being Part B. Buffs QB Jordan Webb, a Kansas transfer who could have been forgiven for perhaps flashing back to similarly unfriendly afternoons in Lawrence, was sacked five times and smacked that many more. He exited his CU debut with an ailing hip and an even more painful 'L.'

Averaging 2.0 yards per carry, the Buffs, said Lewis, didn't come halfway close to their stated pre-season goal of 4.5 yards a carry. And scoring 17 points (the Rams had 22), the Buffs came up embarrassingly short of the 30 points they hope to average this season.

Lewis, a sophomore who last season played tackle and some tight end for blocking purposes, agreed that he and his O-line buds came away from the opener humbled, disappointed and embarrassed: "All of the above . . . that sums it up perfectly. We went in ready to fight, but in the second half we came out and they got the best of us. That was embarrassing after being up 14-3. We should have scored on the goal line; that's the biggest embarrassment an offensive line can have - being stopped on the goal line. We need to fix that. We only rushed for an average of two yards - and that was pathetic."

CU coach Jon Embree also came away disappointed, "But not as much as (the O-linemen) were. I met with a few guys early Monday, and they were hurt; it bothered them because as they said, they didn't have a practice as poor as what they did on Saturday. So I expect them to bounce back and rebound and play like they are capable of playing."

Shoddy line play was central to the lack of a run game, but there other factors, too. All week a common theme has run through conversations with coaches, another O-linemen or two and a couple of running backs: "What we have heah is a failyuh to communycate. . ."

O-line work isn't simply getting in somebody's way, which at 6-6, 290 pounds Lewis can do naturally. It's more about identifying who to block and adjusting if necessary, and that falls on the quarterback and running backs as well as the linemen.

"We just didn't execute," said center Gus Handler, who has the chief responsibility of making the up-front blocking calls. "You go back and look at the film, and I think as an offensive line we've got to do a better job of communicating among us - but more importantly with the backs and the quarterback.

"It all starts with us. I know it got loud at times, but we've just got to do a better job through hand signals, pointing, whatever; we've got to get everybody on the same page."

Handler said communication had not been a problem in practice "because we've had the luxury of having the other coaches on the field . . . you don't have the shot clock going on and there's not as much noise. We're trying to emphasize (a stadium) being loud and having us pointing, using hand signals, whatever we have to do go on the same page."

Of course, the Rams' stunting and twisting defensive front was a factor, too. And given the Buffs' lack of blocking success in the opener - for whatever reason - they can expect the same looks and tactics from now through November, starting with Sacramento State on Saturday (1 p.m., Folsom Field).

Said Handler: "Our coaches have said after last week, we can expect them to bring a lot of people."

Lewis and Handler expect the Hornets to show four- and five-man fronts, although the personnel might not be as physically imposing as what the Buffs will encounter in the Pac-12. Observed Lewis: "They're short, squatty guys who get good leverage . . . high motor guys. They're not going to come in here and give up; they're coming in for a fight."

Another running game issue pointed out by Buffs tailback Malcolm Creer is "backs being patient and letting the O-line sort everything out and create lanes and holes for us to fit in. We just need to relax; we were too high-strung at times. It was a big game for us; we had a big chip on our shoulder and weren't relaxed."

News flash: With the opening loss and the poor running performance, the chip just got bigger. But Creer contends several days of film study with running backs coach Eric Bieniemy has "gotten the bugs out and showed us that we need to relax more."

Creer also pointed to the disconnect in communications. "We're pretty far back from the O-line, so we can't really talk to each other," he said. "We have the visual means, pointing, the hand signals . . . we have to clarify things like that. We're still work on that and doing pretty good."

Bieniemy started Tony Jones (16 carries, 43 yards; 4 catches, 29 yards) against the Rams and likely will open with Jones on Saturday. But Bieniemy also used Creer (4-17 yards, a 4.2 average) at tailback and said earlier in the week he was considering using freshman Donta Abron for the first time. Other tailbacks, including sophomore Josh Ford, also have taken reps in practice.

Abron played last week on the kick return team but has not yet had a carry. His reps this week with the first and second offense "have been great," he said. "I'm looking forward to having an opportunity to get out there and make something happen."

A 5-10, 190-pounder from Upland, Calif., Abron believes he's gotten better in pass protection and has adapted to "the system and to this level . . . It's what I expected; I expected it to be fast - and it is. But I'm adjusting and want to go and make the best of it."

Rather than make massive change in the wake of the sub-par opening game, there has been a business-like get-it-fixed and move-on approach among the coaching staff. Line coach Steve Marshall, said Lewis, "pointed out the negatives Monday on the chalkboard, told us we'd work to fix those and get ready for this week. There was no panic.

"Everything is an easy fix if you know what you're doing wrong. The hard part is if you can't figure out what's going wrong. We know what assignments we busted on, which pass plays our footwork was bad on . . . we'll get it resolved and be ready for Sacramento State."

Contact: BG.Brooks@Colorado.EDU

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