Opportunistic defense shines for No. 9 Colorado

BOULDER, Colo. (AP) Linebacker Kenneth Olugbode and several of his Colorado teammates spend quite a bit of time on their headsets, barking out commands and watching each other's back.

They're always in perfect step, too. And that's from separate rooms while jointly playing the video game ''Call of Duty.''

Their on-the-field chemistry is even more cohesive as the ninth-ranked Buffaloes (10-2, No. 9 CFP) boast an opportunistic defense that's forced 26 turnovers this season.

''We communicate well and that's why we play well,'' said Olugbode, whose team will face No. 4 Washington (11-1, No. 5 CFP) on Friday in the Pac-12 championship game.

The proof is certainly in the numbers: The Buffs are allowing 323.8 yards of total offense this season. That's nearly 100 yards fewer than a year ago. Even more, they allowed 27.5 points last season and just 18.8 in 2016. The players chalk it up to growing even more comfortable in Year 2 of defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt's system.

''We weren't getting that many turnovers before. But coach Leavitt has been stressing that since he's gotten here,'' said safety Tedric Thompson, who had two interceptions when the Buffaloes beat Utah last Saturday to clinch the Pac-12 South. ''Each and every game we try to go in there and create as many turnovers as we can.''

Colorado currently has a nation-best streak of forcing at least one turnover in 25 straight contests. The key has been relatively simple.

''Everyone has to do their 1/11th,'' defensive back Ryan Moeller explained. ''Once you start worrying and hoping someone else will be there, then you aren't paying attention to your own job. We just had faith in everyone and knew where everyone was going to be. We just had to execute.''

One of the leaders of this defensive unit is do-everything standout Chidobe Awuzie, who was recently voted the team's co-most valuable player along with senior quarterback Sefo Liufau. Awuzie has played cornerback, safety and nickel back at times in his career, along with a little bit of outside linebacker.

No matter where he lines up, he's a handful, which is why he figures to be a high pick in the NFL draft come April.

''Every game we approach the same way, (with a) 1-0 attitude like it's the Super Bowl,'' Awuzie recently said.

The creed has served the Buffaloes well so far.

Now, they face a Washington team with an explosive offense directed by quarterback Jake Browning.

''We always respect our opponents, give each opponent the same respect every game,'' pass rusher Jimmie Gilbert said. ''We are going to work hard to stop Washington.''

Much like Awuzie, Olugbode always winds up in the middle of the action. He had a 10-yard fumble return for a score against Utah that gave Colorado some much-needed breathing room in the fourth quarter.

These days, his arms are covered in little nicks where the helmets of tailbacks have caught him. The scar on his right shin is still there - a reminder of a scary situation.

Last season in a game against Oregon, he was hit in the calf while making a tackle. Olugbode played until the third quarter even though his leg began doubling in size due to swelling.

A few hours later, he underwent emergency surgery for acute compartment syndrome, a painful condition where blood flow to a muscle is restricted and results in tissue trauma. He missed two games before returning.

''I didn't know the magnitude of what it was, until I was told I could've lost the foot,'' said Olugbode, who's the team's leading tackler. ''It was just a minor setback for a major comeback.''

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