Colorado v. Arizona – A Preview – “T.I.P.S.”

Drew Litton’s take on Arizona at Colorado

Drew Litton - Sefo








Colorado got what it needed most out of last weekend.

A victory.

The Buffs took out Charleston-Southern, 43-10, in a performance which at times was encouraging, and was, at other times, well, discouraging.

In the end, though, Colorado did manage to square its season record at 3-3. At the midway point of the 2013 season, the Buffs and their fans still harbor hopes that CU can compile a similar 3-3 record in the second half of the season, and go bowling for the first time since 2007.

In the Buffs’ path to a bowl bid are some pretty significant obstacles, including overcoming a school-record 11-game losing streak in conference play. Up first is Arizona (6:00 p.m., MT, Pac-12 Networks). The Wildcats and Buffs have traded big home wins as members of the Pac-12. In 2011, Colorado posted its biggest margin of victory in a Pac-12 game to date, taking out the Wildcats, 48-29. Last season, Arizona returned the favor, turning a 21-17 game (late in the second quarter) into a 56-31 rout.

Can Colorado build on the momentum from its first win since September 7th? Or will Arizona be able to build on its 35-24 win over Utah last weekend, its first win since September 14th?

Will Ka’Deem Carey run all over the Buffs, as he did last season?

Can Colorado find a way to remain competitive through the first three quarters, giving themselves a chance at victory late on Saturday night?

We’ll find out soon enough …

Here is this week’s preview, your “T.I.P.S.” for Arizona at Colorado:

T – Talent

This entire section could be devoted to Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey … what he is doing this year, and what he has done (particularly to the Buffs) in the past.

We’ll get to Carey in a moment.

To reason that to stop Ka’Deem Carey is to stop Arizona, however, would be to oversimplify the Arizona attack, and underestimate what it will take for Colorado to defeat Arizona.

Let’s start with the Arizona quarterback, B.J. Denker, who made his first start as a Wildcat against the Buffs last season. In the last two games (v. USC and Utah) Denker has completed eight passes of 20 yards of more. Freshman wide receiver Nate Phillips has become Denker’s favorite of late, becoming a real weapon in the Arizona arsenal of young but talented receivers.

Denker can also beat you with his feet. In fact, it may come as a surprise, but Denker ranks 10th in the Pac-12 conference in rushing, gaining 54.5 rushing yards per game. It is Denker, not Carey, who leads the team in rushing touchdowns, with eight so far this season.

Denker has also been efficient at managing the Wildcat offense, leading Arizona to a conversion rate of 49.5% of its third down opportunities, good enough for a No. 19 national ranking (the CU offense is converting at a 31% rate, 110th in the nation).

Denker’s success has made it all the easier for Ka’Deem Carey, who once again leads the nation in rushing, averaging 161.0 yards per game. Last weekend against Utah, in earning Pac-12 Offensive Player-of-the-Week honors, Carey set a school record for rushes, with 40. Carey posted 236 yards rushing last Saturday, including a 44-yard burst with 90 seconds to play to seal the 35-24 victory.

More on Carey? … He has nine straight games of at least 100 yards rushing and at least 150 all-purpose yards … Carey has 805 yards rushing this season (and Arizona has 1,611). Meanwhile, Colorado, as a team, has 715 yards rushing to date – with 218 of those yards coming against Charleston-Southern …

And, yes, as Buffs fans are acutely aware, Carey set a Pac-12 record in rushing for 366 yards against Colorado last season.

So, once again, it is fairly clear that CU’s Pac-12 opponent will be able to score on the Colorado defense.

So, once again, the question becomes: Can the Buffs find a way to out-score their Pac-12 opponent?

It will be tough.

Arizona already has four interceptions returned for touchdowns this season, so the Wildcat game plan will certainly be to try and shake true freshman quarterback Sefo Liufau into making mistakes in his first start against a Pac-12 opponent.

There is some measure of hope, however, in that the Arizona pass defense is 111th in the nation overall. If Liufau can keep his head, and the offensive line can give him time … who knows?

