Colorado at Utah – A Preview – “T.I.P.S.”

The Colorado Buffs travel to Salt Lake City this Saturday (12:00 p.m., MT, Pac-12 Networks) to take on Utah in the 2013 finale for both teams.

The Buffs and the Utes bring identical 4-7 (1-7 in Pac-12 play) records into the game, with both teams needing to win last weekend to make this game a contest with a bowl bid at stake. Colorado fell at home to No. 23 USC, 47-29, while Utah lost to Washington State on the road, 49-37.

The game is both meaningless – no chance at another game after Saturday – and meaningful – 5th place in the Pac-12 South, a momentum boost for 2014. The Buffs will say goodbye to 14 seniors, while the Utes will honor their 19 seniors before kickoff this weekend.

Utah has been installed as a 17-point favorite against Colorado. Based upon results against common opponents, this would seem to be a fair number. Utah had a chance to win conference games against Oregon State (51-48, OT), UCLA (34-27), USC (19-3), Arizona State (20-19) and Washington State, while Colorado has yet to get within 18 points of its opponent in any of its seven Pac-12 losses.

Utah is on a five-game losing streak, the longest for the Utes since 2002. With no bowl game at stake for Utah, their motivation for this game might be more in question than it is for the Buffs, who are looking at each and every game as an opportunity to move forward from the debacle which was the 2012 season.

We’ll see how it goes …

Here are this week’s “T.I.P.S.” for the game:

T – Talent

Utah quarterback Travis Wilson suffered a concussion near the end of the Arizona State game two weekends ago. He has been lost for the season, and his career is now in doubt, as the concussion revealed a previous injury to “an intercranial artery”. A determination as to Wilson’s future career will be determined in the upcoming months, but he may be done with football for good.

In his place, sophomore Adam Schulz has started the last two games at quarterback (Schulz also relieved Wilson in games against Arizona and USC when Wilson was out with a hand injury). Last weekend, Schulz threw for 347 yards against Washington State, better than any total posted by Wilson, and the best for any Utah quarterback since 2010. Schulz is a little more mobile than the 6’7″ Wilson, and CU coach Mike MacIntyre said he expects Schulz to run. “My thought is they’ll run Adam in this last game because I think he’s a good athlete, but they were worried about him getting hurt in the last few games so, they didn’t run him as much.  We’ll prepare for them to run him”.

The primary target for Schulz is Dres Anderson. The junior wide receiver has 908 yards receiving, and is looking to become just the seventh Ute to surpass 1,000 yards receiving in a season. Anderson leads the Pac-12 in yards per reception, at 19.74 yard per catch, and has six 100-yard receiving games this season.

If the Buffs can find a way to cover Anderson, look for Jake Murphy to have a big game. The junior tight end missed four games, reducing his season totals, but he had his first career 100-yard game against the Cougars last weekend, with two touchdowns (including a 64-yarder).

Sophomore Bubba Poole and senior Kelvin York have shared rushing duties, with York posting a career high 94 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries last weekend.

While Utah has a slight edge over Colorado in terms of overall offensive production (not the ridiculous advantage held by most of the Buffs’ opponents), where the Utes make their stand is with their defense. The Utes are second in the nation – ouch! – in sacks, with 36. The Utes have not one, but three, all-conference candidates along the defensive line. Senior end Trevor Reilly, senior tackle Tenny Palepoi and junior end Nate Orchard are forces to be reckoned with, especially at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Since a conference opening overtime shootout against Oregon State, the Utes have held UCLA to 34 points, Stanford to 21, and Arizona State to 20 (not to mention holding USC to 19 on the road). Don’t be surprised if CU has a “0” next to its name for much of the game Saturday.

If the Colorado offensive line can find a way to give Sefo Liufau time to throw, the weak link to the Utah defense – if there is one – is the secondary. Even with all of the sacks created by the defensive line, Utah is 106th in the nation in pass defense, giving up 266.8 yards per game.

Remember how last year the Buffs, mired in the worst season in school history, posted a paltry three interceptions all year?

Utah, with only the Colorado game to go, has two interceptions this season.

That’s right – two.

So, the game might turn on which No. 6 – CU’s Paul Richardson or Utah’s Dres Anderson – has the better game.

