Colorado (5-0, 2-0 Pac-12) at USC (3-2, 2-1)
When: Saturday, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Los Angeles Coliseum
TV/Radio: Fox Sports 1/760 AM
At times during the 2017 season, Javier Edwards couldn't get over the feeling that he needed to be making tackles to help the Colorado defense.
The problem was that CU didn't need him to be making those plays.
This year, the senior nose tackle is not only leaner and in better shape; he's also got a greater understanding of his role on the defense and has been one of the best players on that side of the ball for the 19th-ranked Buffs (5-0, 2-0 Pac-12).
"Pad level and not being selfish," Edwards said recently when asked about the difference in his game this season. "Last year, I would stand straight up and try to look in the backfield to make a play. What I realized is it's not about me. That's not my job.
"Just do my job and take up blocks and once I do that, then I can make a play. But, my job is to make sure my linebackers are free. Make sure Nate Landman and Rick Gamboa can run around."
So far, so good.
Edwards has made 18 tackles — on pace for about 10 more than last year — and has already matched his sack total of one from 2017. But, it has been his ability to clog up the middle of the defense and take on double- and triple-team blocks that has made a significant difference for the Buffs.
"Nose guard, they don't always make a lot of plays, but it's not the plays they make; it's the plays they take away," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "I tell our nose guards all the time, nose guards don't make a lot of plays, but in the NFL they make a lot of money. It's the fact that I'm stoning the middle of the defense, so he's got to run outside and then somebody else makes the play."
Landman (48 tackles), Gamboa (36 tackles), defensive end Mustafa Johnson (37 tackles, 4.5 sacks) and others have all taken advantage of Edwards' dirty work.
A transfer from Blinn College, Edwards came to CU in January of 2017 with about 390 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame. By the time the 2017 season rolled around, he was down to roughly 360 pounds.
Recently, he weighed in at 328, and said laying off sugary drinks — such as Gatorade and Hawaiian Punch — was a key to his weight loss.
"It feels great. I'm in good shape," he said. "Losing all that weight is helping me so much. Last year after the second quarter, I was pretty much done. Now it's the end of the fourth and I still feel like the game has just started."
Eliot said Edwards' weight loss has "made him more athletic" up front, which has helped his fundamentals and allowed him to better focus on his role with the defense.
"He's definitely gotten a lot better fundamentally," Eliot said. "A part of being poor fundamentally is you don't execute your assignment. I've seen Javy improve on that tremendously, knowing where he fits within the defense and taking advantage of that."
So far this season, Edwards has been a dominant force in several games — even if he's not making tackles.
"Sometimes it gets frustrating, especially when every team, they try to run outside," he said. "It just gets frustrating sometimes, but if they're not running your way, you're doing something right."