Five questions on Colorado with the Daily Camera’s Brian Howell

This is not the way Colorado was supposed to be. With a stacked group of receivers, a 1,000-yard running back and a young, new quarterback, it was the offense that was expected to carry the Buffaloes. Instead, the depleted defense reloaded and picked right where it left off while the offense has sputtered. The Daily Camera’s Brian Howell answered a few questions on why the Buffaloes are living in backwards world, Phillip Lindsay and Isaiah Oliver

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1. The Colorado offense was supposed to be the strength of this team, but its ranked 11th in the Pac-12 in scoring and total offense after four games. What is holding the Buffaloes back?

Teams often talk about the “little things” holding them back, and it’s really true with Colorado. Whether it’s been turnovers, penalties, drops or missed assignments, the Buffs have had a lot of different things put an end to drives. They’ve had 13 possessions end in opponent territory without any points, five of them ending in turnovers (four interceptions). The Buffs also have a young QB in Steven Montez, who is just seven starts into his career. He, and the offense as a whole, are going through some growing pains with him.

2. How were the Buffaloes able to rebound on defense after losing eight starters and their defensive coordinator?

Head coach Mike MacIntyre has done a great job of establishing the culture of defense. He’s a defensive-minded coach, and this year’s unit has the same amount of pride in what they’re doing on that side of the ball. It certainly helped that, while D.J. Eliot is new as the coordinator, the Buffs are running the exact same scheme as last year. They also have more experience than it would appear with eight starters gone. Technically, they had just three returning starters, but that doesn’t include Derek McCartney (28 career starts), who missed most of last year with a torn ACL, and Leo Jackson III, who was a full-time starter in 2015. It also didn’t including top corner Isaiah Oliver, who was the nickel back last year.

3. UCLA’s run defense is the worst in the country, allowing 307.5 rushing yards per game and now it has to face Phillip Lindsay. What makes Lindsay so dangerous?

Lindsay has really evolved into an all-around back. Two years ago, he was just a hard-nosed runner who would often choose to run over defenders. Over the last year-plus, he’s developed more patience, he finds the hole better than he used to, and he has become much better at making tacklers miss and avoiding the contact. Despite his size (5-foot-8, 190 pounds), he’s powerful, but has also developed more breakaway speed. In addition to all of that, he’s a very good receiver out of the backfield.

4. How has Steven Montez looked in his first year as the starting quarterback?

He’s had his ups and downs, for sure, but I think that’s to be expected for a young QB. All in all, I think he’s had a good season and flashed many of the skills we knew he had, in terms of improvising and making plays – either with his arm or feet – on the run. The Washington game really epitomized his season. He completed 78 percent of his passes that night and was sharp most of the night, but he also had three interceptions, including a pick-6. Two of those were direct result of poor decisions, which are things the Buffs hope he avoids as he grows up.

5. UCLA fans might most remember Isaiah Oliver for his punt return touchdown that sealed CU’s win last year, but how has he stepped up on defense with so much turnover in the secondary?

Oliver is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated cover corners in the country. There are some within the CU program that will say Oliver was their best corner last year – better than NFL draft picks Chidobe Awuzie and Ahkello Witherspoon. I really think he’s a future first-round pick in the NFL (perhaps even this next spring). He is incredibly talented and athletic (he’s a decathlete on the CU track team) and that allows him to make plays in a lot of ways, whether it’s his ability to stick with his receiver, use his length and leaping ability to make a play on the ball, or recover if he makes a slight mistake early in a route. For the most part, he’s shut down the top receiver on each team, and that makes life easier for the rest of the secondary.