If the Colorado football team is to get past Utah on Nov. 25 and into a bowl game, it will need to step up its run defense.
The Buffaloes (5-6, 2-6 Pac-12) have slipped to 10th in the Pac-12 in rushing defense, and they rank 104th nationally, giving up 198.7 yards per game.
Utah hasn’t been a rushing juggernaut this year, but at 150.8 yards per game, the Utes (5-5, 2-5) are certainly capable of having success against the Buffs.
In particular, the Buffs, who have a bye this week, are looking to fix their late-game woes against the run, as they’ve been worn down in the second half of the last two games.
“That’s something we need to make sure we’re staying fresher at the end there,” head coach Mike MacIntyre said. “We didn’t stay as fresh as we would like (in the last two games).”
On Nov. 4, Arizona State rallied from 10 points down to beat the Buffs 41-30 by rushing for 274 yards in the second half — after just 107 yards in the first half. Of those, 191 yards came in the fourth quarter.
Last week, Southern California gained 126 of its 193 rushing yards in the second half of a 38-24 win against the Buffs.
Several issues have contributed to CU’s struggles against the run, including fatigue.
MacIntyre said the Buffs have tried to use more players up front and, in particular, they gave junior inside linebacker Drew Lewis some unusual rest against USC.
Going into the USC game, Lewis had played a team-high 97.7 percent of CU’s defensive snaps, sitting out 17 in the first 10 games combined. All of those had come late in games that were lopsided scores.
Against the Trojans, Lewis sat out 19 snaps, playing 54 of 73. True freshman Nate Landman played those 19 snaps in Lewis’ place.
“We started playing Nate Landman a little bit more to help us,” MacIntyre said. “We felt like we were getting maybe a little bit worn down at linebacker in there.
“(Lewis) just gets tired. He plays on special teams and we blitz him all the time. He’s running fast and you get a little bit tired. Your legs are a little weary. If we can get him a little bit more rest, he’ll be a little bit fresher in those (important) situations.”
Regardless of who is in the game, the Buffs need to tackle better. After several games this year, MacIntyre has cited poor tackling as a reason for giving up so many yards on defense.
According to Pro Football Focus’ college statistics, Arizona State’s Demario Richard gained 148 of his 189 rushing yards against CU after first contact. USC’s Ronald Jones II was credited with 104 of his 142 yards coming after against contact against the Buffs.
“We’ve been working technique hard,” MacIntyre said. “Some of the guys out there sometimes were tackling some of those guys too high in situations where you have to get them low because they’ll just bounce off of you. Sometimes running backs make good moves and you have to corral to it and get more guys to the ball.
“They have to wrap up. We work on wrapping up. Backs are too big and too powerful. You have to wrap up and we have to make sure we’re doing that. Every day that we’re in shoulder pads we rep it.”
Prepping for the Utes
The Buffs have an extra week to prepare for Utah, which plays on Saturday at Washington. With the extra time, MacIntyre said “you can never watch too much film,” but said there can be a fine line with trying to do too much with the information gained from studying film.
“You want to get all the fine little details of different things happening to help you, just like they would,” he said.
To this point, the Buffs have 10 games of Utah film to study, but MacIntyre said it will help to watch the 11th game to see if the Utes change anything.
“And of course they’ll change some stuff (against us), see some things that people have hurt us on,” he said. “So you say, ‘Okay, they might try that on us.’ You have a little bit more time on an off-week, but we do that every week anyway.”
MacIntyre said defensive lineman Chris Mulumba continues to improve. In his first year with CU, Mulumba had perhaps his best game against USC. He finished with five tackles, including one for a loss and one for zero yards. “He’s been playing stouter throughout the game,” MacIntyre said. … The Buffs practiced in pads on Wednesday and will do so again on Thursday. … CU cornerback Dante Wigley was named to PFF’s Pac-12 defensive team of the week as the second highest-rated corner in the conference. The top-rated corner was USC’s Ajene Harris, who had two interceptions, including a pick-six, against the Buffs.