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Worst of 2008 #9: The Defensive Line Scheme/Play

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. 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
Oklahoma State 8 256 226 -30
West Virginia 12 224 311 87
Florida State 31 182 259 77
Texas 34 176 169 -7
Nebraska 37 173 178 5
Missouri 46 165 189 24
Iowa State 66 138 188 50
Kansas State 76 132 112 -20
Colorado State 78 129 71 -58
Kansas 80 128 112 -16
Texas A&M 95 118 94 -24

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:

Big 12 Player Pos Cl Gm Solo Assist Yards PerGm
26 Marquez Herrod DL SO 11 3 1 30 0.32
27 George Hypolite DL SR 12 3 1 19 0.29
42 Brandon Nicolas DL SR 12 2 1 13 0.21
61 Maurice Lucas DL SR 12 1 1 10 0.13


9 4 72 0.75

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:

Player Year G Solo Assisted Total T/G TFL Sacks
George Hypolite 2008 12 23 20 43 3.58 6.5 3.5
George Hypolite 2007 13 28 23 51 3.92 11 6
Hypolite Variance
-5 -3 -8 (0.34) (4.5) (2.5)
Brandon Nicolas 2008 12 18 17 35 2.92 6.5 2.5
Brandon Nicolas 2007 13 29 17 46 3.54 11 3
Nicolas Variance
-11 0 -11 (0.62) (4.5) (0.5)
Maurice Lucas 2008 12 27 20 47 3.92 5 1.5
Maurice Lucas 2007 13 20 16 36 2.77 5.5 2
Lucas Variance
7 4 11 1.15 (0.5) (0.5)
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