Preview – Arizona

Colorado has never gone winless for a season in Folsom Field.

Opened in 1924, Colorado has played football at Folsom Field (first known as Colorado Stadium – the name was changed in 1944 after the death of the Buffs’ legendary head coach) for 87 seasons, and the Buffs have never – never – gone winless at home for an entire year.

The Buffs are 0-4 at home in 2011.

In a season in which the school’s longest road losing streak in history has been extended throughout the season, the Buffs this Saturday, on Senior Day, will attempt to avoid having yet another negative record associated with their legacy.

Fortunately for the home team, the schedule presents the best opportunity for victory in over a month.

Arizona comes to Boulder with a 2-7 record, 1-6 in the Pac-12. Discounting a season-opening victory over 1-AA Northern Arizona, the Wildcats have just one victory in their last 13 games against 1-A competition, dating back to a five game slide to end the 2010 season. The Wildcats are coached by Tim Kish, named as interim coach after eight-year head coach Mike Stoops was fired a month ago. Arizona ranks 100th or worse in no fewer than eight statistical categories, including rushing offense, total defense, pass defense, and scoring defense.

Yet there is one last number, a number more significant than those posted above … Arizona is an 11-point favorite.

Neither Colorado nor Arizona will go bowling in 2011.

Which team still has the will to win?

Onto this week’s “T.I.P.S.” to find out …

T – Talent

The Colorado/Arizona game will likely come down to the performance of one player … Wildcat quarterback Nick Foles.

As Foles goes, so goes Arizona. Last weekend, Foles put up good numbers against Utah, throwing for 326 yards and two touchdowns. But it was the two interceptions Foles threw, including an interception with Arizona at the Utah two-yard line in the fourth quarter, which allowed the Utes to come away with a 34-21 victory.

The Arizona senior quarterback is second all-time in Wildcat history in passing yards and touchdowns, and already holds school records for pass completions and consecutive pass attempts without an interception. In 2009, Foles posted the second-best completion percentage in school history (63.41%). Last season, Foles upped his completion percentage to 67.13%. This year, Foles has fared even better, completing 68.8% of his passes.

In all but one game this season, Foles has thrown at least 39 passes. His primary target is senior wide receiver Juron Criner. Hampered by injuries this fall, Criner has still posted 50 receptions for 607 yards and eight touchdowns. Juron Criner reaggravated a knee injury against Utah and did not practice Monday, but he should be able to play this week.

Criner underwent an appendectomy in September and, since returning, has dealt with both hand and knee issues. The latest ailment makes it hard for Criner to be explosive, said Arizona interim head coach Tim Kish. Typically the Wildcats’ top receiver, Criner was limited to three grabs for 48 yards against the Utes. “He’s trying to go. He’s trying to give his best effort,” Kish said. “He doesn’t feel like he can really plant and push off (when he’s hurt).”

In Criner’s absense last weekend, wide receiver David Douglas picked up the slack. Against Utah, Douglas set career highs for receptions (10) and yards (156), scoring two touchdowns.

So … how is a team which has posted 370 yards passing per game (4th in the nation) stuck with a 2-7 record?

Well, it starts with the rushing attack, which is as anemic as Colorado’s. The Buffs are last in the Pac-12, and 114th in the nation, in rushing, at 94.4 yards per game. Arizona is just “ahead” of Colorado, at 94.7 yards per game (ironically, there is another Pac-12 team squeezed between the two schools, Oregon State, at 94.6 yards per game. The Buffs, Beavers, and Wildcats are 114th, 113th, and 112th in the nation in that category). No Arizona running back is averaging over 50 yards rushing per game.

The Colorado defensive game plan? Fairly straight forward: Stop Foles and Criner from playing pitch-and-catch, and the Buffs have a chance.

On the other side of the ball, the matchup looks as good as it has for Colorado in over a month. The Arizona defense is poor – as is Colorado poor.

It started with injuries (where have we heard that before?). Arizona lost not one, not two, but four defensive starters (two defensive backs and two linebackers) to season-ending injuries before the 2011 season even began. A lack of depth has helped Arizona fall to 112th in pass defense, 106th in total defense, and 106th in scoring defense. The defensive line is not helping the secondary, with the Wildcats 114th in sacks and 100th in tackles for loss.

Anyone looking for a defensive struggle this weekend at Folsom Field, something along the lines of No. 1 LSU v. No. 2 Alabama last weekend (9-6 Tigers in overtime), is likely to be sorely disappointed.

I – Intangibles

Colorado has a first year head coach this fall. Coming off a 5-7 season in 2010, and facing a difficult schedule, things have not gone the Buffs’ way in 2011.

Arizona came into the 2011 season with a seven year head coach, Mike Stoops. Coming off a 7-6 season in 2010 (but with five straight losses to end the year), and facing a difficult schedule, things have not gone the Wildcats’ way this fall.

A major difference between the two teams right now is that the Buff players know who their head coach will be next season.

Arizona stumbled out of the gate with a 1-5 record this season. That the schedule included three teams still harboring national championship hopes (Oregon, Stanford, and Oklahoma State) lost significance when the Wildcats fell, inexplicably, to (then 0-4) Oregon State, 37-27, on the road on October 8th. That was enough for the Arizona hierarchy, and Mike Stoops, with a 41-50 career record in Tucson, was let go.

In the first game under interim head coach Tim Kish, the Arizona players responded (see: CU under Brian Cabral, November, 2010). The Wildcats humbled UCLA on national television, 48-12. Since then, however, Arizona has lost two games, falling to Washington, 42-31, and to Utah, 34-21. With the loss to the Utes, any hope of a fourth consecutive bowl appearance have been dashed, and the likelihood that Tim Kish will return as head coach next year has also dimmed.

