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2001: Chris Brown, 946 yards rushing, Bobby Purify, 916 yards, Cortlen Johnson, 567 yards rushing, 382 yards receiving.
The Buffs always went with the hot hand during those years, and the different running styles between the backs created problems for opposing teams.
Eric Bieniemy was running backs coach during those seasons. Last year when Shawn Simms took over those duties, the trend began to change, especially after Purify went down with an injury in Game 3. Calhoun became the featured back, rushing for 810 yards in an offense that leaned heavily on the passing game.
At first glance, it seemed like the Buffs moved away from the three-back rotation in 2003 because an inexperienced offensive line dictated that CU move away from the rushing attack, not because of a change in coaching philosophy.
However, the trend has continued in 2004 as well, as Colorado has moved back to a balanced offense. So far, Purify has carried the bulk of the load this season. The fifth-year senior has 86 carries, while five other backs have combined for 41 carries, mostly in mop-up duty.
Purify has played well, and that, says sophomore running back Daniel Jolly, has been the reason team captain Purify has gotten the ball so often.
"Bobby's been producing," Jolly said Monday. "He's paid his dues. He has the team's support, and we want to see him do well. If he continues to do well, he should be the one playing."
One thing going against Purify continuing to be the primary running weapon is a history of injuries. As of Monday afternoon, his status for Saturday's game vs. Oklahoma State is day-to-day after he banged up a shoulder against Missouri.
That injury means CU will have to prepare three tailbacks for the Cowboys, according to Simms. But which three will that be?
"It all depends what personnel we're in," Simms said. "If we're in pro personnel it could be (Lawrence) Vickers or Jolly. One-back (personnel) could be either one of them. We're looking for those two guys to step it up. And we've got to get one of the younger guys (Hugh Charles, Isaiah Crawford or Byron Ellis) ready too."
But the musical chairs brings up another issue that explains the change in CU's rushing attack the past two seasons. In 2001 and '02, Colorado had a regular blocking fullback in Brandon Drumm, and played in a two-back set more than they have the past two years.
Things now are more situational. Without a true blocking fullback CU became more elaborate in their running game last year, in terms of packages and personnel. That's carried over to this season in an even greater way. But even though they can throw more combinations of backs at defenses, the Buffs are actually limiting themselves at tailback – the player who actually gets the carries.
That's mostly because Vickers and Jolly — the two running backs with proven ability to earn carries — are playing "Versatile-back," which has functioned as a fullback/receiving back this year.
At this point, the other three true tailbacks on the roster are unproven. And so, Colorado is no longer a team that will bring a handful of different runners with differing styles at a defense.
As for Jolly, he's accepted his role, whichever it may be from week to week, with maturity.
"I'm not exactly sure what role I'll be playing (against Oklahoma State)," he said. "I'm just going to go out to practice and work hard and make sure I'm ready."
Execution a key in loss
After watching film of Saturday's loss to Missouri, Jolly, who didn't play in the game, said poor execution was the problem for the Buffs.
"That's not like this team, and I'm not used to seeing that out of this team," he said. "It wasn't by any means something they did to us. They played exceptional — I mean, to hold someone to nine points — but looking at the film, just the minor details that we couldn't execute really came back to haunt us. So we need a lot of detail work this week. We should see a change."