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CSU’s revitalized defense a product of adjusting to new system

The hiring of a new defensive coaching staff, as well as the transition from a 3-4 to a 4-3 formation, resulted in glowing optimism surrounding the Colorado State defense heading into the 2018 season.

That sense of positivity, however, did not translate to success immediately.

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CSU began the season by allowing 43 points to the University of Hawaii at home, a team who, at the time, was not expected to pose a significant offensive threat given its inexperience. The defensive unit responded to that performance by surrendering 45 points to rival the University of Colorado Boulder a week later.

Since losing to Illinois State University and allowing the FCS program to muster 35 points in that fifth game, CSU’s defense has established itself.

“There are always going to be hiccups when you are adjusting to a new system, new coaches, and a new culture,” said senior safety Jordan Fogal. “You try your best to hash out those wrinkles in the spring and fall camp, but you never know what is going to happen when you get into the season. We hit some hiccups throughout the season, and we are slowly starting to make those corrections and I think it’s showing.”

CSU shut San Jose State University out in three separate quarters two weeks ago. The team built off the SJSU win by holding the University of New Mexico to 18 points, a team who entered the game with the 17th-best scoring offense in the FBS.

The unit was unable to record a sack until their third game of the season against the University of Arkansas. Through its first five games, CSU only registered two total sacks as a team.

Over their past two games, they have combined for nine total sacks. 

Defensive line Caleb Smith celebrates after a touchdown during the Homecoming Game against the New Mexico Lobos on Oct. 13. The Rams won 20-18. (Natalie Dyer | Collegian)

The defense has ultimately adjusted to the new scheme that it praised during the offseason.

“I really believe the continuous reps of playing in a system defensively (have made a difference),” Coach Mike Bobo said. “They’ve done a better job of playing harder, and I think the result of playing harder is because of understanding the 4-3 scheme a little bit better. We’ve been able to play faster.”

The challenges associated with adjusting to a new defensive formation are extensive. As Fogal mentioned, the in-game experience and heightened practice intensity was necessary for the switch.

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“We have been practicing really hard, so I think our defense is finally coming together,” said redshirt senior defensive lineman Caleb Smith. “We are finally getting more comfortable playing together. Our trust is building up, so I think that is why it is translating to better play in the games.”

Lacking a true identity contributed to the constant defensive struggles in 2017 according to defensive leaders. Besides finding effectiveness in a new defensive scheme, the goal of implementing new defensive coordinator John Jancek was solidifying an identity they have been missing.

“Jancek came in preaching about changing the culture and identity. I see it changing. Everything is going for the better right now.”junior safety Jamal Hicks

“Everyday we are getting better,” said redshirt junior linebacker Tre Thomas. “To see how much we are actually getting better based on those games we just played is a good feeling to know that we are progressing every day.”

The next opportunity for the team to stretch their defensive progress on the year is against Boise State University Oct. 19. 

BSU comes into the game averaging 32.5 points and 406.1 yards per game.

Eddie Herz can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @Eddie_Herz.

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