On a beautiful day for football at Sports Authority Field the Colorado defense showed that they have made major improvements over last year's team, a unit that was in the bottom five in yards allowed per game.
The atmosphere was better then expected as sixty thousand fans watched a battle that would have any football fan on the edge of their seat. The body language the Buffs displayed was a refreshing change from last year's sluggish team as hope was clearly evident throughout the group of players. The energy started right before kickoff as the entire squad huddled together and jumped up and down getting fired up to take on the Colorado State team that broke their hearts just a year ago.
The Colorado defense was the first to take the field after a sixty-five yard kickoff from junior placekicker Will Oliver. As the defense took the field, they jumped up and down, waving their hands in the air to encourage Buff fans to get loud. The first play from scrimmage silenced the crowd as starting tailback Donnel Alexander found a huge hole and scampered for a seventeen-yard gain. The south side of the stands, which is where the Colorado Buffalo student section was seated, immediately deflated.
Was this the same Swiss cheese defense we saw time and time again in 2012? Everyone in the stadium was thinking the same thing after another complete pass for six yards the very next play. Then the Colorado Buffalo defense found their footing. After a dropped pass to make it 3rd and short the world was introduced to Addison Gillam, a true freshman starting at middle linebacker. Gilliam burst through the Colorado State offensive-line and crushed Alexander at the line of scrimmage, forcing the Ram's to punt.
This was not Gilliam's only shining moment, as it was just the start of an incredible game. The true freshman ended the contest with fourteen tackles, including one sack, and a couple of tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre has been recruiting the 6-foot-3 linebacker since he was a junior in high school, even though no one else in the country showed any interest in Addison because he was from such a small town. Addison was one of the recruits that MacIntyre brought over with him from San Jose State when he was hired, very similar to Tad Boyle's find of Andre Roberson while he was coaching at the University of Northern Colorado.
Gilliam wasn't the only true freshman to impress as Chidobe Awuzie, out of San Jose, California, also displayed excellent man-to-man coverage skills the entire game. One of the biggest areas that needed work after last year's despicable defensive effort was containment of the outside on stretch runs. Awuzie, along with defensive stalwart Greg Henderson, both contributed to preventing long sweep plays to the outside.
There is no question this unit is going to put up better numbers than they did last year. If it weren't for a few special team mishaps the defense would have only given up fourteen points. They also showed willpower and determination, which was evident with eleven minutes to go in the fourth quarter, when the defense made arguably the play of the game. The Buffs were up a meager two points and the defense was looking tired. Both fan sections were nervously watching, biting their nails, wondering who would come out victorious.
With the Colorado State offense driving, the Buffalos needed a Raphie-sized defensive stand to change the momentum of the game. Then the willpower to succeed came to light as Chidera Uzo-Diribe, a defensive captain, showed he wasn't ready to lose to the Rams two years in a row. After a short dump off pass to running back Kapri Bibbs Uzo-Diribe hustled from his defensive-end position to midfield and punched the ball out of Bibb's hands.
Greg Henderson, showing excellent awareness, scooped up the ball and made a beeline towards the end zone. As he crossed the plane to give CU a 33-24 lead the Colorado Buffalo fans that braved the heat to watch the game were going absolutely nuts in celebration. The stadium was shaking and it was exactly what the team needed to swing the momentum in their favor one last time.
The fumble return was a play that we simply haven't seen from the Colorado defense over the last three years, as they tended to grow mentally tired and give up at the end of games. Coach MacIntyre mentioned in his press conference that Uzo-Diribe, "Came out of the game two plays before the forced fumble because of a stinger, but shook it off and went out and made a big play." The will to win was clearly evident on that play and throughout the day as the Colorado defense showed remarkable resilience and trust in each other throughout the entire game. As the Buffs move on to tougher opponents in the high-powered Pac-12 it will be increasingly important that the defense continues to improve. With the immergence of Gillam, Awuzie, and the return of defensive end Uzo-Diribe, the defense has the type of athletes necessary to compete in such a pass heavy league. Tonight's game was a step in the right direction and Buffs fan's everywhere are rejoicing at the sign of an improved team along with the satisfying triumph over an in-state rival.
When Colorado State switched to a no huddle offense in the second series the Colorado defense was prepared for the pace, forcing a three and out. They continued to show they were faster to line-up throughout the game, clearly something coach Mac has been preaching.
Colorado State was only 2 for 14 on 3rd down, a refreshing sight after a season in which the Colorado defense struggled to get off the field.
Although the defense failed to get an interception, extending their streak to nine games without an INT, they showed ball-hawking tendencies throughout out the game. They almost picked off several passes including one that slipped through Henderson's hands, which would have been a sure pick six.
Linebackers stayed home throughout the competition, opposed to over pursuing on misdirection plays, another tendency that burned our defense last year.
Lastly, they showed a vast improvement in the ability to tackle in the open field, wrapping up the ball carrier and refusing to let Colorado State break tackles.