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Colorado quarterback Owen McCown (7) throws a pass against Arizona during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Colorado quarterback Owen McCown (7) throws a pass against Arizona during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
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Five games into the season, the Colorado football team hasn’t been dangerous, let alone explosive, on offense.

The Buffaloes have shuffled the lineup throughout the year, in part because of injuries and in part to find a spark, and they’ve struggled to put points on the board consistently.

Despite the challenges, interim head coach Mike Sanford is encouraged by the progress as the Buffs (0-5, 0-2 Pac-12) prepare for Saturday’s matchup against California (3-2, 1-1) at Folsom Field (12:01 p.m., Pac-12 Network).

“It was really a five-week journey offensively to find an identity and it can be challenging as you go through some attrition from a body standpoint, injuries and players that are dinged up and then coming back,” said Sanford, the Buffs’ offensive coordinator before taking over as interim head coach last week. “But ultimately, I think that we’re really starting to find our identity.”

There is still, of course, plenty of work to be done truly find the identity of the offense. The Buffs, after all, rank 129th (out of 131 FBS teams) with 13.4 points per game and 126th with 277.0 yards per game.

CU has had its two best outings in the last two games, however. Led by true freshman quarterback Owen McCown, they scored a season-high 17 points in the fourth game and topped that with 20 in game five.

McCown has given the passing game a spark, which has, in turn, led to a better rushing attack. CU had a season-best 154 rushing yards at Arizona on Oct.2.

With the offensive showing some progress, CU hopes the defense and special teams can improve and boost the offense even more.

“The whole premise of all three units playing together as one, I think that’s a huge part of it, too,” Sanford said. “You look at drive scoring success charts, if you start your drive on the 25-yard line with consistency as an offense, your scoring percentages are certainly way lower than if you start on the plus-40.”

To help in that regard, CU is emphasizing creating turnovers on defense and aggressive play in all three phases.

“Those things are what I’m looking forward to with response of this team to play with their hair on fire as a unit,” he said. “We’re gonna play together as one Buff family and that’s what I’m starting to see in practice.”

In a groove

Freshman running back Anthony Hankerson is hitting his stride after joining the rotation in the past two games.

After missing the first three games with an injury, Hankerson has 93 yards on 19 carries in the past two games. In CU’s most recent game, at Arizona, he had 12 carries for 68 yards and a touchdown.

“I started out just taking this slow,” he said. “I went down with an injury, but I never left the other players’ side at all. I was still in the meetings, still trying to catch up, still trying to keep my head focused on each game plan every week, even the ones I wasn’t playing in. Just made sure I stayed in it.”

With injuries to veterans Alex Fontenot and Jayle Stacks (who is now back), Hankerson was needed to boost the run game.

“A lot of our backs was going down so I knew I had to step up,” he said. “(The message from running backs coach Darian Hagan) was like, ‘You’ve got to get ready. Stay ready so you don’t have to get ready type of thing.’”

Notable

Another newcomer playing more is safety Jeremy Mack. The junior college transfer had a season-high in snaps (63) and tackles (seven) at Arizona. “He’s new to the defense so he had to kind of pick up things,” safety Trevor Woods said. “He’s starting to catch on, though. And, he’s getting comfortable with everything he’s doing.” … CU has lost two in a row against Cal, but the Buffs have won the last two meetings in Boulder (2013 and 2017). … Offensive line coach Kyle DeVan has been given the title of run game coordinator.

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