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Run defense for Colorado football trying to finish what it starts

Colorado won't be able to afford too many missed tackles against the strong rushing attack of Minnesota. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Colorado won’t be able to afford too many missed tackles against the strong rushing attack of Minnesota. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Statistically, Colorado’s defense hasn’t performed any better than the Buffaloes’ beleaguered offense during the team’s 0-2 start.

Yet a closer examination of those lopsided losses shows a defense that has at least given a struggling team a chance to compete before wearing down after halftime.

If there was a position group perhaps considered a team strength coming into the season, it was the Buffs’ defensive front. That group has been unable to consistently maintain its glimmers of promise, and many of those players were on the field last year when Minnesota gashed the Buffs for 278 rushing yards while handing CU a shutout loss in Boulder.

Getting even in the rematch on Saturday at Minnesota (1:30 p.m., ESPN2) will almost certainly require a better start-to-finish performance from CU’s run defense.

“We’ve just got to stay detailed with our technique until the clock hits zero,” CU defensive lineman Na’im Rodman said. “Just stress the focus on the little things. I wouldn’t say it’s (getting) worn out. It’s complementary football. Turnovers, offense scores. Offense scores, then a three-and-out.

“Sometimes it just might not be enough. At the end of the day, everybody wants more. You’ve just got to give more.”

Dorrell spoke at length this week about playing better complementary football. Despite heading to Minnesota with a defense ranked last in the Football Bowl Subdivision against the run (355 yards per game), the group nonetheless has done its part in at least keeping the team in each fight early.

In the opener against TCU, the CU defense began the season with a three-and-out and forced punts on each of TCU’s first three possessions. The Buffs trailed 7-6 at halftime due to a struggling offense and a special teams breakdown, and after halftime CU’s defense went from stout to sieve. TCU managed just 14 rushing yards on five attempts in the first half, but rolled through the Buffs for 261 rushing yards after the break.

CU’s run defense was a little more balanced last week at Air Force, surrendering 222 yards in the first half 213 in the second half, though that latter total was skewed somewhat by the Falcons’ 39-yard loss on a botched punt snap. Still, the two first half touchdowns surrendered by the Buffs occurred after AFA was given short fields by CU turnovers. And after the defense forced an Air Force punt on the Falcons’ second possession of the third quarter, the Buffs still only trailed by 10 points with the defense turning the ball over to the offense in Falcons territory.

Of course, the defense wasn’t able to sustain that effort in either game. It won’t get any easier to do so at Minnesota. One week after facing the nation’s top rushing attack at Air Force, Minnesota enters Saturday’s game ranked second in the nation with 302 rushing yards per game.

“We do feel like in a lot of ways the kind of game that we just went through (at Air Force), which was a deep rushing attack — different schemes, but deep rushing attack — is really going to help us prepare better for this week,” Dorrell said. “Different schemes, I get it. But the physicality of the game. We still have the same assignments and things they’ve got to continue to work on and improve on.

“There were times when there were some really good defensive series in there in the game (at Air Force). There’s some stuff that defensively we’ll build on that will help us defend and be better this week.”