Colorado v. Arizona – Preview

Colorado leads the all-time series against Arizona, 13-1, with the Buffs’ only setback coming in a 24-21 loss in 1986 in Boulder. Colorado is 7-0 in games played in Tucson, including the 14-13 win in 1985 which Jon Embree referenced in his Tuesday press luncheon (here is a link to the story of that game).

Last season, Colorado came into the game against Arizona on a seven-game losing streak, and surprised the Wildcats with a 48-29 victory in perhaps the best performance by the Buffs in the Jon Embree era.

This season, Colorado comes into the game against Arizona on a five-game losing streak.

Can history repeat itself?

Here are this week’s “T.I.P.S.” …

T – Talent

Arizona fifth-year senior quarterback, Matt Scott, suffered a concussion in the third quarter against UCLA Saturday night, forcing him from the game. This incident came after Scott suffered multiple hits to the head late in the USC game on Oct. 27, but was allowed to stay in for a few plays before being pulled. Scott’s status will be re-evaluated on Thursday, but he is considered questionable for the Colorado game.

Scott, who red-shirted last season (but who has 17 career starts), has passed for 2,848 yards this season, with 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Scott has also contributed 369 yards rushing and four more touchdowns. His 357.4 yards of total offense per game leads the Pac-12 and is fourth nationally. If Scott cannot go against the Buffs, the backup is junior college transfer B.J. Denker. Denker came into the UCLA game (a 66-10 blowout loss) when Arizona was trailing 45-10, and he promptly fumbled on his third play.

The left-handed Denker completed 2-of-5 passes for 12 yards against the Bruins, also rushing eight times for 7 yards, which included taking three sacks. “It was kind of a tough situation to go into when we’re that far behind,” Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez said of Denker. “But I think he made a couple of good decisions, a couple of good throws. He’s got a good grasp of what we’re doing offensively.” Still, there is a huge drop-off from Scott, who has been playing at an all-league level, and a little-used junior college transfer who arrived this summer.

Next in line at quarterback would be wide receiver Richard Morrison. The former high school quarterback spent a lot of time at the position in the spring, but was phased out early in fall camp after Denker did enough to grab the backup spot. Morrison played briefly at quarterback against UCLA, fumbling a handoff exchange.

Even without Scott, Arizona remains formidable on offense. The Wildcats are averaging 520.7 yards per game, which would be a new school record if it holds up. Sophomore running back Ka’Deem Carey will receive a number of carries against the Buffs. Carey ranks third in the Pac-12 with 112.8 rushing yards per game, and already has 14 touchdowns (the Buffs’ leading rusher, Christian Powell, has five touchdowns, and is averaging less than half  of what Carey is posting per game, coming in at 54.2 yards per game).

If the Wildcats decide they can throw the ball (much more likely if Scott is a go at quarterback), the main threat is wide receiver Austin Hill. The sophomore has 994 receiving yards, including an eye-opening 259 yards in 39-36 win over then No. 10 USC two weeks ago. The numbers put up by Arizona’s number two man, senior Dan Bucker (54 receptions for 678 yards) is more than double of that of any Colorado wide receiver.

So, Arizona is a formidable offensive threat. But the Wildcats are only 5-4, 2-4 in Pac-12 play. Why?

Well, there is the defense.

As hard as it is to believe, there is a defense which has posted worse numbers than that of Colorado. Arizona is last in the Pac-12 in pass defense and total defense, is 11th in sacks and 11th in scoring defense.

Still, the Wildcats do have playmakers. You will likely hear the name Tra’Mayne Bondurant this weekend. Bondurant is third on the team in tackles, and leads the team (and is ninth in the Pac-12) in tackles for loss.

Two linebackers, Jake Fischer and Marquis Flowers, have already earned Pac-12 Defensive Player-of-the-Week honors this season.

I – Intangibles

The University of Colorado has become the Pac-12 equivalent of a bye week. The Buffs have given up over an average of over 52 points per game over the past five contests, while scoring an average of just over ten points during that span.

Any reason to believe that this weekend will be any different?

A great deal of it depends on the status of Arizona quarterback Matt Scott. If Scott can go this weekend, there is no reason why the Wildcats would not want to have the underrated senior post some big numbers against the Buffs. Scott is already fourth in the nation (and first in the Pac-12) in total offense. Where better to pad your stats than against a hapless Colorado defense?

Conversely, if Scott can’t go, it would be practical for Arizona to lean on Ka’Deem Carey to take care of business against the Buffs. The other three leaders in rushing in the Pac-12 – Kenjon Barner at Oregon; Johnathan Franklin at UCLA; and Stephan Taylor at Stanford – are all much more widely known names. Why not give your leading rusher an opportunity for some big numbers while protecting an inexperienced quarterback? If Scott isn’t playing, look for Arizona to be more conservative on offense … but probably still very effective.

