Last Saturday night, I stood outside of the visitors' locker room at Arizona Stadium in Tucson and chatted a bit with Colorado defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt.

It was the first time I had spoken with Leavitt immediately after a game since Sept. 17, in the moments after CU's 45-28 loss at Michigan.

"I was very upset after that game," Leavitt said.

Yes, he was. Leavitt was adamant that there was nothing to celebrate about standing toe-to-toe with a highly ranked Michigan squad. He came here to win, not play close, he said.

Leavitt's demeanor was much different after last week's 49-24 win at Arizona.

Since that game at Michigan, the Buffs are 6-1 and Leavitt's defense has been exceptional. And, he was already looking forward to the next challenge.

That next challenge has arrived, as the 12th-ranked Buffaloes (8-2, 6-1 Pac-12) will host No. 20 Washington State on Saturday at Folsom Field in a showdown of Pac-12 division leaders.

"It'll be a real challenge for us," Leavitt said. "I've watched them a fair amount. I have a pretty good understanding of what they do."

This week, Leavitt and the Buffs had to once again shift gears to preparing for a completely different type of offense. After facing Arizona and its talented, dual-threat quarterback, the Buffs will face Washington State and its talented pocket passer who doesn't run at all, but can shred a defense with his arm.

"We've been doing it all year," Leavitt said of the dramatic change in preparation from one week to the next.


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"We go to Michigan (a pro-style team), and then the next week we have Oregon (which runs a spread offense) on the road up there, which I thought was one of our best defensive days. I know they got yards on us, but for us to shut them out in the fourth quarter at that time in the year, when they still had some moxie, was a real challenge.

"We've had to do it all year."

Throughout Pac-12 play, the Buffs really haven't played two similar offenses in back to back weeks. Yet, they've found a way to step up to each challenge.

With two games to play in the regular season, the Buffs lead the Pac-12 in several major statistical categories:

  • Total defense - 308.4 yards allowed per game
  • Scoring defense - 17.9 points allowed per game (tied with Washington)
  • Passing defense - 176.9 yards allowed
  • Pass efficiency defense - 98.8 opponent QB rating
  • Opponent third down conversion rate - 30.7 percent
  • Red zone defense - Opponents scoring just 66.7 percent of the time

They are fourth in rushing yards allowed per game (131.5), but give up just 3.7 yards per carry, which is the best number in the conference.

"We're a little bit more confident than probably what we were last year," Leavitt said in explaining how the Buffs have managed to shift gears from one week to the next.

Leavitt wasn't too interested in talking about how the Buffs had done in previous weeks, though. He was already thinking about the Cougars.

"I've got pretty good blinders on," he said. "I am so laser focused. At the end of the year, I'll look back and see how we did, but at this point right now, I don't really think about much of anything else other than Washington State."

And, he wasn't going to waste any time in preparing for the Cougars.

It was already past midnight as Leavitt and the Buffs boarded the busses and headed for the Tucson airport. They wouldn't get back to Boulder until the early hours of Sunday morning.

"I won't go home," Leavitt said. "I'll grade this film in the office after we fly in. I'll probably try to go home for two or three hours and then I've got to get on Washington State."

Motivation

CU head coach Mike MacIntyre has been a believer in his team all year. As the Buffs have produced wins and gained more and more confidence, MacIntyre said he's had to push the players even more.

"Oh yeah. As a coach, your job is to lead them, your job is to set the standard and then your job is to find the right buttons, whatever that might be," he said. "There's times you have to do different things to make them achieve their goals. Tom Landry used to always say a coach's job is to make the players do the things they don't want to do to reach the goals they want to reach. Those are things I have to do."

So far, MacIntyre has pushed the right buttons and the Buffs find themselves in the midst of a special season.

"I think it's real special for the university, the fans, the beat writers that have been covering us," MacIntyre said. "I think it's exciting for everybody and that's fun for me to see when everybody is excited about that."

Dedication

After talking to Leavitt about his defense, I was curious if the well-known Pepsi fan likes all flavors of the soda. I got an emphatic, "No!"

Leavitt hates Cherry Pepsi and won't touch the diet stuff. Recently on his way into work, he stopped at a convenience store to grab a bottle of Pepsi. Upon leaving the store, he realized he grabbed a Cherry Pepsi. So, he stopped at the next convenience store, offered the Cherry Pepsi to a man outside and went in to buy a regular Pepsi.

Gotta love Leavitt's dedication to what he likes!

Notable

  • In CU's last two games against Arizona - Oct. 17, 2015, and last Saturday - the Buffs' defense gave up 35 fourth quarter points to the Wildcats. In the 15 games they played in between those meetings, the defense yielded just 44 fourth-quarter points (2.9 per game).
  • Keep an eye on the turnover battle Saturday. CU and Washington State have both forced 20 turnovers this season - tied for 22nd in the country. CU has forced a turnover in 23 consecutive games, which is the longest streak in the country. The Cougars have forced a turnover in nine of 10 games this season.
  • In 2014, CU ranked 125th in the country in takeaways (11), and WSU was ranked 127th with 8. There are only 128 teams in the FBS, so that's not good. After that season, both teams hired a new defensive coordinator - Leavitt at CU and Alex Grinch at WSU. Since then, the Cougars have forced 44 turnovers and CU has forced 42.

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33.