I don't want to call any players out because they are college kids but coming into this year, the senior trio of George Hypolite, Brandon Nicolas and Maurice Lucas were going to rededicate themselves and become the strenghth of this team. Even Coach Hawkins called this unit the strength of the team in the offseason. Rivals.com said one of the main reasons for Jordon Dizon's success in 2007 was because of Brandon Nicolas and George Hypolite, which led them to label the defensive line as the strongest unit on the defense in 2008:
No doubt, Dizon was a tremendous player for the Buffs, but there also is no doubt that he benefited from having tackles Hypolite and Brandon Nicolas in front of him. Nicolas, who began his career at Notre Dame, tied for the team lead in tackles for loss with 11. He and Hypolite form one of the best tackle tandems in the Big 12.
Well, this year they weren't the strength of the defense. That honor goes to the cornerback position where Cha'pelle Brown, Jimmy Smith and Jalil Brown emerged as a bright spot. I don't necessarily blame the players, their is plenty that falls on the scheme. The Buffs were erratic in their defensive identity. Against Kansas State, the Buffs attacked from multiple areas on the field from the back seven and allowed the double teams to loosen up. Against Kansas and Missouri, the Buffs went to a three man rush and well, were unable to generate any pressure. The best pressure player this year was LB Brad Jones, who was honored with honorable mention All Big 12.
One big problem that will continue to haunt CU next year is the issue of depth. Other than a rare productive appearance from true freshman Curtis Cunningham, the senior trio was the only group to touch the field with any presence. That obviously took it's toll on the Buffs especially in the finale against Nebraska. Hypolite had his moments especially against weaker competition in Texas A&M and Iowa State. Many give Hypolite the benefit of the doubt due to teams recognizing him as the star of the line and doubling him but then where is the production from the rest of the pass rushers who face one on one assignments?
Another reason for the down production and impact is also attributable to the inept offense. The Buffs offense ranked eighth in the Big 12 in time of possession so CU's front four saw the field a lot more than they wanted to.
see after the jump for some more analysis on the drop off of production from the front four...
Colorado's rush defense ranked 87th in the nation, giving up 166 yards/game in a league that wasn't very strong in the rushing department. Here is the ranking of rushing offenses that the Buffs played this year:
||National Rank||Average Y/Game||YAgainst CU||Diff|
The biggest problem of this year's team, though, was it's inability to play in the opponents' backfield. Look at the sacks generated by the main linemen core of Buffs:
No one on this year's defensive line ranked in the top 25 of the Big 12 in total sacks.
What is more disturbing is looking at the production of the big 3 this year compared to last year, especially the statistics that show pressure in the backfield:
|Big 3 Total||2008||12||68||57||125||10.42||18||7.5|
|Big 3 Total||2007||13||77||56||133||10.23||27.5||11|
|Big 3 Total||Variance||-9||1||-8||0.19||(9.5)||(3.5)|
The Buffs lost 9.5 TFL and 3.5 sacks from last year from these three. Could it have been LB Jordon Dizon that helped the front four that much? Probably more about the scheme the Buffs attacked with this year. I assume the lack of confidence in the defensive backfield led the Buffs to drop more into coverage and stop the aerial assault of the Big 12. Ultimately, not having this up-hill pressure really ended up allowing the offense to avoid 3rd and long situations and extend drives.
The real reason this is on the worst of 2008 list is the fact that with these three gone, who steps in next year and brings a pass rushing presence? Right now I don't see it in the recruiting class or in the depth chart. Somehow we might be craving the performance of these three next year.
Best of 2008 List
10) The Victory Against CSU at Mile High
9) The Iowa State Second Half
Worst of 2008 List
10) The Off the Field Issues
9) The Defensive Line Scheme/Play