Colorado also has some intangibles working for/against them at its quarterback position. Jordan Webb, the starter for every game in 2012, has been benched. It has been announced that Webb will sit out the Arizona game, with either Nick Hirschman or Connor Wood earning the start. If it’s Wood, it will be the sophomore’s first career start. If it’s Hirschman, it will be career start number two.

Here’s hoping – at least from a karma standpoint – that it’s Wood. Hirschman has one previous start in his CU career, but it was a disaster …  and it came the last time Colorado played in the state of Arizona. Hirschman started against Arizona State last fall, but didn’t make it out of the first quarter in Tempe, as the Buffs fell behind 21-0 early, on their way to a 48-14 embarrassment.

Still, a new quarterback has to instill at least a little bit of enthusiasm to the Colorado offense. And who better to start a new quarterback than against the Wildcats, who are 117th in the nation in pass defense, and 118th in the nation in scoring defense?  

P – Preparation / Schedule

Arizona has played one of the toughest schedules in the nation. All eight of the FBS teams the Wildcats have played this fall – leading up to the Colorado game – have been ranked at some point in the season. Those teams have a combined record of 54-16.

Unfortunately for Colorado, the Wildcats play their best ball at home. Arizona is 5-1 at home this season, losing only to then No. 18 Oregon State, 38-35. At the same time, Arizona is 0-3 on the road. In three of Arizona’s six home games this season, the Wildcats have scored in excess of 50 points.

And these prolific numbers are not just a function of the new Rich Rodriguez offense. Since 2007, Arizona, over a span of 37 games, has averagad 48.7 points per game in contests waged in Arizona Stadium.

Meanwhile, Colorado has averaged only 17 points per game in contests away from Folsom Field, and has won only two games on foreign turf since 2007.

Then there is this … Arizona is 5-4 overall this fall, and is coming off of a blow out loss to UCLA. After Colorado, Arizona takes to the road to face a resurgent (at least for now) Utah squad, then takes on rival Arizona State. The Wildcats went 4-8 last season, so a bowl bid with a new coach was a goal for this fall. Posting a sixth win and earning a post-season berth is a very tempting goal for this weekend, leaving the Utah and Arizona State games as opportunities for positioning for a better bowl venue.

S – Statistics

The good news for Colorado fans is that Arizona is 11th in the Pac-12 in scoring defense, giving up 35.0 points per game.

The bad news for Colorado fans is that the 12th place team in the Pac-12 in scoring defense – that would be the Buffs – is giving up 46.2 points per game.

Arizona is 1st in the conference in passing offense, third in rushing offense, second in total offense, and 5th in scoring offense.

Colorado is … well, you know the numbers. Colorado has scored only 20 points – total – in the past three weekends, with 14 of those points in the second half against Oregon after the Ducks had raced to a 56-0 halftime lead. Yuck.

A few positive stats for the Buff faithful

… Arizona is 11th in the conference in sacks, which should be good news for whichever Buff sophomore earns the starting bid at quarterback

… The Wildcats are last in the nation in penalty yards. Arizona has had 939 yards of penalties marched off against it, and the second worst team, Louisiana Tech, is 110 yards behind, with 829. The number three team in the country, Cal, is a full 180 yards behind the Wildcats in penalties marched off against. Overall, Arizona has racked up over 100 yards in penalties five times this season, including the last three games.

….

Will Matt Scott’s concussion keep him from playing against the Buffs, creating the break which finally allows Colorado to be competitive in a game?

Will the earliest start for a game for the Wildcats since 1983 (11:30 a.m., Saturday, FX) catch Arizona players (and their fans) in snooze mode?

Will Arizona commit so many penalties that it affects the game, allowing the Buffs to gain some momentum, both on offense and defense?

Probably not.

Last week, against Stanford, the issue was whether the Colorado offense could post any points against a strong Cardinal defense. The Buffs responded with the first home shutout since the Reagan administration.

This week, against Arizona, the issue is whether the Colorado offense can respond to a new quarterback, and exploit a defense almost as bad as that of the Buffs.

Probably not.

Assuming Scott doesn’t play …

Arizona 38, Colorado 17.

 

2 Replies to “Colorado/Arizona Preview”

  1. 52 points a game for 5 games in a row! 10 points a game scored in 5 games! Forget it, there is something fundamentally wrong with this team that is not going to change for a long time. I think you start with erasing the playbook in the off season a bring in the spread. Colorado does not have the talent to play ‘PRO’. next year will be more of the same guys; its a painful process anytime you rebuild but this is not working. Anybody have Mac’s phone number?

  2. Prior to the start of the year, I thought the Buffs might just get 5 wins this season, with this game being one of the them. Boy was I wrong. I believe that you are being very generous that the Buffs, on the road, will keep it at a 3 score loss. There is a good chance that Rich Rod will want to atone for the butt whooping that AZ took from UCLA. Other teams have let up on the Buffs in the second half, but as the first year coach of AZ, after a blow out loss, Rich Rod has something to prove to his fans. I think a 6 TD loss is more likely, regardless of who plays QB for either team. I’ll be watching and rooting for the Buff, but just being realistic.

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