BOULDER - While the Colorado Buffaloes defense impressed with a dominant start to the season, their production has taken a hit since the beginning of conference play. Senior defensive end Leo Jackson has been a huge part of the defensive line's success, with a staggering three-sack performance against Texas State. He has also managed 27 tackles through the first six games.
Last week, the Buffs defensive line was bulldozed for the first time this season, as Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate racked up over 300 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. CU's defense looked completely caught off guard, as Tate ran freely to the house time and time again.
"We weren’t really fundamentally sound, which is what you have to be when you play offenses that are option style," Jackson said. "You have to play stout but you also have to play disciplined and that’s what we didn’t do."
With such a clear weakness exposed, future opponents will likely attempt to lean on their run games and dual-threat quarterbacks moving forward. For the Buffs defensive line, that means focusing on stopping the run by any means.
"We have to do exactly what we didn’t do in this past game," Jackson said. "We have to do what we’ve been doing the past couple days [in practice] which is just getting back to the fundamentals of playing disciplined football. Otherwise, we’ll just see a repeat of that again."
In addition to their issues with the run game, CU's defense has also seen their quarterback pressure dip over the past few games. Through the first two matchups, the unit racked up nine sacks, compared to only three sacks in the last four weeks. Jackson says the best way to regain that pressure comes back to the ground game.
"I would say stopping the run because when we don’t stop the run, it just leaves the playbook wide open," Jackson said. "Earlier in the season, we got to get them in downs where we knew they were gonna pass and we were able to get upfield. But in the last couple games, we weren’t able to stop the run collectively as a defense and that allows the offensive playbook to be pretty much wide open - they can run any play they want."
Because of his hot start to the season, teams have actively avoided running plays on Jackson's side of the line. He takes it as a compliment, but it also limits his ability to wreak havoc on opponents.
"It's cool that they recognize me and don’t come to my side, but it’s also frustrating when I’m on the field and I just know the play is going away and I’m like ‘alright’," Jackson says with a smile and an eye roll. "So I’m just chasing plays for the whole game. I want to get in and contribute."
The defense will look to regain their success this weekend, as another conference tilt against Oregon State takes the Buffs on the road. For Jackson, that means getting back to the mentality they held at the start of the year.
"We just have to stay focused and loosen up," Jackson said. "That’s the biggest thing is not to be too tense, we just have to relax and trust our teammates. That’s what we were doing at the beginning of the season - that’s how we got dubs."
Despite their stumble against the run last weekend, Jackson's faith in his teammates has never wavered.
"I’m always confident in the defense," he said with a grin. "I’m a part of it, I trust the guys around me and I trust the coaching as well."