“I think this team is going to win a lot of football games,” Colorado Buffaloes head coach Mike MacIntyre would say at preseason scrimmages, after practices, at media days and even after losses. The performance that Colorado put together from 2013-2015 made it hard to believe those words.
To many fans, despite the program’s clear upward trajectory and improvement, a total of ten wins in the first three years of MacIntyre’s tenure as CU head coach defined the level of success that the Buffs experienced.
But for this 2016, bowl-bound team, where there were once patches of inexperience on the roster, there is now maturity and experience. Where there was inefficiency, there is now soundness. And where there were once question marks, there are now definitive answers.
Colorado’s defense, and in particular, its defensive line, is the best example.
“We’ve got a good, experienced group that has had a lot of snaps,” senior defensive tackle Josh Tupou said. “Especially with Samson [Kafovalu] back, and Jordan Carrell doing well and also Leo [Jackson III], Tim [Coleman] and Jase [Franke] rotating and playing their asses off, so it’s helping a lot.”
The Buffaloes’ defensive 11 have the 11th-ranked defense in the FBS and is giving up a modest 4.57 yards per play. Last season, that number was 5.72. In 2014, the Buffaloes surrendered an average of 6.55 yards per play.
Run defense, an area of particular misery for the defense in years past, has improved steadily.
“Just [from] last year to this year, our discipline as a front seven is a lot better,” senior defensive end Jordan Carrell said. “If we can stay stout and fit our gaps then we’ll be okay week in and week out.”
Discipline combined with experience and maturity has molded the Buffaloes defensive line into a brick wall.
“They’ve worked really hard in the offseason and during the season they’ve worked even harder,” defensive line coach Jim Jeffcoat said. “We knew the things we wanted to accomplish and we talked about them. [We] continue to try to improve each game.”
Colorado has the best total defense within the Pac-12 so far this year. The Buffs allow a conference-low 307.8 yards per game. Run defense has been a particular strength for the squad, as opposing tailbacks average just 3.8 yards per carry against CU.
“We still need to be better to get [opposing running backs] under three yards [per carry],” Tupou said. “That’s a better average so we still need to work on some stuff.”
The Buffaloes control their own destiny within the Pac-12 South. Every remaining game is critical, and with each win, the team inches closer to a potential Pac-12 Championship game. The first opponent standing in Colorado’s way is UCLA, whom the Buffs will play at home next Thursday at 7 p.m. (MST)
Last week vs. Utah, the Bruins attempted a whopping 70 passes during the contest.
“Our biggest strength is that we’re bigger and more stout up front,” Tupou said. “We’ll prepare enough for [UCLA’s] running and passing game.”
For Colorado, its business as usual: go 1-0 every week and take things one contest at a time.
“I think [the Bruins] are going to try to establish the run game early,” Carrell said. “We [have] to do a good job of suring that up and forcing them to pass. Once we get them into passing downs and get after their young quarterback, they can’t match our talent.”
Contact CU Independent Head Sports Editor Justin Guerriero @email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @TheHungry_Hippo