Buffs Focus on Takeaways-Turnovers As They Prepare For Cal
BOULDER — In three of their five games this year, the Colorado Buffaloes have gone without a defensive takeaway, and they have yet to emerge from a game this season with the turnover edge.
Thus, it's no surprise that interim head coach Mike Sanford and new defensive coordinator Gerald Chatman have made CU's turnover/takeaway ratio a point of emphasis as they prepare for Saturday's home game against Cal (noon, Pac-12 Network).
There is, of course, a healthy list of reasons the 0-5 Buffs have yet to break into the win column, and as a result will be playing their first game this weekend under the guidance of an interim head coach. Colorado's offense has yet to produce any kind of consistency over long stretches while the defense has allowed far too many chunk plays.
Still, turnovers are part of that equation, and CU's defense has not been able to produce enough of those momentum-shifting moments.
In five games, Colorado has produced just four takeaways — three fumble recoveries and an interception. All three fumbles came in a rainy game against Air Force; the interception occurred at Minnesota.
To the offense's credit, CU has done a decent job of taking care of the ball, giving it away just seven times — five fumbles and two interceptions.
But that ratio still needs to be reversed if the Buffs are going to give themselves a chance to pick up some wins over their last seven regular season games.
"We want to be on the plus side — that's how you flip the script quickly," Sanford said at his Tuesday press conference. "Getting more on defense than the offense gives up. That's probably been the most consistent emphasis every single day."
Sanford and his staff even created some in-practice competition between the offense and defense in the turnover-takeaway arena, with the winning group rewarded for its efforts.
"That's something a mentor of mine, Chris Petersen at Boise State, always emphasized when I was playing for him," Sanford said, "and that's something we're implementing here on a daily basis."
Sanford and his staff have also tried to implement a more process-oriented practice schedule with specific themes and goals for each day.
Tuesday was a physical day, with plenty of contact work.
"If we want to fix some of the things that preceded this new start in the run game and stopping the run, we have to practice that way," Sanford said. "Today was a physical, tough day and that's exactly what the players gave."
Sanford and his staff will continue that competitive theme Wednesday with detailed work during red zone periods, two-minute drills and end-of-game scenarios.
"We want to make those competitive," he said. "It's a combination of getting good looks at what Cal does offensively and defensively, but also implementing some true competition."
The Buffs have also continued to try and institute a little "chaos" in their practices. Instead of a controlled, quiet environment, the Buffs have practiced with crowd noise and music blaring from the sidelines in an effort to better replicate gameday situations.
"Ultimately, you need to see growth from Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday," Sanford said. "Then you have to have that ultimate belief that you can go into that game with confidence, the belief and trust in one another to have the results that we're all looking for."
COMMON THEME: A number of players have said there is one big difference in practices under Sanford's direction.
"Energy level," said linebacker Josh Chandler-Semedo of the environment under new defensive coordinator Gerald Chatman. "Of course, we're doing a couple different things (schematically). But really, the energy. The level of expectation has risen to a completely different level."
Safety Trevor Woods expressed a similar sentiment.
"We're doing a few things differently, but Coach Chatman really brings energy," Woods said. "You can tell he's got so much passion for all this. It's awesome being around him."
'HANK' STEPPING UP: True freshman running back Anthony Hankerson, who was sidelined for part of fall camp and the first three games of the season with an injury, has quickly inserted himself into the mix after being cleared to play.
He ran for 25 yards on seven carries in his debut game against UCLA, then followed that with a 12-carry, 58-yard effort against Arizona that included his first collegiate touchdown.
Now, he's become part of the regular rotation and is expected to see some significant time Saturday at Cal, along with veteran Deion Smith, redshirt freshman Charlie Offerdahl and sophomore Jayle Stacks.
"We are a group of selfless guys," Hankerson said. "You won't see anybody ducking their heads because they didn't get 20 carries. We just feed off each other."
The 5-foot-9, 190-pound Hankerson has quickly shown an ability to find the hole — and initiate contact when necessary, consistently picking up extra yards after contact. He is also proving to be versatile, with two catches against Arizona.