I – Intangibles

While neither team has any post-season plans to look forward to, it’s not as if the game does not have meaning to the coaches and players.

“It’s kind of one of those games where those seniors in that locker room, some of them will never play football again,” said Mike MacIntyre. “So that’s an emotional time for those young men. It’ll be fun for both sides.”

Utah’s coach Kyle Whittingham agrees. “It’s all about the seniors and sending them out the right way,” said Whittingham. “If this crew was going to fold their tent they would have done it long ago. So that’s not a concern. I believe this is a very tough, resilient group that has fought all season long and we expect no different mentality this week. It is in fact about getting the seniors out of here on a winning note. That’s our main focus”.

But what will be the focus for the team that falls behind early? Will they see this game, the final game of the season, as one to run out the clock and just be done with a losing season? Or will they keep on fighting?

Both teams had to have a victory last weekend to have any chance at a bowl bid this weekend.

Utah fell behind Washington State, 21-0, but battled back to within six points before falling, 49-37.

Colorado fell behind USC, 23-0, but battled back to with 11 points – and had a very good opportunity at recovering an onside kick – before falling, 47-29.

Last weekend, both teams continued to fight, even after falling behind by three scores.

I would look for similar effort this weekend.

P – Preparation / Schedule

With nothing left to do after Saturday’s game but begin preparations for off-season conditioning, the schedule doesn’t have that much bearing on this game.

But then again, there is the big picture.

For Colorado, there is the need for a victory in this game, if only to help validate that progress is being made. The Buffs already have as many wins this year as the past two seasons combined, but it only makes the players hungry for more. “(A win over Utah) would be awesome. I think everybody’s spirits would just be up a lot higher [if we win Saturday],” true freshman linebacker Addison Gillam told after Tuesday morning’s practice. “Everybody would be a lot more positive just seeing that we are that close and just making us more hungry for the next year to get that bowl bid.”

For Utah, the game has even broader implications.

Believe it or not, the issue is being raised as to whether Utah made a good move in joining the Pac-12.

Yes, the money and exposure are great, but while Colorado has won a number of titles since joining the league, Utah has been shut out. CU has won five Pac-12 titles in cross country (three for the men and two for the women – plus a national championship for the men last weekend), while the CU men’s basketball team won the first Pac-12 tournament title, and the CU ski team is the reigning national champion. The CU soccer team advanced to the Sweet Sixteen last weekend, while the CU women’s basketball team is entrenched as a top tier power in the conference.

While the CU football team has struggled, the University of Colorado athletic department has been fairly competitive across the board.

Utah meanwhile, has yet to win a Pac-12 title in any sport (a running joke for BYU fans is that the Cougars have just as many Pac-12 titles as do the Utes). Doug Robinson of the Deseret News posted a column Wednesday entitled, “Do Utes, fans yearn for Mountain West days?”. The article – and the comments which have been posted in reply, are worth your time.

The reality for Utah football is that, while the Utes had a good run leading up to joining the Pac-12, that is not consistent with their history. In Utah’s Game Notes, there is a page – one page – devoted to “Weeks in the Polls”. Utah had a great season in 2008, upsetting Alabama in the Sugar Bowl to finish undefeated and the No. 2 team in the country. But the 2008 season is the only season in school history in which Utah has been ranked the entire year (CU, by contrast, went seven straight seasons between 1989-97 without leaving the national rankings). Otherwise, while there have been a few pockets of success, Utah has, for the most part, toiled in national obscurity.

In 2011, Utah entered the Pac-12 coming off of of a 10-3 season, having spent most of the previous three years being ranked and nationally recognized. Colorado, meanwhile, spent the last three seasons before joining the Pac-12 with losing seasons, humbling losses, and diminishing national respect.

Three years into the Pac-12, Utah is receding – at least in terms of their record on the field. Conversely, Colorado is ascending – at least in terms of their record on the field.

Could Saturday witness the two teams crossing paths, heading in opposite directions?

S – Statistics

Colorado remains mired in the 100’s in several significant statistical categories, but is within reach of double digits as the last game of the season approaches.

