(Eds: With AP Photos.)By PAT GRAHAMAP Sports Writer
BOULDER, Colo. (AP) - His knee finally mended, Paul Richardson is baffling and burning defensive backs as he leads the nation in yards receiving.
The speedy Colorado junior wideout believes he's gotten even quicker since his return from a torn left ACL that kept him sidelined all last season.
That's right, quicker.
Hard to argue since Richardson has turned in back-to-back 200-yard performances to help a downtrodden Buffaloes program reel off two straight wins, doubling their total from a year ago.
His 21 catches and 417 yards are gaudy numbers sure to earn him more attention on the field, beginning Saturday when the Buffaloes host Fresno State.
The electric Richardson insisted he's ready for the extra coverage, maintaining he's better prepared - and definitely quicker - than he was before his injury.
``I've grown up a lot. I've gotten a little bit stronger, gotten faster, and think those things have helped me,'' said Richardson, who tore his ACL during spring practice in April 2012 and took a redshirt season. ``I can read coverages better, too. I can find sweet spots in the coverages.''
That's been readily apparent. He erupted for 208 yards against rival Colorado State and followed that up with a 209-yard day in a win over Central Arkansas. Of the five 200-yard receiving games in CU history, Richardson now has three of them, including his record-setting performance in 2011 when he had 284 yards against California.
As Richardson sat out last season, he pictured a return in which he was more explosive and in perfect rhythm with quarterback Connor Wood. Still, this start has been beyond Richardson's imagination.
``I don't think anyone could have envisioned this,'' the 6-foot-1, 170-pound Richardson said. ``I'm very grateful. I wanted to start out fast and wanted us to do well early on, but never expected it to be this well.''
He realizes catches are going to be more difficult to come by with teams focusing on him. The Buffaloes are already moving him all over the place in an effort to get him open, even lining him up in the backfield.
Still, he finds a way to sneak open.
``Yeah, I get surprised sometimes,'' said Richardson, who wears No. 6 because, well, that's how many points TDs are worth (he already has four this season). ``Sometimes, the hardest (passes) to catch are the ones when no one is around you.''
He should know since he's been that open.
Asked why Richardson seems to find so much room, Wood shrugged and said, ``He just beats them. He's a fast guy. He's a talent.''
To think, Richardson wasn't really a receiver at first. Early in high school, he was viewed as more of a cornerback before switching. He quickly learned the art of receiving from his father, Paul Sr., a wideout at UCLA when Hall of Famer Troy Aikman was quarterback for the Bruins.
While in high school, Richardson's primary route was simply to sprint down the field. It worked quite well, too.
Now he relies on preparation, trying to learn his opposition's tendencies in order to exploit them.
``Film work is my TV right now,'' said Richardson, who is good friends with All-American receiver Marqise Lee of USC. ``I do homework, watch film, do homework, watch film and then go to bed.''
He's certainly giving opposing coaches a fitful night of sleep.
Locating him and stopping him remain vastly different.
``He's been like that every day in practice,'' said Buffaloes coach Mike MacIntyre, who's off to a quick start in his first season in charge. ``He makes plays in practice and works at it. ... He's gotten open down the middle, down the side, underneath. That's all by design and that's a great job by our offensive staff. You have to move him around.''
Richardson remembers full well the pain of last season. Sure, the knee bothered him, but so did standing on the sideline watching the Buffaloes play like they did at Fresno State when they fell behind 35-0 after the first quarter and lost 69-14.
``Pretty tough,'' said Richardson, who was named a team captain this season. ``But that game is behind us. That was last year. Last year wasn't fun to watch.
``Our seniors and captains are leading the team very well. Everybody is falling in line, everyone has bought in. That's why we've been playing so well.''