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By: Associated Press
Tailback Rodney Stewart is congratulated after one of his two TD runs against Wyoming.
Brooks: The Monday AM QB
Release: September 21, 2009
By: B.G. Brooks, Contributing Editor
BOULDER - A not-so-amazing thing happened for Colorado's defense Saturday at Folsom Field: The coaches allowed the players to play.

Say hello to the "BuffsLite" defensive approach.

Two days after CU was torched for 54 points and 624 yards at Toledo, defensive coordinator Ron Collins pondered his options (no, changing professions wasn't among them) and settled on this one: a schematic reduction was needed.

Something had to be done; his defense appeared two or more steps behind in almost everything it attempted against the Rockets. And as Ohio State proved Saturday with several exclamation points - 38 of them to Toledo's none, to be exact - the Rockets' offense has no business embarrassing any BCS team. 

In the five days preceding CU's 24-0 shutout of Wyoming, various coaches and players offered estimates as to how many defensive calls were to be pared from the game plan.

One coach predicted as many as 25 calls used in the first two games were to be trimmed to half a dozen; a player chimed in with a guesstimate that the Buffs would use perhaps "eight or ten" defensive calls against the Cowboys - that total being reduced from about 50 in the entire package.

Whatever the pared down count turned out to be, Collins and his staff had arrived at what hardly could be called magic numbers. Basic, yes; magic, no. Player after player in the CU locker room (and Collins joined them) offered the same theory: Use the head too much and the feet suffer. Thinking slows reacting.

"We simplified everything," cornerback Jimmy Smith said. "We came out there and played fast. There were no complications and everyone knew what their job was."

But how could the results be so dramatic that CU went from a 54-point yield to zero? Even though he couldn't generate a point against Ohio State, Toledo's Aaron Opelt was a senior quarterback who exploited CU in every way possible.

Wyoming, meanwhile, alternated a junior college transfer (Robert Benjamin) and a true freshman (Austyn Carta-Samuels) at quarterback. Plus, Toledo had better overall skill players surrounding Opelt.

The Cowboys, claimed Buffs defensive end Marquez Herrod, "were not that sophisticated offensively" - which might have been surprising considering new coach Dave Christensen's offensive pedigree.

But another very large question in the wake of CU's first shutout in 24 games was why the defensive staff leaned so heavily toward overcomplicating things for Games 1-2.

Coach Dan Hawkins might have offered the best explanation last Tuesday when he used this offensive analogy: Two surefire goal line plays usually are sufficient, but coaches "outthink themselves" and want from five to seven at their disposal before finally coming back to the tried-and-true two.

Make no mistake, in upcoming games CU will need to vary its defensive calls to avoid becoming predictable. But as was proved over the past two games, mentally shackling the players is to be avoided as well.

Think the offensive staff might dial in to this? Personnel shifts in the offensive line often bring simplification, and even with a reworked O-line on Saturday, CU produced its first 100-yard rusher of the season (Rodney Stewart, 127 yards, two TDs).

The ground game finding its legs was a plus, but the passing game was middling. Quarterback Cody Hawkins (17-of-31, 175 yards) hit several critical throws, but missed a couple of open receivers - not what is expected of a three-year starter whose forte is accuracy.

Eight players caught passes, but none by Markques Simas, Andre Simmons or Anthony Wright. That trio has accounted for two catches in three games (one each by Simmons and Wright, Simas was suspended for Games 1-2). That's not nearly good enough for players CU is counting on to stretch the field.

Before the opener, offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau said Simmons, who was not cleared to play until the next-to-last week of August camp, and Wright, a late switch from cornerback, would be given 12-15 plays to grasp for Game 1.

Going into Game 4, their knowledge of the playbook and roles in the offense should be expanding - unless there are complications with blocking or running routes, they're not yet in sync with their QB, or they're simply bogging down mentally. In which case, does the offense take a hint from the defense and go "lite"?

Just a thought.

A change of pace, mentally or otherwise, apparently isn't needed on special teams, which continue to be CU's overall strong suit. Placekicker Aric Goodman (3-of-4 field goals, 12-of-12 PATs on the season), punter Matt DiLallo (six punts Saturday for a 47.7-yard average) and the coverage/return teams have excelled -- and they'll need to continue.

With two losses to open the season, September wasn't what CU or its fans believed it would be. But the Buffs did close the month with an inspired performance, giving some credence to a players-only meeting late last week in which "turning the season" was emphasized.

"Obviously, you never want to lose, and when you're 0-2 enough is enough," junior receiver Scotty McKnight said. "We've been getting heat from outside people about 'coach Hawk' and his staff.

"The truth is, we're doing the right things and the players are all in it together."

If McKnight is right, October, featuring three road trips (West Virginia, Texas, Kansas State) and visits from two Big 12 North Division contenders (Kansas, Missouri), will determine how far the Buffs have come.

And how much further they go.

Contact: BG.Brooks@Colorado.EDU

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