BOULDER – The Colorado Buffaloes rolled to a 37-3 win over the Texas State Bobcats on Saturday at Folsom Field. While the offense struggled to get going in their week two matchup, the defense solidified their status as one of the best units early on this season.
For the first time since 1958, the Buffs have not allowed a touchdown in their first two games (defeating CSU 17-3 last week). They also racked up six sacks on the day, three of which belonged to Leo Jackson III. CU’s senior defensive end has had an impressive start to the season, and head coach Mike MacIntyre acknowledged that after the game.
“He’s a multi-dimensional lineman,” MacIntyre said. “He can play in the 3-4 and when we’re in nickel he can pass rush, too. He’s such a team player, he’s athletic, he’s got long arms. He’s got good potential to play after this level.”
Another player likely headed to the NFL is junior cornerback Isaiah Oliver, who pulled in an interception in today’s matchup. Oliver has been touted as potentially the best corner in the Pac-12 and one of the top corners in the nation and has shut down opposing receivers in both of his first two games. The Buffs’ head coach heaped praise on Oliver following Saturday’s tilt with Texas State.
“I’ve always thought Isaiah was a phenomenal corner, not a great one,” MacIntyre said. “He’s special. The thing I’ve always said that makes a corner excellent is can he play the ball int he air? Can he knock the ball away from the guy, can he make the pick? Can he run the route for the guy? So many guys can do it, but it’s the end of the route that matters because that’s when everything happens. He can finish plays and that’s what makes him special.”
MacIntyre also had plenty of compliments for another Buffs defensive back, junior Evan Worthington, who has put together solid back-to-back performances after a year off from football. He finished Saturday with nine tackles (including two for loss), following a week one debut in which he racked up five tackles and an interception. Worthington has proved a huge asset for the Buffs since his return, helping to take the place of several departed seniors.
“Can he fly or what?” MacIntyre exclaimed. “He’s always been like that but he’s gone to another level. You all laughed at me when I said he reminds me of Chido [Awuzie] but he does. He’s that fast and that athletic. He’s not a corner like Chido, but he’s a nickel, safety, blitzer like Chido was. He’s a big add for us.”
In addition to Worthington, Oliver, and Jackson, the Buffs defense is stacked with other talent, both emerging and veteran. Their secondary, which houses Oliver and Worthington, also boasts seniors Afolabi Laguda and Ryan Moeller, and redshirt freshman Trey Udoffia.
The Buffs defensive line has also impressed, with Drew Lewis, Jacob Callier, Rick Gamboa, Chris Mulumba and Terran Hasselbach among those with notable performances so far this season.
While the defensive unit sparked questions and garnered doubt in the offseason, they have yet to stumble. Running back Phil Lindsay was visibly frustrated when discussing the lack of respect the group has gotten up to this point.
“They work hard,” Lindsay said. “You guys sat here and penciled them off when they first started. You guys don’t understand the caliber of players and talent. They’re doing what they are supposed to do, that’s their job.”
Lindsay is of course not alone in his praise of the defense. Quarterback Steven Montez was the next to chime in.
“That defense is nasty, I’ll tell you that much,” Montez said, shaking his head. “Isaiah Oliver is one of the best cornerbacks in the nation. I like our defense to do big things as the year goes on. I think they are very good and they were very underrated before the season started.”
MacIntyre is not surprised by the success his defense has had thus far. The Buffs head coach has been particularly impressed with their ability to maintain a high level of play, no matter the situation.
“The thing I like about our defense is when teams get down in our red zone, we don’t flinch,” MacIntyre said. “We rise to another level. Our guys keep playing. We did that last year, and these young guys are doing it even better this year.”
Corner Oliver credits the unit’s improvements to new defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot and says the group takes it personally when opponents break off big plays.
“We play as fast and as hard as we can every single play,” Oliver said. “If we can keep up like that, then that’s great. It’s obviously not realistic to give up zero touchdowns for the rest of the year but anything that the offense gets, one catch or one big run, we take that to heart. We try to stop that from happening at all.”
CU has a home game against Northern Colorado up next and then will face two Pac-12 rivals back-to-back as Washington comes to Folsom and then the Buffs travel to UCLA. The continued dominance of CU’s defense will be essential to stave off the high-powered offenses on their schedule.