BOULDER - Last season, the Colorado Buffaloes secondary was a key piece of their most successful team in over a decade. After losing three starters during the offseason, the Buffs could have stumbled in their efforts to rebuild. Instead, they restocked with the talent waiting in the wings.
Senior Ryan Moeller, who plays in the Buffs hybrid nickel back and outside linebacker 'buff back' role, has been a major contributor since his arrival at CU. With a hand in every game last year, he racked up 64 total tackles, two forced fumbles and a pass defended. Although he is not an official team captain, Moeller carries himself as a leader of the defensive backfield.
Last Saturday, Moeller and the Buffs secondary faced their toughest challenge of the season to date, hosting the sixth-ranked Washington Huskies at home. Quarterback Steven Montez tossed three interceptions and overthrew his star receivers twice for near certain touchdowns en route to a 37-10 loss, the first at Folsom in nearly two years. In the wake of a blowout, the defense repeatedly held Washington out of the end zone, helping their offense live to fight another day.
"Being on defense and even on offense sometimes you can get put in situations where there is a sudden change," Moeller said. "That happened a couple of times for us last week and we had to step up big time to minimize the damage. I think the defense did a good job of doing that."
While the defensive backs flashed their potential in Saturday's loss, they have plenty left to improve on. For Moeller, their hard work still hasn't paid off the way they'd hoped.
"Each week is another week to get better," Moeller said. "So you have to look at what you did last week, both positive and negative, in order to identify what you need to work on and the new stuff you need to touch up. I think defensively we all strained, we were out there working as hard as we could. Unfortunately, we didn't the result we wanted."
Now, the Buffs turn their attention to a road battle with the Bruins, a team that is averaging 45 points per matchup through four weeks. Moeller knows exactly what UCLA is capable of, and is ready for a fight at the Rose Bowl.
"Their entire offense, they have a lot of weapons over there," Moeller said. "They're all strainers too, so they're all kids that are gonna give us their best shot. They were all highly recruited and have outstanding athletic ability, so I wouldn't expect anything less than a brawl out there."
As the Buffs prepare for their upcoming Pac-12 tilt, they will carry with them the messages of last season's leaders. Current NFL talents Chidobe Awuzie, Tedric Thompson and Ahkello Witherspoon left their legacy at CU, along with a team-first mentality that the secondary honors to this day.
"We're playing for each other and playing for everyone that's out there," Moeller said. "It may be hard at times, but the glory will last us a lot longer than the pain does. Playing for your brothers means a whole lot more than if you're just out there on a Saturday, doing your thing."
For Moeller and the rest of the secondary, that position group has become a brotherhood with a title - 'Moneygang.' A creation of the 2016 season, the moniker has been an important motivational element for the group.
"It's an identity for us, something that we fall back on," Moeller said. "If you don't have the identity, then you can just be out there sometimes. So when we made 'Moneygang', it helped us understand how accountable we are for each other. How we have to be there for each other and how much it means to be in the secondary here at this school. Being able to create that identity, it gives us some swagger, some pep in our step. When we decided that's what we were going to call ourselves, it definitely helped us pick up our game and go beyond what we thought we were capable of."
The 'Moneygang' members hold themselves to the highest expectations and make no exceptions for the younger players. To earn a starting role in this secondary, they have had to step up in a big way for the Buffs.
"Evan (Worthington) and Trey (Udofia) they've both come in and brought a lot to the table," Moeller said. "I think they've exceeded some people's expectations, but as far as Moneygang goes and Moneygang standards, they're right up there, helping push the envelope and helping us all raise our game. They definitely didn't waver, didn't drop the ball and I think they've been a great addition for our team."
As a group, the Buffs defensive backs seem to have found a good balance. The veteran skill set of Afolabi Laguda, Isaiah Oliver and Moeller, and the young talent in Worthington and Udoffia, has been a recipe for success for CU. But Moeller thinks they are capable of being even better.
"As long as we got those goals and something to work for," Moeller said, "it's going to be a great season. You'll see a lot out of us."
If they can maintain their shutdown level of play, Moeller and the secondary have a good shot at propelling the Buffs to another conference title bid. The group has already surprised many with their dominant performances, and still have plenty left to showcase.