Keeping Hawai’i Out Of End Zone Boost For Buffs 'D'
BOULDER – An improved Colorado offense has garnered most of the early season headlines, but on Saturday it was a dominant defense that finally earned some publicity of its own.
While the offense was struggling to build upon a slim second-half lead, the CU defense was busy stifling the Hawai’i offense to the tune of just 286 total yards and zero touchdowns. A feisty effort that included a complete suffocation of the Warriors in the red zone helped guide the Buffs toward what became a hard-fought 21-12 victory.
“That’s the way college football should be to me,” said CU coach Mike MacIntyre. “You have to make teams kick field goals in the red zone. If we do that on defense, then we’re going to be OK. That was the first time we’ve done that and that was exciting to see.”
The Rainbow Warriors had ample opportunity to come away with a victory at Folsom Field, but they never could overcome a Buff defense that continuously came up with the timely big play. Three times Hawai’i was deep in the red zone ready to put seven points on the board, and all three times they had to settle for Tyler Hadden field goals. In all, Hawai’i ventured in CU territory eight times only to finish the afternoon with just 12 points.
“Coach MacIntyre and (defensive coordinator) Kent Baer emphasized third downs and stopping them in the red zone so that’s what we were trying to do,” said cornerback Greg Henderson. “We want to hold them to three points as much as possible. We wanted to play with confidence and play physical and that’s what we did.”
The defensive highlights began early for the Buffs as a Hawai’i drove deep into Buff territory on the game’s opening drive, capitalizing on a Sefo Liufau interception. Facing a third-and-seven play at the CU 21, Hawai’i quarterback Ikaika Woolsey was hit on a blitz by Henderson and then lost control of the ball after the contact. Henderson then pounced on the fumble and the tone was officially set for the remainder of the game.
“We worked on that throughout fall camp and in practice,” said Henderson. “We work on toughening up down there (near our goal line). We need to be extra focused and play hard and do our jobs with extra intensity and we did that on that play.”
Another key moment came after a third-quarter interception by Liufau, and the subsequent return gave the Rainbow Warriors – who trailed 21-9 – the ball at the CU 7-yard line. Instead of pulling to within five, the Rainbow Warriors were limited to 2 yards on three plays and had to settle for a short field goal.
“I think we’re building an identity,” said Buffs safety Chidobe Awuzie. “We’re trying to play tough and we’re trying to cause turnovers and we’re trying to play fast. This is just the start of it. In many more ways, we’re going to continue to play great on defense.”
A CU defense that struggled earlier in the season has seemingly found its comfort zone now. After allowing 83 points through the season’s first 10 quarters, the team has recovered to limit opponents to just 26 points in the last six. And with a number of high-powered offenses still to come on the 2014 schedule, the Buffs hope for nothing more than that trend to continue.
“I think we’ve improved tremendously,” said Henderson. “Each week we’re getting better and better. We’re gaining more confidence. The freshmen and sophomores are maturing more and I feel like we’re making progress and taking strides. We just have to keep moving forward.”