The plan for Colorado’s defense is to progress even without a specified opponent Saturday.
The Buffaloes had their scheduled game against Arizona State canceled by the Pac-12 on Sunday, the day after CU improved to 2-0 with a win at Stanford, due to a number of positive COVID-19 test results throughout the ASU program.
Rumors of potential replacement games against Colorado State and Wyoming gained some momentum when the Pac-12 reversed course and decided to allow nonconference competition this season. But the Buffaloes remained without a game Friday afternoon, so Tyson Summers’ defense is focusing on itself.
“We got to play better in the second half. We’ve got to be better in coverage. We’ve got to be able to play with a better rush overall. We’ve got to find ways to make plays. Last week’s a great example,” Colorado’s defensive coordinator said, lamenting long drives extended by third-down conversions, missed opportunities to force turnovers and untimely penalties.
“I think if you cut those things down, then we played pretty good defense for two weeks in a row. We’re going to continue to improve. Our guys have the right mindset.”
While the list of things to improve has at least a few bullet points, the Buffaloes feel like they’re not far off. Colorado linebackers and defensive backs got their hands on a few Cardinal passes last week but couldn’t complete the interception.
“Crazy frustrating,” safety Derrion Rakestraw said of the near misses. “We’ve been doing ball drills every day after practice now, so we don’t want to see that anymore. We’re going to try to eliminate that and turn those into picks, because we need all of them.”
As coach Karl Dorrell explained, the Buffaloes don’t need to make every play to see a difference in the end result. As it stands, the Buffaloes have allowed more points than any other team in the league. Colorado has given up 37 points per game, just worse than Washington State’s 35.5 mark.
“We had, I think, five or six opportunities to get turnovers,” Dorrell said. “We had hands on balls. If we had two to three turnovers from those situations, the score is a different score. But we’re getting better. There’s no question we’re getting better.”
When it comes to the run game, there are fewer complaints.
“We’re stout against the run,” Dorrell said. “We’ve been playing pretty well up front.”
UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson is the lone opposing 100-yard rusher, 65 of which came on one long touchdown run. The Buffaloes limited UCLA’s top running back, Demetric Felton, to 57 yards and followed up by limiting Stanford’s backfield and quarterback to 70 yards on 21 combined carries.
“We’re playing an attacking-style defense instead of react and attack,” defensive end Mustafa Johnson said. “That’s making a huge defense and then we just have a huge emphasis on stopping the run, making them one-dimensional.”
While it looks increasingly like the Buffaloes will have to wait until the Nov. 28 game at USC to show their growth on defense, the team said it prepared for most of the week like there would be a game just in case.
“I did see a good amount of growth from Week 1 to Week 2 and so I think that those things are positive. It’s a lot of fun for me, because, again, I think we’ve got the right players in the right spots to be able to help us,” Summers said of his secondary.
“Our real focus has been just trying to focus on getting better at the things we need to get better at.”