It is unlikely, though, the Buffs won’t be able to fool the Wildcat defense with trick plays. The starters on the Arizona defense have a combined 276 career starts. By comparison, Colorado players have 287 career starts … on both sides of the ball combined (offense and defense, based upon last weekend’s starters).

The Wildcats are disciplined … Arizona is the 2nd-least penalized team in the Pac-12 (15th nationally) …

… and opportunistic … The Wildcats are plus-five in turnovers this season (22nd nationally).

Bottom line: It will take a stellar defensive effort by the Buffs to stop Denker and Carey on a consistent basis, and the Buffs will have to take advantage of all of their scoring chances on offense, with Colorado pitting true freshmen at quarterback and a true freshman at running back against a seasoned and opportunistic defense.

I – Intangibles

The Buffs were embarrassed by Ka’Deem Carey and the Arizona offense last season. They allowed a running back to go for over 350 yards when the game plan was to stop the run. After all, B.J. Denker was making his first career start, but instead of forcing Denker to beat them, the CU defense allowed Denker to be an efficient game manager (12-for-14 for 136 yards), and get away with simply handing the ball off to Carey.

So is revenge the motivation? Not if Mike MacIntyre has anything to say about it.

“If I would’ve been out there playing I would’ve been embarrassed and want to redeem myself for sure” said MacIntyre. “So, hopefully they play that way.  I think any competitor would.  But, it’s not about being mad and it’s not about being angry.  It’s about doing the right thing, and then when you have the opportunity to hit him it’s about being mad and being angry.  But, you’ve got to do all the other things first.  You can be mad and say you want to hit him all you want but if you don’t get in the right spot and play the right angle you’re not going to be able to touch him so, you’re going to be mad the whole rest of the day.  So, we’ve got to make sure we do those things right”.

Whatever the motivation, MacIntyre believes that the Buffs are in the right frame of mind to stay with the Wildcats, who are 15.5-point favorites. “I thought we practiced really well (Tuesday)”, said MacIntyre.  “I know I always say that but today was our best Tuesday practice all year.  Maybe it was the sunlight.  Maybe it was the game win.  Maybe we were excited about the upcoming game and having a little more pep in their step.  I thought we did some good things.  We had kids stopping and asking us questions and making us re-do plays instead of just getting through practice, which are all things I look for that hadn’t really happened before.  Those were some positive signs for me that we’re headed in the right direction.  Hopefully it’ll show up better Saturday”.

Buff fans certainly hope so …

P – Preparation/Schedule

The first three home games for Colorado have been played in front of crowds averaging 38,947.

It says here that there will be more fans than that on hand Saturday night.

It will not be a sellout, but there should be as many or more in the seats as there were for the Oregon game (45,944). Plus, it is a night game and a “Blackout” game to boot. For those who have been on hand for night games at Folsom when it has been a “Blackout” game, you know that the stadium looks pretty cool … and can get pretty loud.

Will it be enough to inspire the Buffs to play better in the pivotal first quarter, when Colorado has been out-scored 64-38 to date?

In the first quarter against Oregon, the Buffs played well … for about eight minutes. By the end of the first quarter, though, it was 29-10.

In the first quarter against Arizona State, the Buffs played well … on the opening kickoff. It took all of 92 seconds for Arizona State to score, and by the time the teams switched ends, it was 25-0.

Not a real stretch here – Colorado has to play well early, not only to keep the crowd in the game, but to give the players (and the fans) some belief that this will not be just another Pac-12 blowout loss for the Buffs.

Buff fans need only to look to last Saturday for an example of the importance of keeping it close early.

To me, the biggest play of the Charleston-Southern game was when the Buccaneers’ touchdown was overturned early in the second quarter. After a nine-minute drive, Charleston-Southern had to settle for a field goal, and the game was 8-3 instead of 8-7 or 8-8. A tie score in the second quarter would have been a huge lift for the 31-point underdog, and perhaps the rest of the game would have played out more competitively.

