Before the raid: Previewing the Colorado defense

Addison Gillam has been a rare bright spot for Colorado. - Christian Petersen

I'll admit, I just don't have the energy to care any more. Colorado's defense is bad.

The defense is bad because they haven't recruited well, and then those recruits weren't developed well, or put into a position to succeed by their coaches. Some of the players have had to play for three different coaches.

I did no research whatsoever on the above paragraph. I'm just guessing it's true. Whatever. This game isn't worth expending any more than the bare minimum of effort and energy. This is the worst conference game Cal has been involved in since . . . well, since I've been a legal adult, so beyond my personal memory. I'll start caring on Saturday, after kickoff, because I have a pavlovian response to that kind of stuff. But right now, knowing that there's a basketball double header tonight? MEH!

Personnel

Defensive Line: Jr. LDE Juda Parker; So. DT Josh Tupou; So DT Justin Solis; Sr. RDE Chidero Uzo-Diribe

Colorado has just 12 sacks this year, four fewer even than Cal's anemic pass rush, and only four have been produced by the starting defensive line. In other words, this isn't a group that can create pressure with a four man pass rush, at least against every other offensive line in the conference. And considering how Cal's line has looked in pass protection lately, I'm actually fairly confident that Cal can keep Jared Goff well protected.

The one veteran on the line, Uzo-Dirible, is the only player with stats reflecting any kind of ability to occasionally disrupt things in the backfield, with two sacks and six total tackles for loss. That's the best they've got.

Linebackers: Fr. Mike LB Addison Gillam; Sr. Will LB Derrick Webb; Jr. Sam LB Woodson Greer

Addison Gillam must be the great hope for Buffs fans. Amidst a disintegrating defense, the freshman has collected 88 total tackles and 3 sacks from his inside spot. I hesitate to say that he's the best player on the defense, but his stats indicate he might be, which I suppose is as good an indication as any that Colorado's defense has issues.

Webb is decidedly unspectacular, and Greer will be the guy who gets bored on the bench tomorrow because Colorado will be playing nickel most of the time.

Secondary: So. LCB Kenneth Crawley; Jr. FS Jered Bell; Sr. SS Parker Orms; Jr. RCB Greg Henderson

Freshman Chidobe Awuzie and Sophomore Marques Mosley are the designated nickel defenders and I'm sure we'll see plenty of both tomorrow.

If Gillam isn't the best player on defense, it's probably Jered Bell, who has three interceptions, 4 pass break ups, and more tackles than you'd like to see from your free safety. Orms gets lots of tackles in run support, and Henderson has four interceptions of his own.

This Year

4.4 yards/play allowed in a 41-27 win over Colorado State
4.2 yards/play allowed in a 38-24 win over Central Arkansas
6.1 yards/play allowed in a 44-17 loss to Oregon State
7.9 yards/play allowed in a 57-16 loss to Oregon
6.7 yards/play allowed in a 54-13 loss to Arizona State
3.3 yards/play allowed in a 43-10 win over Charleston Southern
8.2 yards/play allowed in a 44-20 loss to Arizona
7.2 yards/play allowed in a 45-23 loss to UCLA
7.9 yards/play allowed in a 59-7 loss to Washington

Lots of ugliness, and perhaps most worrisome for Colorado fans is that the worst three performances have been in Colorado's last three games. But really, at least 44 points and 6 yards per play allowed in every single conference game. There's a uniformity of badness across the board. At least Cal's defense had that one halfway decent game against Arizona.

Against the Run

2013: 4.93 yards allowed/attempt, 99th in the nation

In four of Colorado's six Pac-12 losses, they have allowed 275 yards of rushing or more. We prefer tempo-neutral stats around here, but sometimes the raw numbers paint a picture. Oregon State and UCLA didn't take much advantage of CU's struggles, and unfortunately Cal's running game is much more on par with that of the Beavers and Bruins.

Against the Pass

2013: 8.1 yards allowed/attempt, 103rd in the nation

That's . . . pretty bad. It makes me think that Cal can actually get away with abandoning the run game tomorrow if necessary. If only Richard Rodgers were healthy, but even then it doesn't seem like they should be able to contain Harper AND Treggs AND an emerging Kenny Lawler. But what do I know?

Advanced Stats

FEI+ total defensive efficiency rank: 99th in the nation

What's interesting here is how uniformly bad across the board Colorado's defense is. The component pieces aren't so awful, except that it includes three very weak non-conference opponents, so the schedule strength modifier lowers the defense down to 98th overall. Which, as it happens, is one spot lower than Cal. Why did I have to make the "I thought I was the only Milhouse?" joke earlier this year?!

Stats of Dubious Value

As a reminder: Below are stats that, while interesting, may have little if any predictive value on what will occur over the course of 80-100 offensive snaps tomorrow.

Turnovers

2013: 15 forced turnovers, 62nd in the nation (7 fumbles, 8 interceptions)
I'm not particularly worried about Colorado's ability to force turnovers, particularly considering that four of those eight interceptions came against FCS teams. Am I worried about Cal's ability to hand over unforced turnovers? Yes, but that's a completely different issue.

3rd Down

2013: Opponent 3rd down conversion rate of 39.86, 67th in the nation

Again, slightly skewed because of the extra FCS game, but a bit higher than one might expect.

Red Zone

2013: Opponent scoring percentage of 83.3%, 59th in the nation
2013: Opponent touchdown percentage of 64.81%, 85th in the nation

Generic badness. I'm out of interesting comments to add.

Conclusions

Colorado's defense is basically Cal's defense, except without every member of the starting secondary injured and without two pretty good starting defensive tackles. So they're a liiiiittle bit better against the pass and a liiiiiittle bit worse against the run.

There are zero excuses for not moving the ball and not scoring points. Zero. For the first quarter of the season or so, I though Cal had a decent offense. Then Cal completely failed to do anything against an Oregon State defense that just plain isn't very good. Expectations were justifiably lowered, and Cal has mostly met or exceeded those lowered expectations from that point on.

Now is a chance to actually make some noise. Again: Colorado has allowed 44 points or more in every single Pac-12 game. I'm not saying Cal has to score 44 points. But they need to score enough points to win, which probably needs to be in the 30s at least.

The offense is reasonably healthy, in that all of the players who have been starting and playing lately have had plenty of time together. They moved the ball better against USC than I expected. They have to move the ball tomorrow. If Colorado scores 50 points and wins a shoot out, fine. Whatever. But for the sake of my sanity and my belief that Cal's offensive coaching staff can create a fearsome offense in the future, they need to do something tomorrow.

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