Defense deserves credit as Buffaloes beat New Hampshire in home opener

Defensive linemen Israel Antwine and Mustafa Johnson sack New Hampshire QB Christian Lupoli during the third quarter of play at Folsom Field. Sept. 15, 2018 (Nigel Amstock/CU Independent)

The Colorado Buffaloes earned their first victory at Folsom Field on Saturday evening, besting the New Hampshire Wildcats 45-14 and improving to 3-0 on the 2018 season.

“I thought our team came out and played hard and physical,” said head coach Mike MacIntyre. “I was pleased with our state of mind, our aggressiveness and our physicality during the football game.”

From the first drive of the game, it was clear that the Buffs’ defense came to play. Colorado won the toss and elected to defer the ball, giving the Wildcats the first possession of the game.

Defensive end Mustafa Johnson recorded a sack on New Hampshire quarterback Christian Lupoli, upping his total to a team-high 3.5 on the season. A couple of plays later, inside linebacker Rick Gamboa intercepted Lupoli on the third down to give Colorado the ball within the Wildcats’ 28-yard line. Three plays later, quarterback Steven Montez connected with Laviska Shenault Jr. for a quick 28-yard touchdown.

The sack and subsequent interception on the game’s first drive seemingly set the tone for the rest of the game. The resulting touchdown play would not have been possible without the pressure the Buffaloes’ defense put on New Hampshire during the first drive.

In total, the Colorado defense recorded five sacks, two fumble recoveries — one for a touchdown — and an interception.

“We started off really good,” said outside linebacker Davion Taylor. “It was hot, it was intense, but we really did good starting off…overall it was a great effort.”

For the second game in a row, Taylor was able to scoop up and recover a fumble. Only this time, the junior college transfer was able to run the recovered ball for a touchdown. It was the first touchdown the junior has ever scored.

“When I saw the ball, I didn’t know what to do,” Taylor said. “I picked it up and I saw the end zone. When I got the touchdown I didn’t know to celebrate [or what]. It was a dream come true because I’ve never scored a touchdown before.

“When it happened I didn’t know what to think. When I got to the sideline, everybody was just happy. I was overjoyed myself.”

There was plenty to be happy about. Taylor’s touchdown put the Buffs up 28-0 to end the first half, and Taylor and the rest of the Colorado defense was again proving to be a force.

“He’s getting better and better every week,” MacIntyre said of Taylor.  “He has the explosive athleticism. He’ll make a lot more plays. He caused that big fumble last week also. I’m really excited for Davion and how he’s improving.”

But it’s not just Taylor that’s been improving — the rest of the Buffs’ linebackers are firing on all cylinders. Nate Landman, who just awarded the Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week last week, tallied his third sack of the season earlier in the second quarter.

New Hampshire head coach Sean McDonnell also took notice of the aforementioned linebackers, Landman and Gamboa.

“Their two inside linebackers … those guys are downhill, physical football players,” McDonnell said. “We knew that they were going to do something — we just didn’t execute what we need to do to slow it down, a big physical guy is knocking you over.”

Both Gamboa and Landman tied for the team lead in total tackles, each earning four. For the latter, the sophomore ILB notched his team-leading 32nd tackle. The former secured his second interception in his college career.

It was a decisive win to close out the non-conference, ‘preseason’ part of the Buffaloes’ schedule. Colorado has a bye week upcoming, which gives them 13 days until their next opponent, the UCLA Bruins, come to town on Sept. 27. That game will signal the beginning of a stretch of nine games against all Pac-12 teams to finish out the 2018 season.

For the Buffs, they’ll take the break as an opportunity to improve.

“As a team, you want to keep the intensity up,” Johnson said. “Thirteen days is a long time to start slacking off or lose our focus before our next game.”

Until then, the Buffs can enjoy their second 3-0 start in many seasons.

“Being 3-0 is amazing,” Johnson said. “There’s a statistic that if you go 4-0, you’re more likely to have a winning season, and that’s what the coaches have been talking about.

“We strive for that as a D-line unit and as a defense in general — as a team in general.”

“We still have some improving to do,” Taylor said. “I feel like we have a great defense. We have a chance to go to the Pac-12 [Championship] and be a great defensive unit this year.”

Contact CUI sports writer Scott MacDonald at scott.macdonald@colorado.edu.

Scott MacDonald

SCOTT MACDONALD IS A SPORTS WRITER WHO HAILS FROM ENEMY TERRITORY (FORT COLLINS, CO), BUT ASSURES EVERYONE HE IS A BUFF THROUGH AND THROUGH. GROWING UP, SCOTT ALWAYS HAD AN AFFINITY FOR SPORTS, NAMELY HOCKEY AND FOOTBALL, AND IS EXCITED TO SCRIBE THAT PASSION THROUGH THE MEDIUM OF THE CU INDEPENDENT. SCOTT IS MAJORING IN COMMUNICATION WITH A MINOR IN BUSINESS. FOLLOW HIM ON TWITTER @SCOTTTOPICS

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