So far this season, the Colorado defense has been a generous bunch.
Each of Colorado’s opponents have scored at least 38 points, with four of them topping the 40-point mark. They’ve all racked up at least 413 yards, too, with each opponent gaining more than the last.
As the Buffaloes (0-5, 0-2 Pac-12) prepare to take on California (3-2, 1-1) at Folsom Field on Saturday (12:01 p.m., Pac-12 Network), they are hoping dramatic changes lead to dramatic improvement.
Following a 43-20 loss at Arizona on Oct. 2 – a game in which CU allowed a whopping 673 yards – CU administration fired head coach Karl Dorrell and defensive coordinator Chris Wilson.
Now under the direction of new coordinator Gerald Chatman, the Buffs, coming off a bye week, have taken a new approach on defense. The motto: Simple, sound and fast.
“What we believe is that if we can find a defense that plays sound, fast and simple and flies around, they’re gonna respond,” interim head coach Mike Sanford said.
More than a week into that new approach, the difference has been noticeable.
One veteran on offense said, “This is the fastest the defense has looked in three years.”
The philosophy of the coaches going forward is to do everything possible to give the defense confidence it hasn’t had in recent weeks. At least in practice, that has shown up.
“It’s definitely way more simple than the things we’ve done in the past,” linebacker Josh Chandler-Semedo said. “It’s not dumbing it down, but just making sure it makes sense to everybody across the board. Like, there really should be no confusion, especially if we stay in our (play) books. It’s really just simple.”
The general idea for CU is that simplifying the game plan allows the players to know it better. When they know it, they have confidence and when they’re confident, they can play fast.
“I was a defensive guy and there were times where you’re thinking a lot, and it’s hard to play fast because defense is all reaction,” said former CU linebacker Jeff Smart, who was elevated to a defensive assistant coaching position last week. “You have to be able to read and react to what the offense does. When you’re trying to think about what exactly it is that I have to do based on what the offense does, you just slow down.
“Trying to eliminate some of the thinking and with the knowledge of what we’re doing comes confidence.”
Many of those who have been at practice have seen a faster, more confident defense in the past week, and a few of the players on that side of the ball have expressed a better mindset.
“When things are simpler, there’s not as much thinking; you know what you have and you’re going,” said safety Trevor Woods. “There’s not much you have to think about. We’re all just kind of flying around.”
The Buffs have also been doing more tackling drills, as finishing tackles has been an issue this season.
More than anything, however, the Buffs have adopted a new approach as they hope to turn around what has been a sour season defensively.
“What I give a lot of credit to is not just coach Chatman but the defensive staff as a whole,” Sanford said. “There’s a lot of capable defensive play callers in that room.”
In addition to Chatman, Rod Chance (cornerbacks), Brett Maxie (safeties), Mark Smith (inside linebackers) and Smart have come together as a group to lead the Buffs.
“I’m going into that defensive room every once in awhile and I’m having a blast,” Sanford said. “I’m learning and they’re vetting everything that they’re doing.
“I love the work that they’re putting in together. You can’t forget that this is gonna be Gerald Chatman’s first game calling it, but everything that I’ve seen is that he has embraced the role.”
So far, so have the players, who are looking forward to putting it into action on Saturday.
“We’re doing a few things differently,” Woods said. “I’m not gonna get into what we’re doing but there’s a couple changes. But, coach Chatman really brings energy. You can tell he’s got so much passion for all this. It’s awesome being around him.”