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Colorado Buffalo Preview: Defense

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Colorado's defensive front seven is young and inexperienced, but talented. How will they fare against UCLA's experienced line, or does it depend on who carries the rock for the Bruins?

Colorado cornerback, Chidobe Awuzie, stuffs Oregon State's quarterback
Colorado cornerback, Chidobe Awuzie, stuffs Oregon State's quarterback
Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Bruins Nation’s preview of the Colorado Buffaloes’ defensive. We previewed the offense yesterday.

Jim Leavitt, who left the USF head coaching job in disgrace in 2010 after an investigation found that he had struck a player during halftime of a game, has taken over defensive coordinator duties in Boulder this season. Although there have been some rough patches, his charges held Oregon State to one TD and 3 FG attempts (2 of which were made) last week on the road in Corvallis.

Let take a look at CU’s defensive statistics through eight games, and see how those stats match up to UCLA on paper. Then let’s breakdown each subgroup of defense, and analyze how the Bruins' offense might match up against the Buffs’ D on the gridiron.

Statistics

Total Defense

Colorado’s defense is ranked #96 (out of 128 teams) in total defense, allowing 432.9 yards per game. And this is factoring wins against a couple of 1-5 squads, UMass and Nichols State. They are facing an up-tempo UCLA offensive that is ranked #23 in the country, averaging 478.7 yards per game.

Rushing Defense

Colorado’s rushing defense is very poor, ranked #110 in the nation, giving up an average 209.5 yard per game on the ground. UCLA’s offensive ground game is excellent, ranked #38 and racking up an average of 194.3 yards per game. A lot of that is Paul Perkins and Nate Starks though, and their playing status is unclear at the time of this writing, although Perk is practicing. If those guys do not play (or do not play a lot), will freshmen Soso Jamabo and/or Bolu Olorunfunmi step up and have big games from the Bruins? Each has shown that he is capable in the past. Jamabo had a great game last week, with 79 yards, 18 carries and a touchdown.

Passing Yards Allowed

Colorado appears to have a slightly above average passing defense, ranked #58, with opponents averaging 216.8 yards through the air per contest. Josh Rosen has been excellent so far, and UCLA’s #25 ranking in passing offensive reflects that. The Bruins average 284.4 yards through the air. If Devin Fuller, Jordan Payton, and Thomas Duarte play like they did last week, things could get ugly for the Buffs.

Thoughts on the Stats

UCLA appears to have advantages both running and passing the ball, although the running back situation complicates things for the Bruins. Let’s look at the defensive units to see how CU matches up with UCLA.

Defensive Line

We should see Justin Solis, a true senior who played in 31 games the past three seasons, including eight combined starts in his freshman and sophomore years, starting at nose tackle. He did not get a start last season, but was part of the rotation at defensive tackle throughout the season. Solis has 36 tackles and 3 sacks on the season. The other defensive tackle position will be manned by junior, Jordan Carrell, in his first season as a Buff after junior college in Northern California. Carrell, who impressed in spring ball, has 31 tackles with 4 of those for loss.

Leo Jackson III is expected to start at right end. Jackson, a sophomore transfer from junior college, is also in his first season as a Buff. Jackson has 27 tackles and 2 sacks on the year.

Aside from Solis, this is an inexperienced group. If UCLA’s line can perform like it did early in the season and like it did last week against U.C. Berkeley, the Bruins-even if reduced to Jamabo and Olorunfunmi—could really pound the rock on Saturday.

Linebacker

Sophomore, Derek McCartney is listed as a SAM or a left end, depending on what resource one relies upon. We will include him with the ‘backers. Either way, the redshirt sophomore started all twelve games last season, where he recorded 34 tackles, including 6 for loss. This season, McCartney has already made 39 tackles, including 2 for loss, 3 sacks, and an interception.

Jaleel Awini is in his first season with the Buffs, after transferring from Air Force. He was recruited as a quarterback by Air Force, and now plays weak side linebacker (WILL) for CU. He has 21 tackles on the year.

Rick Gamboa, a redshirt freshman, has burst onto the scene at inside (MIKE) linebacker. Gamboa leads the team in tackles with 55, and has recorded a sack.

Kenneth Olugbode plays inside (JACK) linebacker for Colorado. Last season, he started all 12 games at the WILL position, leading the team in tackles with 83. This season he has 45 tackles, one for loss. He also has a pick 6 that went for 60 yards.

Like their defensive line, there appears to be skill at the linebacker positions, but the players do not have much experience or, in Olugbode's case, much experience at his current position. This could be a very good unit next year and an even better unit in 2017. This Saturday, however, this unit could have some tough sledding against UCLA.

Secondary

The cornerbacks are junior Chidobe Awuzie and senior Kenneth Crawley.

Awuzie, who started seven times as a true freshman and every game (9 total) until he was injured late season with a lacerated kidney (ouch!), is healthy and is a bright spot for the Buffs. He has 49 tackles on the season (four of which were for loss), good for second on the team, four sacks, and two INTs. Crawley, a true senior, started 21 games before this season. He has 40 tackles and an INT this season.

Awuzie and Crawley are experienced and should present interesting match ups with UCLA’s experienced receiving corp.

Ryan Moeller, a redshirt sophomore, slots in at free safety. Moeller has a pick, 47 tackles, and one tackle for loss. Tedric Thompson, a true junior will get the start at strong safety. Thompson has 47 tackles, 2 for loss.

Although these Moeller and Thompson have good numbers, it is never a good thing when your safeties are 3rd and 4th on your team in tackles. This is another instance where the #110 ranking in rushing defense is explained by individual statistics. Opponents' running backs are getting to the third level. By means of comparison, we can agree that UCLA’s rushing defense has been poor this season but, even so, Jaleel Wadood and Tahaan Goodman are 5th and 6th in tackles for UCLA following three linebackers and Kenny Clark, respectively. That’s not good, but it’s not 3rd and 4th either.

Strategy and Analysis

Unlike the Bruins, Colorado has managed to stay injury free on the defensive side of the ball. They are, however, very young in the front seven, which is reflected by their #110 ranking in rushing defense. Their secondary is better and more experienced, especially the corners, but I think Josh Rosen and UCLA have the weapons to carve apart most passing defenses, including this one.

It will be interesting to see UCLA's run/pass ratio of plays based on the relative match ups, factoring in the potential absence or Perkins and/or Starks. Will it be business as usual? Or will UCLA let Rosen loose, like against Virginia and U.C. Berkeley. If Jamabo gets the start, I could see him having a breakout performance in this game. If he starts, I predict that he rushes for over 125 yards and at least two touchdowns. You heard it here first.

We’ve come to the end of yet another Bruins Nation preview of an opponent’s defense. It’s hard to fathom that 2/3 of the regular season will be completed after the Colorado game. Where has the time gone? If you have any more input or thoughts, please add them in the comment section below.

Only two more days until another beautiful Saturday at the Rose Bowl! Go Bruins!