So, do the Wildcats have much to play for?

Perhaps not as much as the Buffs.

It will be Senior Day for Colorado, as 28 seniors suit up for the final time at Folsom Field. “At our team meeting (Monday), you could tell by looking at some of the guys’ faces that they see what is staring at them and they see what is about to happen,” said Jon Embree. “I think there will be a great sense of urgency”.

Why Colorado has more to play for this weekend: avoiding becoming the first team in school history to not win a home game at Folsom Field; avoiding becoming the first team to finish last in conference play since 1915; giving themselves – and the Buff Nation – something to cling to during the off-season.

But will that “sense of urgency” be enough?

P – Preparation / Schedule

While its not exactly a bye week, Colorado did get, for the first time all season, more rest than did the opposition in preparation for Saturday’s game. By playing on Friday night, the Buffs had their first weekend off since July. “We had Saturday and Sunday off and you don’t realize how tired you are and how worn down you are until you stop,” said Colorado head coach Jon Embree. “I know how refreshed and reenergized I felt in coming in on Monday so I can understand as a player and what having two days off can do for you.”

The remaining schedule for both teams also points to an advantage for the Buffs.

Next weekend, Colorado travels to UCLA. The game will hold great meaning for the Embree family, as father Jon will compete against Bruin tight end son Tyler. The game will also hold great meaning for the Buff Nation, as Colorado will, for the third time, try and defeat its former head coach, Rick Neuheisel (Neuheisel went 2-0 against Colorado as the head coach at Washington, beating the Buffs in 1999 and 2000). For the Colorado players, though, the UCLA game isn’t as personal. The Buffs trip to the Rose Bowl now only represents a chance to end their road losing streak … and that will mean just that much less if the Buffs can’t end their home losing streak this weekend.

For Arizona, though, the game this weekend means far less than does next week’s game. Next Saturday, Arizona takes on hated rival Arizona State. Last season, the Wildcats lost to the Sun Devils, 30-29, in two overtimes. The loss was part of a disappointing end to the 2010 campaign, where a promising 7-1 start collapsed into a 7-6 finish. This year, Arizona is out of the bowl picture, while Arizona State is in the hunt for the inaugural Pac-12 championship game. No doubt, the Wildcats would love to knock off their chief rival, and put a dent into the Sun Devils’ title hopes. (Trivia I didn’t know: Arizona and Arizona state will play next weekend for the “Territorial Cup”, billed by the Arizona media guide as “the nation’s oldest rivalry trophy”. I wouldn’t have guessed that …).

Buff fans can only hope that the Arizona players’ attention – and focus – is more on next week’s game, while the Buffs, for their part, will throw all of their remaining energy into winning a game at home for the seniors.

S – Statistics

– Colorado just finished againt the two teams in the Pac-12 which the Buffs have never defeated (0-3 v. Arizona State; 0-6 v. USC). Arizona, however, represents the opposite historical perspective. Colorado is 12-1 all-time against the Wildcats, though Arizona won the last meeting between the two teams, played in 1986;

– Six Arizona wide receivers have 100-yard games in their careers, with nine receivers having caught a pass going for over 20 yards;

– Wildcat defensive back Trevin Wade has 12 career interceptions, tied for third amongst active players in the nation;

– Colorado is averaging over 20 points less than their opponents this season, with an average score of 38-18;

– Interim Arizona head coach Tim Kish was the co-defensive coordinator last season with Colorado defensive coordinator Greg Brown;

– Along with Brown, three other Colorado coaches have walked the sidelines in Tucson – CU wide receivers coach Bobby Kennedy (2001); quarterbacks coach Rip Scherer (1989-90); and defensive line coach Mike Tuiasosopo (2003-10). Arizona secondary coach Ryan Walters played for Colorado (2005-08);

– Colorado has made a big deal about playing 25 freshmen this season (15 true; 10 red-shirt). Arizona is not all that far behind, with 23 freshmen (10 true, 13 red-shirt) so far in 2011;

– In the past three seasons – all bowl campaigns – Arizona averaged 24 rushing touchdowns per season. This year, the Wildcats have posted 11 rushing touchdowns;

– Arizona’s defense has helped several Pac-12 opponents have career games. Oregon running back LaMichael James rushed for a career-high 288 yards against the Wildcats earlier this season; USC quarterback Matt Barkley passed for a school-record 468 yards; while Washington running back Chris Polk scored five touchdowns in becoming the first Husky to record 100 yards rushing and 100 yards receiving in the same game (the only Buff to pull off that trick was Cortlen Johnson against Iowa State in 2001);

 – Colorado is 16-7 on Senior Day, dating back to 1988 (and 14-2 when the opponent was a team other than Nebraska);

– Colorado did not have a turnover against USC, the fourth time this season without a turnover. That matches the record for the most times in a season the Buffs have failed to commit a turnover, done three times previously (1989; 1993; and 2006);

– Senior running back Rodney Stewart has 561 rushing yards and 501 receiving yards. Speedy is the first Buff to accomplish this double/double in a single season, and currently is the only player in the NCAA to have accomplished this feat;

– Last week against USC, for the first time all season, none of the starting 22 players for Colorado were making their first career start;

– Senior offensive guard Ryan Miller has played every down on offense this season, the only player on the team to have played every snap on their side of the ball. On defense, the player with the most snaps is cornerback Greg Henderson – a true freshman. Henderson’s 634 plays is the most for any true freshman in school history, already well past the 597 plays Jordon Dizon saw at linebacker as a true freshman in 2004.



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