Colorado State's D-line is ready to prove its worth

Posted by ESPN.com’s Graham Watson

Scott Brown saw something change in his player’s eyes after their first series against rival Colorado during the opening game of the season.

Colorado State’s defensive line coach saw confidence, motivation and maybe even a little relief when his defensive line realized its hard work over the summer had actually paid off.

“There was a return on their investment, “ Brown said of his defensive linemen’s work during the summer. “They had confidence after that first series when they came off, that their get-offs and their reaction to the run and pass, there was a truism to what was happening to them. It helped feed them and they became more and more confident as that game went on.”

That confidence has increased over the past three weeks as the defensive line has done its part to help Colorado State to a 3-0 start, its best start since 1994. And the Rams go into this weekend’s game against No. 19 BYU ready to show that it’s defense can compete against one of the elite offensive lines in the country.

“Over the offseason, that’s all we focused on, just getting better, so we wouldn’t be the weak point of the defense,” defensive tackle James Morehead said. “So, everyone on defense could count on us to be there and do what we needed to do.

“We’re confident as a defensive line in what we need to do and what we have to do. I think we’re confident in what our assignments are, and the added confidence of having the good games before this kind of help us going into this game and playing well.”

The difference between the Colorado State’s defensive line this season and last is like night and day. The Rams already have seven sacks; they had just nine all of last season. They have 17 tackles for loss after just 51 a year ago. And through three games, including two against teams that pride themselves on their running games, the Rams are allowing just 85.33 yards per game.

Brown said he started to see improvement on his defensive line toward the end of last year. As last year’s seniors started to buy in, the younger players also started to come along. But the linemen themselves said they didn’t feel like they were holding up their end of the bargain not only for the rest of the defense, but the rest of the team.

“I think we all knew that we weren’t performing as well as other D-lines across the country,” defensive tackle Guy Miller said. “We all took note of that and it was definitely something we thought about. That was definitely some motivation to work hard throughout the offseason. We didn’t want to be a weak link. We wanted to be a tough defensive line that other teams talked about and was tough to go up against.”

Last season, Colorado State stayed with BYU throughout the game, but allowed BYU quarterback Max Hall to lead a touchdown drive in the fourth quarter to give the Cougars a 45-42 victory. Both Morehead and Miller acknowledged that while they wanted to beat BYU last year and get pressure on Hall, there wasn’t a firm belief that they could actually do it.

That, too, has changed.

Even Brown said his line has a better shot against BYU than it did a year ago. While that doesn’t mean that the Rams are going to manhandle BYU, it does mean that they’ll fare better than they did a year ago.

Brown said he’s spent many hours since last year’s loss studying BYU’s offense and while he wouldn’t divulge his plan of attack, he thinks his players are going into this game with the confidence and knowledge they need to pull off one of the biggest wins in program history.

“We’ve set our sights as a program to try and get CSU back to the level of play where CSU is competing with the three elite schools in the conference,” Brown said. “So, this challenge that presents itself this weekend, this is a way for us to measure. Have we really improved? In other words, are we pretenders or contenders? And this game will give us a great measuring stick as to where we are. I’m not sure it will define us one way or the other. Whether we win or lose this game, I don’t think it yet defines us because in my mind, as the defensive line coach, we’re still no anywhere near what I dream of us becoming.”