CU Buffs defense working through growing pains

Buffs showed in-game improvement vs. CSU; now face Nebraska

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Giving up 31 points and 505 yards typically won’t bring a smile to the face of anyone on a defense.

Colorado linebacker Nate Landman came away from Friday’s 52-31 win against Colorado State feeling encouraged, however.

Growing pains are expected of the Buffs (1-0), who are in their first season with head coach Mel Tucker and his staff. The defense, playing its first game with the 3-4 scheme installed by Tucker and coordinator Tyson Summers, certainly experienced some early bumps.

It was how the Buffs finished that made an impression on Landman.

DENVER, CO - Aug. 30, 2019: ...
Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
Colorado’s Davion Taylor, left, and Nate Landman take down Colorado State’s Marvin Kinsey Jr. on Friday in Denver.

“I was very pleased,” said the junior, who had a team-high 11 tackles. “(CSU) came out and I knew they were going to hit us with something new. They attacked us well in the first half.

“What made me most excited was the young guys on our defense were able to take those (halftime) adjustments and really apply that quick, little 10-minute lesson to the field. The score showed that it worked.”

The in-game changes were encouraging, but the Buffs know their defense will get an even tougher test on Saturday when Nebraska (1-0) and dynamic quarterback Adrian Martinez comes to Boulder. (1:35 p.m., TV: Fox).

“They’re an explosive offense and he’s a great dual threat quarterback,” Landman said. “They want to attack the edges and they have big guys up the middle. They can attack everywhere they want to do. They’ll definitely test the perimeters.”

CSU burned the Buffs on the perimeter last week, especially early.

Sensational freshman Dante Wright used his speed to rack up 120 yards (61 receiving, 59 rushing) and two touchdowns on only six touches in the first half.

In all, CSU had 31 points and 432 yards on its first nine possessions, averaging 7.9 yards per play.

Often using its base 3-4 defense, the Buffs struggled at times against the Rams, but held a 38-31 lead early in the fourth quarter in part because of three forced turnovers.

“We didn’t run too many calls,” Landman said. “We kept it pretty vanilla. I think just getting that game speed and those first-game jitters and rust out was good for us. I loved the way the defense played in the game and how we incorporated what we did through camp into the game and how we kept the play call sheet small and just focused on executing those plays perfectly.

“I think it was a good way to transition from practice to game speed. We have a lot of young guys. Even me being a veteran guy, it’s a new defense and playing a game with a new defense. I think (the coaches) did a great job of just easing us into it.”

When the Buffs really needed to buckle down, however, they mixed it up. Leading 45-31 with less than 10 minutes to play, the Buffs got more athletes on the field defensively, often using a nickel defense or utilizing three defensive backs along with Star backer Davion Taylor.

The result: CSU had zero points and 83 yards (3.5 per play) on its final four possessions, while the Buffs finally got a solid pass rush going that produced two sacks. One of those sacks, by Jonathan Van Diest, led to a fumble return for touchdown.

The Buffs also made Wright a non-factor in the second half, with one catch for 11 yards.

While the final numbers weren’t pretty, Landman said film review showed a defense that got better and has plenty of room to grow.

“We were plus-four (on turnover margin) and we scored on defense, as well,” he said. “We want to focus on the positive and learn from the negatives. The first half they came out and attacked us hard, but I think we grew into a stronger team from the first quarter to the fourth quarter and that’s where we took our biggest strides.”

Martinez and the Huskers will require the Buffs to crank it up another notch. In last year’s meeting in Lincoln, Martinez, had 304 total yards (187 passing, 117 rushing) and accounted for three touchdowns against the Buffs. The Huskers also have a talented group of running backs, All-Big-Ten receiver JD Spielman and a tight end (Jack Stoll) that is capable of a big day.

Martinez presents the biggest challenge to the Buffs’ defense.

“It’s rare that you can see a quarterback that can throw the ball accurately in the pocket and also is a threat to run at any moment,” CU head coach Mel Tucker said. “I believe your quarterback has to be your No. 1 competitor and on tape he looks that way. He puts a lot of pressure on you defensively because of all the things he can do.

“Everyone is going to be at the point of attack on every play. We’ll have to be at our best.”