Tough defenses

Comparing the Colorado and Washington defenses, with conference ranking in parenthesis:

CU UW

Scoring 18.8 (2) 17.8 (1)

Total yards 323.8 (1) 328.9 (2)

Rushing 135.9 (5) 127.0 (1)

Passing 187.8 (1) 201.9 (2)

Pass efficiency 97.6 (1) 111.3 (3)

3rd-downs 30.2% (1) 31.1% (2)

Red zone 69.4% (1) 75.0% (2)

Sacks 33 (4) 36 (2)

Takeaways 26 (3) 30 (1)

In an age where offenses are more prolific than ever in college football, Colorado and Washington are both putting up points and yards in bunches.

It's no surprise to the coaches, however, that Friday's Pac-12 championship features the two best defensive teams in the conference.

"I do know this: we have an excellent offense and you have to score points in today's college football, but it still goes back to defense," CU head coach Mike MacIntyre said. "Offense just doesn't always click every game. Defense is something that, in a way, can show up every week and find a way to get it done for you. That's what our defense has done this year, that's what Washington's defense has done."

Ranked No. 9 in the national polls and No. 8 in the College Football Playoff, Colorado (10-2, 8-1 Pac-12) has established an identity as a defensive force this season.

Same goes for fourth-ranked Washington (11-1, 8-1). The Huskies have enjoyed a resurgence in recent years in large part because they've learned to stop the opposition.


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"You don't win a bunch of games year after year unless you have championship, high quality defenses," said Washington head coach Chris Petersen, a former offensive coordinator at Boise State. "When it comes down to championships, you have to play a high level of defense. People like to talk about offenses, and you have to be good on both sides, for sure, but I think when push comes to shove, you better play good defense."

This season, both teams rank among the top 17 nationally in total defense, and they are both in the top 13 in scoring defense.

CU has faced quality defensive teams this season, including Michigan, Southern California and Utah. Washington might be the best of the bunch.

"It looks like one of the best defenses we'll face all year," CU quarterback Sefo Liufau said. "Just to see them on film, they have some really good defensive backs, they've got a good front, so it's going to be a real good matchup all game long.

"We're going to have to go out there and make some plays on offense and not leave our defense or our special teams out to dry again."

CU's offense has sputtered at times this year, particularly in wins against Stanford and UCLA, but the Buffs have been able to lean on their defense to come through.

Seemingly every time the defense has been asked to pick up the slack, they've done it. They did it again in Saturday's 27-22 win against Utah, when the offense struggled in the second half.

"We just look at it as a positive thing," linebacker Addison Gillam said. "It's not really a negative thing to us anymore. We like it. We like going out there and being able to get a stop, showing what our defensive is about. It feels good."

The CU defense has made those stops in a variety of ways, whether it's been the secondary coming up with an interception, the linebackers forcing a fumble, or the line stuffing a key third or fourth down run.

If Friday's game against the Huskies comes down to the defense again, they'll be ready.

"When one group is not producing, it is the other group's job to step up and carry the weight," linebacker Jimmie Gilbert said. "When we do that, we know sooner or later our offense is going to get rolling again and put more points on the board."

Scoring points against the Huskies won't be easy. They are stacked with talent on defense, and they lead the country with 30 forced turnovers.

The Buffs are hoping that going against a strong defense in practice every day helps them on Friday.

"We've gone through them all through fall camp, and we get to go through them a little bit each and day and simulate how fast the speed of the game is for our offense," CU co-offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini said. "Our offense has done well. They keep fighting and finding a way to make plays when they have to make the plays."

In a game that features to great defenses, the Buffs may not make a lot of plays on offense. They just hope to make enough.

"I know we'll play well and hopefully we'll play well enough to score one more point than Washington does," MacIntyre said.

Given the way these teams have played this season, it may not take a lot of points to win.

"Defensive gives you a chance to win championships," MacIntyre said. "I think that's why we're both in the championship game, because our defenses have played well throughout the year."

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