FORT COLLINS - The Colorado State defense has no interest in taking a backseat to their high-flying offense for the second consecutive season. In a year where Nick Stevens and Michael Gallup seemed to steal the show every Saturday, the defense failed to take the ball away far too often.
CSU totaled nine takeaways in 2016, which ranked in the middle of the pack in the Mountain West. But thanks to an offense that took care of the ball most of the season, the Rams finished +4 in turnover margin. That placed them third in the conference, behind only San Diego State and Wyoming.
Takeaways will be a major emphasis for a CSU defense that's still fairly young and inexperienced to take the next step in 2017. As defensive lineman Jakob Buys explained, it starts with getting pressure both on the quarterback and in the running game.
“It starts with creating a wall," Buys told BSN Denver. "Or even just the first guy there makes sure he secures the tackle and the second guy comes in and gets that ball out. We didn’t have that a lot last year. We had missed opportunities on fumble recoveries, interceptions, dropped passes. We’ve got to take the most of all these opportunities and go make plays.”
Before every practice in the spring, CSU defenders go through a turnover circuit, according to Buys. The players go through ball drills, as well as strip attempts.
Taking the ball away isn't exactly a novel concept, though. It's something that every defensive coordinator preaches and was also something defensive coordinator Marty English put a great deal of importance on last season.
Safety Jake Schlager believes that closer attention to detail should help the defense create more havoc for opposing offenses.
“We just have to keep on improvising getting the turnover, getting the strip attempt, better breaks on the ball," Schlager said. "That’s knowing not just we’re doing, but why we’re doing it, the ins and outs of each coverage.”
As much work as the Rams figure to put in forcing fumbles and picking off quarterbacks, it's ultimately attitude that makes the difference, Buys explained.
“It’s all heart, all want," Buys said. "You’ve got to want to go get that ball. Especially in critical situations, you’ve got to be able to want to go get that ball.”
First Scrimmage Recap
CSU's offense got the best of the defense in the team's first scrimmage Saturday. Stevens went 25-of-35 for 411 and yards to go with seven touchdowns. Gallup, his favorite target a year ago, hauled in eight catches for 158 yards and three touchdowns.
Mike Bobo mentioned that he wasn't pleased with tackling after the catch, nor with the execution of his defense on third down. Those are things to watch with the team's second of three scrimmages this coming Saturday.
Though the Stevens-led offense looks way ahead of the defense, cornerback Kevin Nutt isn't concerned.
"It was a lot of mental errors," Nutt said. "It wasn't really coverage-wise or gap-wise. It was just that one person who didn't do their assignment and it ended up in a big play. A lot of times, we didn't get anybody on the ground when we needed to."
Nutt singled out Robert Awunganyi, A'Keitheon Whitner, Jamal Hicks and Schlager as guys he expects to have big years in 2017.