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By: Associated Press
Will Pericak (83), Derrick Webb (1), teammates close in for a tackle.
Brooks: Buffs Living Through Defensive Nightmare
Release: November 03, 2011
By: B.G. Brooks, Contributing Editor
BOULDER - The out-of-control numbers don't sit well with Greg Brown or, for that matter, do much for his sense of well-being. The only way his Colorado defense could be allowing more yards and points in the Pac-12 Conference might be by using 10 players - and there have been times over the past five weeks when Brown swore that was the case.

Nightmares can return, but the Buffaloes' defensive nightmare won't end. In five Pac-12 games, CU has allowed an average of 44.8 points and 523.8 yards, losing those five contests by an average score of 45-13.

Brown isn't at a loss for words as much as a loss of players. "I've never seen this many guys injured or gone for whatever reason," he said. "Our big problem has been depletion - big-time. We've got to all get better as players and coaches . . . we've just got to improve. It's tough, but we're going to play the hand we're dealt."

The hand Brown has been dealt is a cruel joke. If injuries have rattled the entire team, the epicenter has been on defense, where both starting safeties have missed time due to injury and leading tackler Doug Rippy, the starting middle linebacker, is out for the season after knee surgery.

And there's more . . . factor in two starting corners lost to graduation, training camp injuries to a pair of prospective corners, losing a starting corner in Week 2 (Travis Sandersfeld returned last week), and four DBs suspended - including then-leading tackler Parker Orms.

Brown's Band-Aids have come in the form of a former running back who had never played defense (now Brian Lockridge is injured, too), a converted wide receiver (Jason Espinoza) who hadn't played defense in three seasons, a true freshman linebacker (K.T. Tu'umalo) plugged in at a safety as a last resort, and other players taking on roles they hadn't imagined.

In short, a secondary stricken in September suddenly got worse and hasn't recovered.

The Buffs changed base defenses last spring, moving from a 4-3 to a 3-4, but Brown insists any difficulties for returning players brought on by that transition had been solved by the start of August camp.

"There was some carryover from a couple of years before (when Brown was the Buffs' secondary coach)," he said. "But based on film, what they were doing here last year, there wasn't a bunch of carryover from that. It took guys through spring to start feeling good about it and I don't think any problems spilled over (into the fall)."

Sophomore linebacker Derrick Webb agreed, saying there has been a minimal amount of confusion associated with the schematic change. Instead, he also pointed to inexperience: "If anything, we've just got a lot of young guys playing. Those guys have to get experience. There are a lot of freshmen in the back half who have played their first games these last couple of weeks.

"We've got a lot of inexperience back there, but we've got to bring those guys along. Even though they're young, nobody (opponents) cares or is going to feel sorry for us because we're playing with a lot of freshmen. We just have to bring them along and prepare them."

Using inexperienced players can result in communication problems, and earlier this week coach Jon Embree huddled with his defensive coaches in an attempt to identify communication solutions as Brown continues to plug raw players into the secondary.

"We just need to get on the same page," Embree said. "Sometimes we're missing assignments because a guy didn't hear a call."

That obviously hurts, but Brown facetiously says the only real solution in ironing out communication issues is "to add a couple of years to each guy's resume so they know what's going on out there. It's just part of the process. When you're young, or if you haven't played much ball, it's tough at first. If you're (senior safety) Anthony Perkins out there, no problem. You're going to be spitting out communication left and right - no issues."

The loss of Rippy three weeks ago, said Brown, was not only a major loss in tackling productivity, but in his command of the defense. "He had ended up being a great communicator, a great leader for us," Brown said. "It really hurts your defense when you lose a guy like that."

Junior linebacker Jon Major has stepped into Rippy's role and "has been steady, actually pretty outstanding," Brown said. "He's taken on his shoulders this week to do the majority of the communicating for us."

The Buffs begin November by hosting No. 21 Southern California (6-2, 302) Friday night at Folsom Field (7 p.m., ESPN). In the season's final four games, Brown hopes to see his defense "compete and show progress in learning our basic concepts of defense, not only schematically in what we do but in how we play the techniques," he said.

"That's what we need to improve on, and to improve communicating. Beyond that, we've just got to make plays."

Contact: BG.Brooks@Colorado.EDU

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