CU Buffs aim to get defense back on track

After dominating start, group has struggled in last three games

BOULDER, Colo. - April 7, 2021: Colorado defensive coordinator Chris Wilson during the Buffaloes’ spring football practice on Wednesday in Boulder. (University of Colorado Athletics)
BOULDER, Colo. – April 7, 2021: Colorado defensive coordinator Chris Wilson during the Buffaloes’ spring football practice on Wednesday in Boulder. (University of Colorado Athletics)

Colorado’s football team is hoping a bye week gave it an opportunity to figure out some answers to problems on offense, but that isn’t the only side of the ball that needed a recharge.

After a strong start to the season, the Buffs’ defense also needed last week’s bye to try to get back on track.

“The bye week for our staff was really a chance for us to get to dig into our schemes and evaluate our personnel,” defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said. “That was really critical for us, looking at some of the things that we do well, and making sure we keep emphasizing those things but also having really good self-awareness about the things that we need to improve on.

BOULDER, CO - Oct. 2, 2021: ...
University of Colorado Boulder’s Isaiah Lewis tries to defend a touchdown catch by USC’s Michael Trigg during the Pac-12 game in Boulder, Co on October 2, 2021. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

“We made that a big point of emphasis not only from what we’re doing on the field but even from the meeting standpoints and how meetings are going and how we are trying to structure those. So, it was really good for us.”

CU (1-4, 0-2 Pac-12) hosts Arizona (0-5, 0-2) on Saturday at Folsom Field (1:30 p.m., TV: Pac-12 Network).

The Buffs rank sixth in the Pac-12 in scoring defense (23.8 points per game), but they’ve allowed 102 points in the last three games. Arizona is 11th in the Pac-12 in scoring, at 16.8 points per game and is only the team with fewer touchdowns than CU.

This season, the Buffs got off to a great start defensively, giving up just 17 points in the first two games. The defense was solid in Week 3, too, despite a 30-0 loss to Minnesota. The Gophers took advantage of a pair of second-half CU turnovers to turn the game into a blowout.

During the past two games, however, the Buffs have allowed 35 and 37 points, with Arizona State and Southern California both burning the Buffs with big plays. USC, in particular, beat the Buffs several times with big plays in the passing game.

“Some of that was on the play call, in regards to when you’ve got to bracket a receiver sometimes,” Wilson said. “You’ve got to pick your poison sometimes when you’ve got elite skill across the field. So, some of that is play calling.

“I’m willing to give up a run here and there to be able to handle those shots and explosive plays (in the passing game) because the quickest way to score a touchdown is to throw it over your head.”

Unfortunately for the Buffs, USC hit several of those plays in the passing game – with five passes for at least 26 yards.

“We learned a lot from the past week on some of the things that we can improve on in regards to mixing and matching our bracket coverages when we need it,” Wilson said.

Defensive lineman Jalen Sami said the week off was good for the defense as the Buffs look to regroup.

“We feel pretty good,” Sami said. “That extra couple of days off, getting our bodies right, definitely is beneficial for us and especially for me. Coming back with this week starting off, we had a first great two practices Monday and Tuesday.”

The Buffs are hoping to translate those good practices into a good performance on game day, and a big part of that, Wilson said, is making plays and winning the one-on-one battles that ASU and USC won in previous weeks.

“Now it’s time for us to make the plays,” Wilson said. “The biggest thing for us is getting our guys to have the ability to win one-on-ones. You’re going to have to make plays in space and so you can’t bracket everybody. You can’t help everybody (in coverage), so when it’s your moment of truth you’ve got to be able to execute at a high level and that’s what this whole week has been about.”

While the main objective for CU is to get its inept offense going, Wilson said the Buffs’ defense is focusing on doing its job and trying to give the offense more and better opportunities to score.

CU actually ranks second in the Pac-12 in third-down defense, holding the opponents to a 35.8% conversion rate, but ASU and USC combined to go 10-for-22 (45.5%). The Buffs are also giving up 6.8 yards per play on second down.

“The best way to get off the field is three-and-outs and so we’ve got to win some of those critical downs,” Wilson said.

“I believe that the best defense has got to be out there and when you can get off the field and get three-and-outs, you set a field position. That’s our goal every day is to give our guys the ball back (on offense) with great field position and the best way to do that is get three-and-outs.”