It’s only been two football games, but Colorado finds itself tied for fifth in scoring defense nationally.
The Buffaloes were up to the challenge defensively last week against No. 5 Texas A&M, holding a talented Aggies offense to under 300 total yards, and just over 4 yards per play.
Things don’t get any easier this weekend, though, as Colorado will finish its nonconference schedule with another Power 5 program in Minnesota.
The Golden Gophers are in their fifth year under coach P.J. Fleck and the Buffs are very aware of the type of team they’ll be facing Saturday at Folsom Field.
“They’re definitely a run-first offense,” coach Karl Dorrell said Tuesday. “They’re pretty efficient at doing that. They use a lot of tackles to play the tight end positions. They try to use a big offensive front and make defenses defend them. That’s going to be a tremendous challenge for our defense. In the passing game, they’re young at receiver. They try to hit you on some plays if you’re falling asleep. They keep you locked in on making sure your eyes are in the right place.”
The Gopher rushing attack has been stellar to start the season and nearly led the way to an upset over Ohio State in Week 1. They lost starter Mohamed Ibrahim to a season-ending leg injury in that season-opening loss, but sophomore Treyson Potts has already filled that void, rushing for 178 yards and two touchdowns in the Gophers’ win over Miami (Ohio) last weekend.
“It’s going to be a good physical matchup, which is what we would expect,” Dorrell said. “I know that the test we went through last week told us that we can battle those type games.”
The physicality on the defensive side of the ball for Colorado was evident Saturday and it’s a much-improved look from recent years, something sophomore defensive lineman Na’im Rodman said has already become part of their identity.
“It was a culture we tried to create during spring ball and it carried to fall camp and it’s a part of us now,” Rodman said. “We know we can be one of the most physical teams anybody plays against.”
Dorrell is expecting to face a Minnesota offense that will run the ball just as much as the Buffs do, so that should benefit a Colorado defense that faces a run-heavy offense in practice daily.
Rodman mentioned that the defense has been trying to instill a “swarm and punish” mentality this week in practice, knowing they’re facing a tough rushing attack led by an imposing offensive line.
“We play like we’re angry,” Rodman said. “ That’s how we want ourselves to be portrayed as just an aggressive defense that doesn’t take no for an answer.”
On the other side of the ball, the keyword this week has been efficiency.
While freshman quarterback Brendon Lewis threw the ball 10 more times against Texas A&M than he did in the opener against Northern Colorado, he failed to pass for 100 yards and the team struggled in third-and-long situations.
“The efficiency has to be better, that was evident this last game,” Dorrell said. “I think that type of game told us the players you can depend on. That’s something we’ll continue to hopefully improve and get more people involved in our offense. That gives us a chance to have a number of weapons. Right now, we haven’t had the efficiency of doing that. That’s why we’ve been in these long third downs. We know we have a young quarterback, everybody knows that. It’s challenging with young quarterbacks bringing them along, but Brendon is very capable. We have to give him the reps and the confidence each and every week so that he’s making progress each and every week.”
Junior tight end Brady Russell said he and the offensive line are also responsible for improving the efficiency, saying it’s important to instill confidence in a young quarterback so he feels comfortable keeping his eyes down the field.
“With a young quarterback especially, you can’t have guys in his face right away,” Russell said. “He needs to be able to look downfield, he can’t be looking at the o-line making sure they’re blocking their dudes. He needs to feel safe, he needs to feel protected so he can keep his eyes down there and he can make throws and receivers can make plays.”
Russell and the rest of the offense know that it wasn’t fun to watch the tape, but they saw how close they were to making some big plays that could have flipped the game.
“We don’t want to ever put our defense in a situation like that again,” Russell said. “If we can match the defense, it can be dangerous. We know what we’re capable of on offense, we just need to put the pieces together.”