UCLA Football Preview: Colorado Defense Looks to Build on 2019
The Buffs have experience on this side of the ball that their offense is lacking, and a solid front seven will be the key.
When the UCLA Bruins take on the Colorado Buffaloes this Saturday, Colorado defensive coordinator Tyson Summers will be in his second season with the Buffs. While they have youth in the secondary, the defensive line and linebackers have plenty of experience to hang their hats on.
Sophomore nose tackle Jalen Sami, junior defensive end Terrance Lang, and senior defensive tackle Mustafa Johnson all return this year, with Lang and Johnson being the most skilled up front. If anyone is going to get to Bruin quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, it’s going to be these two. Johnson was second on the team last year with three quarterback hurries, and also had a forced fumble that resulted in a recovery. Lang is a quick body. So, it’s no wonder he topped the team with four quarterback hurries.
The line is going to be where it all starts for the Colorado defense. If they can stop the run and get to the quarterback, they may be more successful than people are willing to give them credit for this early in the season. Between the three starting lineman, they had ten sacks in the 2019 season. So if the UCLA front five can’t hold, Thompson-Robinson could easily find himself on his back frequently.
The linebacking unit is pretty stacked as well. The Buffs return several key players from 2019, the most notable being senior inside linebacker Nate Landman. He had a total of 114 tackles including eight tackles for loss, a pick, four pass breakups, and three quarterback hurries. He will also have help from senior Akil Jones, who came into his own last year and has once again earned a spot at the top of the depth chart. The interior is all but locked with these two in place.
On the edge, we will see juniors Guy Thomas and Carson Wells. Wells is in his third year as a starter and is looking to build on a solid 2019 performance. Thomas started off his freshman year as a Nebraska Cornhusker, but played his sophomore season at Coahoma Community College in Mississippi. He committed to Colorado in the spring of this year and could very well have the breakout year he has been looking for. He totaled 30 tackles, including 10 for a loss and three sacks in 2019, and will be a key addition to the Buffs’ defense.
Coaching the cornerbacks will be none other than former UCLA coach Demetrice Martin. After a stint at the University of Arizona, he relocated to Boulder this season.
Colorado has utilized a hybrid position in recent years which has gone by the name of “Buff backer” and “Star”, which is an outside linebacker/safety hybrid. According to a recent Buff Stampede article with head coach Karl Dorrell, the position will continue to appear in the Colorado defense with an emphasis on adapting to the speed of the opposing offense. Junior Chris Miller will get the nod in that role, although he has battled injuries in the past. If he can stay healthy, he could be a major playmaker.
At the corners, junior Mekhi Blackmon and freshman Christian Gonzalez are slated to get the start. Blackmon only appeared in four games in 2019 due to injury, but still had ten total tackles and a forced fumble in those contests. If he can stay healthy this year, he will be complimented nicely by the addition of Gonzalez, who was a four-star recruit out of Texas and one of the top 50 recruits in the state, playing both defensive back and wide receiver in high school.
Senior Derrion Rakestraw and sophomore Mark Perry will be the starting safeties, with Perry moving from the Star position in 2019. This position is where the Buffs will likely struggle as they are the thinnest in depth here.
The secondary is truly a weak spot for Colorado. So, if DTR can air it out, the long ball could put points on the board for UCLA. The Bruin offensive line will have to watch out for a hungry Colorado defensive line and experienced linebackers with excellent edge rushing ability. If UCLA can hold these guys off while creating holes for the run game, the Bruins should have no trouble bringing home the win. Watch out for DTR’s ball security when edge rushers come in for the sack.