– The Buffs are 101st in rushing offense, at 127.5 yards per game (the 99th ranked team is at 129.1)

– The Buffs are 102nd in rushing defense, at 213.4 yards per game (the 99th ranked team is a 202.0)

– The Buffs are 104th in passing defense, at 261.9 yards per game (the 99th ranked team is a 257.2)

Okay, so being ranked 99th isn’t that much better than be ranked 100th. Maybe it’s just me, but when the preseason magazines come out next spring, it would sure be nice to see fewer triple digit numbers associated with the University of Colorado football team.

And, if it will make you feel better, Utah is also ranked 100th or worse in several categories, including: pass defense (106th); third down conversion offense (102nd); kickoff returns (106th); turnovers (111th); turnover margin (117th); and red zone defense (100th).

So there!

As the season closes, we will also close the book on Buffs who are rising up the season and career charts, including:

Paul Richardson watch

– With 88 receiving yards last weekend, Richardson increased his record for single season receiving yards, with 1,289 for the year (old record: 1,149, Charles E. Johnson, 1992);

– With a touchdown catch against USC, Richardson is now in second place alone on the single season touchdown list, with 10 … Countdown to single season record: 1 (school record: 11, Derek McCoy, 2003) … Richardson, with 21 career receiving touchdowns, is also one shy of that record. Countdown to career record: 1 (school record: 22, Scotty McKnight, 2007-10).

– With his eight receptions against USC, Richardson set the new standard for single season receptions, with 79 … (old record: 78, D.J. Hackett, 2003).

– Richardson is also moving up the list for all-time reception yardage. Richardson has 2,358 career receiving yards, good enough for 5th on the all-time list … Countdown to the all-time receiving yardage record: 190 (school record: 2,548 yards, Michael Westbrook, 1991-94).

Addison Gillam watch …

– Gillam has 104 tackles on the season, already the single season record for a freshman (old record: 85, Matt Russell, 1993).

– Gillam is on track to become the first freshman in school history to lead the team in tackles (second on the team currently is Derrick Webb, with 85).

– Gillam has also moved up the list for number of plays on defense by a true freshman. Gillam has been on the field for 761 plays this fall, second on the all-time list, behind only teammate Greg Henderson (823 plays in 2011). (Note … Chidobe Awuzie is also moving up the list, currently at No. 5 with 569 plays).

Chidera Uzo-Diribe watch

– Diribe has forced five fumbles this season, and has ten in his career. With his next forced fumble, he will tie Brian Cabral (1974-77) and Barry Remington (1982-86) for the all-time record (11). With two more forced fumbles, Uzo-Diribe will tie Jashon Sykes (1999) for the single season record (7).

Running back watch …

– Four games ago, Christian Powell became the 50th player in Colorado history to rush for over 1,000 yards in his career. Powell now has 1,241 yards rushing, good enough for 36th on the all-time list.

– Up next: Tony Jones. With 867 yards rushing in his career, Jones is 55th on the all-time rushing yardage list … Countdown to becoming the 51st Buff with 1,000 career rushing yards: 133.

– Freshman Michael Adkins, with 497 yards, has now joined the all-time list, coming in at No. 94.

… There are plenty of other records and statistics to pass along, and they will be posted in the Game Notes which will accompany the write-up for the CU/ Utah game.

It hasn’t been a great season for Colorado, but it hasn’t been the worst.

And that, while it may not be everything, is at least something.

Go Buffs! Bring home win No. 5!




2 Replies to “Colorado at Utah – A Preview”

  1. Good catch on the newspaper article Stuart!! It reads like a Cornhusker football column. Yearning for the days when they were competitive in an overall less competitive venue, and then playing for that one or two times when the going got tough. Mindset for mediocrity. Can’t say that we haven’t read similar things over the past few years though.

  2. Stuart, I posted on another site the fact that Utah has 5 players that are 25 years old and I think that most are on defense. There are others that are in the 22-24 year range. That fact alone makes a lot of difference when you consider the makeup of the CU team and all the players that are barely 19 or so. Be that as it may, CU can still overcome that age and maturity deficit if they play fairly error free ball and when the chances on offense happen, they take advantage and score more TDs then FGs. IMHO offense is where they will either win or lose this game.

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