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With the game hanging in the balance, the CSU defense did exactly what it had to do to preserve the win.
The Rams seized the lead at 19-17 with a field goal from sophomore kicker Jared Roberts with under six minutes remaining in the game. The Rocky Mountain Showdown, and bragging rights, were left in the hands of the defense.
CU’s final two possessions ended with a punt and a turnover on downs.
“ I really thought our gameplan going in was not only really sound, the guys did a good job of formation recognition, personnel substitutions, they were calling out plays based on their film study,” McElwain said. “That right there again is part of the investment. I talked to them about being responsible They were responsible, not only physically, but mentally…to know what to anticipate. I thought the way our guys played defensively, for the most part, was pretty good.”
The story of CSU’s defensive was similar to bookends. Solid at the beginning and end, but wide open in the middle. The Buffs’ first three possessions of the game ended with punts, totaling 43 yards in 14 plays in the first quarter.
The key was pressure.
CU quarterback Jordan Webb struggled to find a rhythm throwing the ball.
“They changed (the defense) quite a bit. They played a lot more one-high (safety), bringing a little more pressure, I didn’t handle it well,” Webb said. “There was more pressure, so I guess I was a little more rushed, but I wasn’t uncomfortable.”
Webb was sacked five times altogether, including three times in the first half by freshman linebacker Cory James, who made his first collegiate start.
“Well I love Cory. Cory, he’s kind of like my understudy. I try to get Cory to work harder and get to the next level,” junior defensive end/linebacker Shaquil Barrett said. “He’s a great football player. He had a goal for himself today. He said he wanted to get three sacks, and he got three sacks. I told him, if he keeps that up, he’ll have a great future. So I’m very proud of Cory.”
Because James is a freshman, he was unavailable for comment after the game.
As good as the first three possessions were for the Rams’ defense, the next two were equally as bad. CU drove down the field 81 yards for a touchdown to start the second quarter, and followed it up with another to lead 14-3.
At halftime two simple adjustments were made.
“We played faster and harder,” senior Momo Thomas said.
CSU’s defensive line couldn’t get an effective pass rush going, forcing the Rams back to blitzing in order to get in the quarterback’s face.
“It’s no secret (what we have up front),” McElwain said. “Part of gettin’ some pressure, and gettin’ after guys, is you’re going to have to bring somebody from somewhere.”
The extra pressure paid off. CU’s six second half possessions ended in three punts, one field goal and two turnover on downs.
“We preach gap control. You gotta preach trust,” McElwain said. “To have a great defense you gotta know that the d-lineman is taking care of his responsibilities, so I can scrape to my responsibility and I know the safety is there to help me where I need it. I think it shows our defensive unit might be growin’ up.”
Sports Editor Cris Tiller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.