CU game notes and analysis: defense

Notes and analysis on the Horns' defensive performance in their 41-7 win over Colorado:

Despite holding Colorado to a scoreboard total of seven points at the half, the Texas defense, at least in terms of keeping the Buffs from moving the football, did not play well during the game's first 30 minutes. Matter of fact, after limiting CU to 17 yards and forcing a punt on its first drive, Carl Reese's bunch allowed drives of 73 yards (ended in a fumble), 39 yards (missed field goal), seven yards (fumble), 65 yards (TD) and 17 yards (a questionable fumble call) before adjusting and shutting down Colorado's O throughout the second half. In their 244-total-yard first half, the Buffs reeled off plays of 34, 20, 14, 12, 13, 15, 18, 10, 10 and 10 yards. After the break, Colorado managed only a couple of 11-yarders while gaining just 45 yards. The defensive coordinator dumped the 4-3, which the Horns used during the majority of the first half, for a 3-3 scheme with Dakarai Pearson at nickel back. The adjustment (and the Buffs' need to play catch-up) limited the effectiveness of Colorado's running game and effectively took tight end Daniel Graham out of CU's offensive mix, forcing the Buffs away from their strengths and into downfield passes to their wide receivers vs. the UT secondary's man coverage. Texas easily won that battle.

With Craig Ochs out with an injury, Bobby Pesavento got the start for Colorado, and the Buffs scrapped their usual two tight end, ball control offense for more spread alignments. Graham often lined up as a wide receiver, and neither Ahmad Brooks nor Nathan Vasher had much luck covering him in the open field. Graham caught four balls for 53 yards in the first half before Pearson came in the game at the nickel spot. Before switching to the 3-3, Tyrone Jones and the other linebackers also got caught in space too often, creating favorable match-ups for Graham and the Colorado offense. "We worked all week against two tight ends," Reese said, "and they were in two tight ends maybe four times. And before this game, they were a running team . . . but they did a great job of doing absolutely the opposite of what they had been doing. Our kids did a good job scratching and as the game went on, they settled in to what (Colorado) was doing."

Derrick Johnson and Everick Rawls continued to alternate snaps at the WILL LB spot, but for the second consecutive week, the senior LB out-tackled his freshman position-mate. Rawls totaled seven stops against Colorado, including perhaps the most important of the game on a fourth down play early in the second half, while Johnson had just one tackle. D.D. Lewis, who combined with Rawls for the stop of Cortlen Johnson after a one-yard gain on a fourth-and-two from the Texas 32 on the Buffs' first drive (and only scoring opportunity) of the second half, led the team with eight tackles, including the Horns' only sack of the day and another TFL.

Marcus Tubbs and Maurice Gordon started at tackle, with both Adam Doiron and Stevie Lee rotating in on Colorado's first offensive series. As the game went on, the rotation looked to trim down to just Tubbs, Gordon and Doiron. Tubbs finished with two tackles while Gordon and Doiron each had one assist. As I talked about last week, the middle of the DL is not particularly strong against the run, and the Buffs exploited that with an almost five yards per pop average up the middle. The Colorado backs also got outside the ends several times for 10-plus-yard gainers. LDE Cory Redding was nearly the invisible man Saturday, registering just one assist and no sacks. Kalen Thornton, who returned to the starting line-up after missing last week's game with a sprained knee, fared better with five tackles, but he also did not manage a sack. Along with its susceptibility to the middle run, the Texas pass rush remains the Achilles' Heel of this defense. To get pressure, Reese too often must rely on the blitz, and even a passing offense as basic as CU's managed to take advantage of that. As odd as it sounds given A&M's ground-bound history, Aggie QB Mark Farris could have a huge day against the Texas defense in a few weeks (shoot, Missouri's Kirk Farmer could do it this weekend) if the Horns continue to get almost no pass rush from the front four.

Surprisingly, Texas actually defended Colorado's third-offensive-series reverse attempt very well, with at least three players staying home and not getting fooled by the misdirection. Speedster Roman Hollowell, though, made a great cut to gain 12 yards on the play. Still, small progress for a D that has been burned far worse on similar plays over the last several years.

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