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Opponent Defense Preview: Buffs

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2016 title game rematch tiyeeem. Oh what’s that? They’ve played each other thrice since then? Okay, nevermind...

Oregon State v Colorado Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Intros? Still dumb.

Still not gonna do one.

Ahem:

Personnel and What to Expect

Their last four games, Colorado’s given up 44, 34, 52, and 26 points. Other than Arizona, who doesn’t count, the Buffs have only held one team to less than 25 points — and that team was somehow 16th ranked Texas A&M at 10 points. At the most basic look on paper, this defense is kind of bizarre.

Recently, they’ve suffered extra from losing their all-everything linebacker Nate Landman, out the last month-ish after an injury against Cal October 23rd, although Coach Karl Dorrell has said he could come back against Washington. Quinn Perry has taken Landman’s place and, predictably, not been able to replicate his productivity.

Along with that, Colorado’s giving up on average 184 rushing yards per game. For reference, that’s almost as bad as Washington (but not quite). Similarly, the Buffs’ pass defense in their back seven/eight is kind of all or nothing, which seems to be exacerbated by linebackers not necessarily being consistent in coverage. More on that in a moment.

Meanwhile, while PFF grades are of course taken with a grain of salt, it doesn’t mean nothing that Colorado’s only defensive player with a score above 70 is edge rusher Carson Wells, especially when you cross-examine that with their total defensive performances and eye test. Their defense isn’t consistently great anywhere, but if there’s an area where they show at least flashes, I’d argue it’s the pass rush.

Granted, on paper this doesn’t look remotely true; CU’s averaging just over one sack per game, better than only four teams in the FBS. So... not great. But while watching them play, it’s clear that they’re at least capable of generating some pressure, it’s mostly a matter of consistency (or lack thereof) plus the rest of the defense not helping them out a whole lot.

For example, against UCLA, they had created decent pressure on some plays but Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s mobility was too much for them more often than not — both small adjustments within the pocket to buy time, and getting out of the pocket to extend the play or take off. Oregon State was a similar case; Carson Wells in particular had a few plays against the passer including a sack.

Exacerbating the pass rush’s lack of consistency or explosiveness is the aforementioned inconsistency from everyone in coverage. On one hand, they aren’t completely void of interceptions for a team where A) opponents don’t have to pass that much because their rush defense is butt so running on the ground is free yardage and B) the pass rush is statistically not good. But I’d argue that, in their recent stream of games anyway, that’s less about the secondary and more about — again — the pass rush being better than they’re statistically given credit for rather than the defensive backs being particularly opportunistic.

I say this for two reasons: One, in many cases, these turnovers came off of crappy throws that might not show up on the box score for the defensive line, but were forced by them and frankly would’ve been intercepted even if it were you the reader in coverage. And two, the pass coverage otherwise has many moments of either breaking down or just poor anticipation in a veeery soft zone.

In general against Colorado, if opposing quarterbacks aren’t forced to make poor throws from pressure, they can often find a lot of space to make a play in.

One other issue that makes the Buffs’ lives harder is that they aren’t super great tacklers, especially outside the hashmarks. Obviously no one looks very good against Zach Charbonnet, but Colorado especially looked... not great. Frankly, last week’s score of 44-20 could’ve gone even worse against them if it weren’t for some dumb UCLA penalties.

They’re not complete pushovers and definitely have potential — on the edge, for example — but Colorado should be one of the easier defenses the Dawgs have played so far.

Bottom Line

If it weren’t for the fact that Washington’s offensive ineptitude is such that scoring 30 whole points against ASU last week was a breakthrough, I’d say they’d have no trouble against CU’s defense. Unfortunately... well, you know.

On the plus side, there should be enough space for at least a decent passing game, and it’s not even like they’re so strong on the ground that you’d have to rely on Morris’s arm anyway. Honestly, because they’re kind of mediocre across the board, there isn’t really any one thing that stands out as a target that the Dawgs’ offense should specifically try to attack. This is more or less a defense where you kinda just shouldn’t overthink it. If you’re balanced, stay balanced! This would be a good opportunity for Junior Adams to build on his calling last week — obviously the offense against ASU wasn’t fantastic, but even just the first two drives were more cohesive, creative, and purposeful than everything John Donovan did in all of his games combined. Especially if Nate Landman is still gonna be out for the Buffs, having the running game building upon different lateral movements could yield a lot so long as the running backs executing that are decisive in cutting upfield.

Otherwise in the passing game it mostly just comes down to Dylan Morris waiting for that space to open up; it will do so — Rome Odunze, Jalen McMillan, Terrell Bynum, Cade Otton, etc. are better at their job than the Colorado back eight is at theirs — it’s just a matter of whether Morris doesn’t get too jittery waiting for those opportunities.

Do good things, don’t do bad things, and bow down to Washington.