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CU@Game CU At The Game: In the Trenches – Defensive Line

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    Football Games are Won and Lost in the Trenches – A look at the CU Defensive Line




    … Previously posted … A look at the CU Offensive Line



    Defensive Line

    If Buff fans are cautiously optimistic about the future of the CU offensive line, they are positively giddy about the possibilities for the CU defensive line.

    How can that be?

    After all, Colorado was 99th in rushing defense last season, giving up almost 200 yards per game, and posted just 27 sacks in 13 games. Add to that the fact that one of the three starters along the line, Justin Solis, has graduated …

    … and there could be (should be?) cause for concern about the Buffs’ defensive line going forward.

    Instead, the lineup appears stacked, thanks in large part to the reinstatement of two suspended Buffs, Samson Kafovalu and Josh Tupou.

    Tupou was CU’s best defensive lineman in 2014, earning All-Pac-12 honorable mention that season. He’s played in 34 career games, including starting every game in 2013 and 2014.

    Tupou, though, was lost for all of the 2015 season due to a suspension stemming from a off-field incident, finally returning to the team in May.

    The primary question concerning Tupou’s return revolved around his conditioning, with Buff fans wondering whether he can get back quickly to game-ready shape after being away from the game for a year.

    Is that an issue?

    Tupou and his coaches don’t think so.

    Defensive line coach Jim Jeffcoat said Tupou is “farther along than we anticipated” and he’s confident Tupou will physically be ready to play. Jeffcoat is eager to see how the senior does as the starting nose tackle.

    “He gives you that big body that can overpower centers,” Jeffcoat told the Daily Camera. “Physically, they’re going to have a hard time trying to block him and they’re going to have to occupy him with two or three people, which helps everybody else.”

    As for Kafovalu … Kafovalu was arrested in April after bouncers at the Sundown Saloon on the Pearl Street Mall called police after a heavily intoxicated Kafovalu was denied entry into the bar and was being uncooperative, according to officials.

    Kafovalu pled guilty to one count of obstructing a police officer, and was reinstated just in time for the the start of Fall Camp. Kafovalu has 30 games worth of experience in his CU career, including eight starts.

    So, the Buffs lose Solis, but add Tupou and retain Kafovalu.

    Not a bad tradeoff.

    As for the returning defensive linemen …

    Over-shadowed off the field, Jordan Carrell turned in an excellent 2015 season. The junior college transfer joined the Buffs last season, and had an immediate impact. Carrell played 82.6 percent of the defensive snaps (Leo Jackson III was second among defensive lineman, at 61.7 percent). Only five CU defensive linemen in the last 22 years have played a higher percentage of snaps.

    “He understands the game and he’s very intelligent,” defensive line coach Jim Jeffcoat said. “As the season progressed, he understood how people were trying to attack him and what they were doing to nullify him and to make him less effective and he adjusted to it quicker and quicker as the season progressed.”

    “I’m a senior and I’m going to be held more accountable and the coaches are going to expect more out of me this year,” Tupou told the Daily Camera this spring. “I’ve stepped into more of a leadership role so far, knowing it’s my last year and knowing I want to go out on top in the Pac-12.”

    The other returning starter along the line is Leo Jackson III. The junior had ten starts last season, bouncing back and forth between defensive tackle and defensive end.

    Having quality starters up front is vital, but almost as important is having quality backups.

    For once, the Buffs seem to be there. Across the front, the Buffs have junior Timothy Coleman and three sophomores Jase Franke, Eddy Lopez, and Michael Mathewes.

    And that is before we start talking about three red-shirt freshmen who will make their debuts this fall … Frank Umu, Brett Tonz, and Lyle Tuiloma.

    “The more depth you have with quality players, the better off you are,” CU head coach Mike MacIntyre said of his defensive line. “Also, you can run guys in and out when teams are playing fast and you have a break and you don’t drop off. It makes a big difference. I think it’ll make a huge difference for us in the fourth quarter, especially the run defense.”

    “It all starts with the guys up front,” Leavitt said. “If your guys up front aren’t real good, you’re not going to be real successful. Tupou definitely helps us, but all of them have gotten bigger and stronger. We’ve got a chance there.”

    And it’s worth noting that this is the second season for these Buffs under Jim Leavitt’s defense. Last year, Leavitt didn’t arrive until the day before spring ball started in 2015.

    This year, Leavitt notes, “Guys understanding our scheme is going to help. Me understanding what our players can do and as a play caller, making sure I lean to what their talents are, will help. I know their talents a little bit more than I did last year.”



    For Colorado, improvement in the defense from 2014 to 2015 was measurable … 39.0 points per game allowed down to 27.5. For the defense to take the next step, and lead the Buffs to a bowl game, the defensive line must be a serious contributor.

    With Josh Tupou and Samson Kafovalu back from their suspensions, joining established starters in Jordan Carrell and Leo Jackson, the potential is there for the Buffs to put on the field (perhaps for the first time since joining the league) a Pac-12 caliber defensive line.



    For a good explanation of the nuances of the 3-4 defense, here is an article, “Infographic: LSU’s 3-4 defense, how it works, why everyone is doing it“. (A tip of the CU at the Game hat to Rob T. for contributing this find).

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    Stuart
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