"He's really, really picked it up in terms of toughness and aggressiveness," OL coach Jeff Grimes said. "It's really helped us a lot to have him inside."
Harrison's play in last weekend's win at Texas Tech was so good it earned him the team's offensive player of the week award. He earned the award despite playing only 44 of the team's 71 snaps, because an opponent rolled on his leg and he had to exit the game. (Harrison is fine now and will be back in the lineup vs. Mizzou on Saturday).
In the TTU game, the Buffs were able to establish a run game for three quarters. The offense scored 24 points and, just as importantly, was keeping the Red Raiders' quick-strike offense off the field. That trend changed in the fourth quarter. CU's offense stalled, and the Red Raider offense had three possessions. (Fortunately for the Buffs, Colorado cornerback Terrence Wheatley ended two of those fourth-quarter TTU drives with interceptions).
Why did CU's offense stall in the fourth quarter? It could have been because Harrison had to leave the game after the injury.
In the fourth quarter, with Harrison on the sidelines, the Buffs had the ball for 7:47, but failed to gain a first down. They were 0 of 4 on third-down conversions in the final quarter. That's in contrast to the first three quarters with Harrison playing most of the snaps, when the Buffs managed 19 first downs (12 via running plays) and were 7 of 12 on third-down conversions.
"We really need our guards to be guys who come out and knock those big defensive tackles and nose guards off the ball," Grimes said. "He's added a lot to our run game inside."
Grimes had been thinking about playing Harrison at guard for several months. But he needed true freshman Ryan Miller to get up to speed at tackle before making the switch. Miller played his first series of college ball vs. Miami (Ohio), then moved into the starting role at tackle vs. Kansas State.
Harrison is not a complete stranger to the guard position. He played guard some of his redshirt sophomore season. In fact, guard is probably a more natural position for the 6-foot-4, 295-pounder from Houston.
"That's really his best position," Grimes said, adding that Harrison's best three games this season have been the past three, when he's played inside on the offensive line.
Harrison said the transition was "rocky" at first, but he's feeling more and more comfortable.
"I know I have to get better," he said. "I'm still making a few mistakes here and there, still trying to break some old habits that I had at tackle. Those have been a little bit tough to get rid of. But I'm working each day on little things."
Establishing a running game will be a key if the Buffs are to beat the visiting No. 9-ranked Missouri Tigers this Saturday (4:40 MT/FSN). Missouri boasts a prolific offense, one that is averaging 40 points a game this season. Keeping the ball out of their hands may be the best way of keeping them out of the end zone.
But with all the attention the Missouri offense gets, the Tigers' rush defense has been good, especially in conference play where they've given up an average of just 83 yards a game through four games.
"They are a solid defensive team," Harrison said. "To be a top 10 team in the country, you've got to have a solid defense. People talk about their offense, but that defense, we're going to have to come out and perform. We know that we've got to keep that (MU) offense off the field. We understand that."
Grimes, who in addition to being the offensive line coach, is the team's run game coordinator, challenged his players this week to break open the Missouri run defense. It's going to be more than just a physical challenge. The Tiger defensive front likes to mix things up and give opponents different looks.
"Coach Grimes told us this week this will be a true test for our offensive line and as tight ends and running backs – to see if we can come out and do it again this week," Harrison said. "So, that's what we're getting ready to do."