Scheme: Base 3-4, Cover 0
Defensive Coordinators: D. J. Eliot
Week 12 Recap: Lost to Utah 30–7
Pass Defense: 48 % completion percentage, 221 passing yards allowed, and 2 touchdowns
Rush Defense: 169 rushing yards on 47 attempts, 3.6 yards per attempt, with 1 touchdown
Total Defense: 0 turnovers, 390 yards total offense allowed, 5/16 on third down
The Colorado Buffaloes ranks in the middle of the herd when it comes to defending the run game. The Buffaloes have the sixth-ranked rushing defense in the Pac-12, allowing an average of 150 rushing yards per game. When they have good games defending the run, it shows up well in the box score. They held New Hampshire to 42 yards and USC to just 62. Of course, when they have bad games defending the run, it looks atrocious. Nebraska dropped 329 rushing yards on them, averaging 6.1 yards per pop. Arizona and Washington have both put 200+ rushing yards on them this season as well.
Defensive end Mustafa Johnson is a menace. He is in his first year playing at the FBS level after transferring last year from Modesto Junior College. Johnson has a lot of power with his first step, but what I see as a weakness in his game is his lack of pass-rush moves. Once he gets engaged with an offensive lineman, he tends to lock up and not be able to get off the block. With that being said, he is still a tremendous presence on the D-line. Johnson leads the Buffs in sacks with six and has an astounding 14 tackles-for-loss. His TFL total ranks as the fourth-most in the Pac-12.
Senior nose tackle Javier Edwards is another Junior College transfer starting on the D-line. He was the ten-ranked defensive tackle in his JC recruiting class when he signed with Colorado in 2017. Edwards has had some strong showings this season—posting a sack and TFL in Week 3—but like the Colorado team as a whole, has been on a cold streak. During the Buffaloes’ six-game losing streak, Edwards has only recorded 13 tackles with zero splash plays.
It feels like I haven’t changed 3-4 from the defensive scheme in the “Scouting Report” portion of the Defensive Previews in a long time. Like other base 3-4 defenses, the linebacking unit is composed of two edge-defending outside linebackers and two prototypical tacklers inside. Nate Landman is the best player on this defense. What makes Landman such a good player is the intense physicality he exhudes on every tackle and natural instincts when reacting to opening rushing lanes. He flashed on the screen playing out of the middle all year, ranking at the top of every defensive statistic. Landman leads Colorado in tackles with 99, tackles-for-loss with 14.5, interceptions catching two, and is tied for first with one forced fumble. He also has the second-most sacks and fumble recoveries. Expect to hear the true sophomore’s name called often this Sat.
Among his supporting cast, the versatile Drew Lewis has played well too. Lewis splits time playing in the middle and on the edge thanks to his athleticism. The senior has 53 tackles on the season to go along with five TFLs and two sacks.
Landman’s partner in the middle is four-year starter Rick Gamboa. He has the most collegiate experience on Colorado’s defense, playing 50 total games over four years. Gamboa has 311 total tackles in his Buffalo career and needs 16 more to move into the top 10 of Colorado’s all-time tackle list.
Colorado plays a lot of man coverage in their secondary. The cover-zero packages employed by D. J. Eliot offer some risks and reward. It rewards tightly-executed man cover skills by not allowing any separation or open passing windows. It does, however, hugely backfire if a defender gets beat on a route because of the lack of deep defenders to make touchdown-saving tackles. Routes ran by wide receivers with double moves such as the sluggo or out-and-up are effective at creating separation against tight man coverage. Cal has a guy named Vic Wharton who has excellent short-area quickness and route-running abilities; Wharton has the potential to have a huge game this week.
Free safety Nick Fisher is in his second year as a defensive starter. Fisher leads all defensive backs in tackles with 41. He is not only a good run defender, but he can cover well too. Fisher is one of seven players to record an interception this season, picking off Jake Browning in Week 8. His name might ring a bell because of a long and painful play he made against Cal last year.
Delrick Abrams Jr. continues the long tradition of tall and long-armed Colorado cornerbacks. In the past two years alone, Colorado has produced three high-round draft picks at the CB position with similar traits. In 2017, the Cowboys selected 6-foot-1-inch Chidobe Awuzie in the second round and the 49ers selected 6-foot-3-inch Ahkello Witherspoon in the third round; in 2018, the Falcons drafted 6-foot-1-inch Isaiah Oliver in the second round. On the Buffaloes roster right now, only four out of 24 defensive backs are shorter than six-feet tall. Abrams Jr. is playing in his first year at Colorado after transferring from Independence Community College. He has 39 tackles on the season and five pass break-ups.
Cornerback opposite of Abrams Jr. is Georgia Tech transfer Dante Wigley. He hasn’t matched his tackle or pass break-up total from last year— down from 36 tackles to 30 and six PBUs to one—but he does have more interceptions with one in total. Wigley is the only player on the Buffaloes defense to record a defensive touchdown this season—Week 9 against Oregon State, Wigley grabbed a batted-up ball out of the air for a tip-drill interception and ran it 27 yards to the end zone for a score.
How many points will California score against Colorado?
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