In 31 years prowling the sidelines of college and professional football fields, Greg Brown has seldom felt as frustrated as he does this fall as defensive coordinator for the Colorado Buffaloes.
Brown's defense is allowing 43 points and nearly 500 total yards of offense per game and it hasn't even played the best opponent on its schedule yet. That comes this week when the 1-6 Buffs travel to No. 2 Oregon, which is scoring 51 points a game and is undefeated at 7-0.
"It's a frustrating thing when any coach, any defensive staff, pour their heart and soul into something and yet we haven't seen results," Brown said. "The only thing we can do is dig our way out and get better in all phases, as coaches, as players, practice habits, in our preparation. It's just leaving no stone unturned."
Colorado fans are obviously frustrated and they're directing their anger at Brown, head coach Jon Embree and other defensive coaches. Brown said he believes in what the defensive staff is teaching and he sees development in individual players, but some of the success the Buffs experience on the practice fields isn't also occurring on game days.
That is where the frustration comes in. Helping players be more successful in games is Brown's biggest challenge.
"Each week, somebody is coming up with some new twist and you better have an answer for it because if you don't, they're going to exploit it," Brown said. "In years past, that wasn't necessarily the case, but nowadays coordinators and offensive head coaches have seen what other people have done and they're building on it and adding their own twist."
Brown isn't the only one searching for answers to the Buffs' defensive woes. Embree said this week on the Pac-12 coaches call that he hasn't been able to pinpoint why the Buffs continue to struggle so badly on the side of the ball.
"That's probably the most frustrating, not being able to put a finger on one or two things, like, this is what we need to do to fix that," he said. "We just have to stay the course right now and look at different ways we can help."Colorado has played eight true freshmen on defense this year, but it seldom has more than three or four on the field together. Six of the Buffs' top-10 tacklers are juniors or seniors, players who ought to understand schemes and what it takes to be successful on Saturdays. Another one of the top-10 tacklers is sophomore Brady Daigh, who already has played plenty of football in his young career.
To his credit, Brown said using young players such as starting cornerback Kenneth Crawley, starting defensive tackles Josh Tupou and Samson Kafovalu and safety Marques Mosley is only part of the problem. He said veterans on defense have made key mistakes this season as well.
Brown said every player on the field needs to make sure they are aligned properly to start each play, know their assignment, use the proper technique and execute. He said he emphasizes that with players every week. Brown said he would also like his defense to improve on swarming to the ball and gang tackling, which is hard to do against offenses that spread defenses out these days.
Brown said the number of big plays his defense has allowed also bothers him. He said the Buffs have to focus on doing their jobs as individuals and they will improve as a unit. CU has allowed 49 plays of 20 yards or more through seven games, including 37 passes.
"When you simply give somebody a big play, it's like baseball. It's an unearned home run, an unearned base," Brown said.
Several Buffs emerged from the losing locker room last week at USC and questioned whether some of their teammates were watching enough film on opponents before games and fully studying and understanding game plans. Brown said he believes all of his players are putting in the work ahead of time. He said Ray Polk and Parker Orms might have been speaking out of frustration in the heat of the moment and he has talked with both players this week.
Ultimately, Brown takes responsibility for how the Buffs are playing and getting it fixed. "Any time you don't have success, you're always going to look and blame yourself first and say, 'What could we do better? How could we put our players in better positions,'" Brown said. "It really goes hand in hand. It's up to coaches to find a way to put players in positions and it's up to players to understand the game plan, get it practiced correctly and then execute it in a game."
Embree when asked if coaches had used anyone specific on scout team offense to simulate the speed of some of Oregon's players:
"You can't. We don't have, we only have a couple fast guys anyway. It's not like we have a plethora of them to put out there to simulate that. But the tempo of the offense, I think we've done a good job simulating that."
Chaparral High School tight end Mitch Parsons announced he has de-committed from CU. ... The Buffs practiced in a steady, cold rain Wednesday. Embree said it was probably fitting because it could be the weather they play in at Oregon. ... USC players said freshman defensive lineman Leonard Williams was reacting to being spit on last week when he punched the facemask of Colorado offensive lineman Daniel Munyer while on the ground. Embree said he didn't believe Williams was spit on. "Our players don't do that," Embree said. ... Embree said he expects offensive lineman Jack Harris and cornerback Yuri Wright to play this week. Fellow offensive lineman David Bakhtiari was held out of Wednesday's practice with a sore ankle. ... Embree said punter Darragh O'Neill played well at USC despite an injured plant foot suffered last Thursday.