The Buffs, now playing the role of the big underdog, are hoping for just such a lift this weekend. The longer the game stays competitive, the more confident the Buffs will be, with the crowd becoming more and more engaged.

Fall behind by three scores in the first half?

… and the Buffs will play before a half empty stadium in the second half.

S – Statistics

It’s a tribute to the efficiency of the Oregon offense, or at least a sign of the times, that the Pac-12 is tracking a new statistic this year.

“Time of Possession for Offensive Scoring Drives” is now an official statistic for the Pac-12. Not surprisingly, the point-a-minute offense out of Eugene has some very impressive numbers. The Ducks already have 41 scoring drives this season which have taken less than two minutes of game time. Next in line is Arizona State, with 28. No one else in the conference has as many as sixteen.

So what I noticed about the Arizona offense was somewhat surprisingly. Last season, in the 56-31 thrashing of the Buffs, the Wildcats has scoring drives taking 2:57, 1:59, 0:24, 1:28, 1:53, 2:09, 0:28, and 2:15 of game clock. That’s five scoring drives of under two minutes, with two more of just over two minutes.

Want to hazard a guess as to how many scoring drives of under two minutes the Wildcats have had so far this season, in six games?


Now do you want to guess how many scoring drives of under two minutes the lowly Buffs have had so far this season, in six games?


Both teams have had six drives which have taken less than a minute, and both teams have had six drives which have taken between 1:00 and 1:59 of game clock.

So, perhaps, just perhaps, the Arizona juggernaut of an offense isn’t quite as dominating as CU fans have thought – or feared.

100+ watch

The Charleston-Southern game was a healer-upper for the Buffs, at least in some statistical categories:

Rushing offense … last week’s ranking – 110th (108.0 yards per game) … v. CSU – 218 yards … this week’s ranking – 102nd (126.3 yards per game)

Passing defense … last week’s ranking – 119th (312.6 yards per game) … v. CSU – 48 yards … this week’s ranking – 104th (268.5 yards per game)

Total defense … last week’s ranking – 119th (492.4 yards per game) … v. CSU – 196 yards … this week’s ranking – 97th (443.0 yards per game)

Scoring defense … last week’s ranking – 119th (41.2 points per game) … v. CSU – 10 points … this week’s ranking – 111th (36.0 points per game)

So, not a huge move up, but at least the Buffs are no longer on the cusp of being last in the nation in these categories.

We’ll see if the Buffs take a giant step forward this weekend,  yet another chance to show the Pac-12 – and themselves – that they can be competitive in this conference.

A victory will turn bowl fantasies into bowl discussions.

A close loss will at least show that the Buffs are making progress, with the possibility still out there for a fourth and perhaps even a fifth win in 2013.

A blowout loss will extend the school-record of conference losses to 12 (the old record was eight), reminding us all that CU still has a long way to go …

One Reply to “CU v. Arizona – A Preview”

  1. Stuart,
    I would much prefer that the Buffs work to make Denker the deciding factor. If Carey runs wild again, Arizona cruises and Denker looks good in the process.

    As for offense, the Buffs really have to be much less predictable. If we continue to throw 2/3’s of our passes outside the numbers and within 12 yards of the line of scrimage, we will make it easy for the Wildcats and every other Pac-12 team to defend us. We also need to spread the ball around to guys other than Paul Richardson. He’s great, but count on Arizona to double down and maybe even triple him if he gets a good start.

    Hard to tell which AZ team shows up. Is it the team which takes care of business vs Utah? or the team that mouths off before the game and then gets beat down by USC? We will see.

    My keys to the game:

    –Liufau need to continue to convert a high percentage of his passes.
    –Buffs need to convert 50% or more of their third downs.
    –Buffs need to win the turnover game.
    –Defense needs to limit Carey to 150 yards at most. The guy is the best in the country, so we can’t really ask the D to shut him down.
    –Special teams need to continue their turnaround. They have been solid lately after starting the season horribly, when every return offered to put points on the board for our opponents.

    If the Buffs do those things, they have a shot to put a conference win on the board. If not, Arizona romps.


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