Colorado at No. 21 Arizona – A Preview – “T.I.P.S.” for the Buffs trip to Tucson

In his notes from Tuesday’s press conference, writer B.G. Brooks laid out some sobering numbers:

– Colorado has lost 22 consecutive road games against ranked opponents (dating back to a 31-17 win over No. 20 UCLA in 2002);

– Colorado has lost 17 straight games to ranked opponents overall (dating back to a 34-30 victory over No. 17 Kansas in 2009);

– The Buffs have lost ten straight Pac-12 road games, and nine straight Pac-12 games overall.

With this backdrop, Colorado heads off to Tucson to face the No. 21 Arizona Wildcats, a team which handled the Buffs in Boulder last season, 44-20, and which ran over the Buffs, 56-31, the last time the two teams met in the desert.

Unlike last weekend, where the Colorado defense had a fighting chance against a struggling Husky offense (and the Buffs’ defense largely held up their end, giving up only 24 of Washington’s 38 points), the Wildcats present matchup problems for the Buffs. Arizona has an experienced offensive line, a quarterback with a 21-5 touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio, and a host of talented skill position players.

“I’m tired of losing. I want to win a bunch,” said CU head coach Mike MacIntyre at Tuesday’s press luncheon. “But, I do think that (getting closer to posting a victory) teaches them that you do have to just keep going, just keep going, you keep going. When they punch thru, they’re going to have a foundation and a fortitude instinct inside that other people wouldn’t have. I really believe that. So, when it happens, it’s really going to be special.”

Will it happen this weekend?

We’ll find out Saturday, starting at 6:00 p.m., MT (Pac-12 Networks).

… To help you prepare, here are this week’s “T.I.P.S.” …

T – Talent

A question mark for Arizona heading into the 2014 season was the position of quarterback. The Wildcats auditioned four candidates over spring ball and fall camp, with head coach Rich Rodriguez settling on red-shirt freshman Anu Solomon, the No. 2 ranked dual-threat quarterback from the Recruiting Class of 2013.

Good choice.

Solomon already has 2,605 passing yards, with 21 touchdowns offset by only five interceptions (Sefo Liufau’s numbers: 2,590 yards passing, 25 touchdowns, 12 interceptions). Solomon has benefitted from playing behind an offensive line which has a combined 144 career starts, together with some talented skill position players.

Very skilled.

The receiving corps is led by Cayleb Jones, who leads the team with 50 catches for 716 yards and seven touchdowns. Of Jones’ 50 catches, 37 have resulted in first downs or touchdowns, and his receiving yards, yards per game, receptions per game and receiving touchdowns are all in the top ten in the Pac-12 conference. Solomon has also been aided by the return of Austin Hill. The senior, a Biletnikoff Award semi-finalist in 2012 who was lost for the entire 2013 season with a knee injury, Hill this fall has 30 catches for 413 yards and four touchdowns.

The rushing game is led by Nick Wilson, who has 610 yards on the season (CU has a trio of running backs with over 300 yards, but none over 400). Arizona’s running game, though, has not been as productive of late as it was earlier in the season. Over the first five games – all victories, including a win over No. 2 Oregon – the Wildcats averaged 224.0 yards per game rushing (at a 5.2 yards per carry average). In the past three games, however – which have included two losses – the ground game has averaged 104.7 yards per game, and only 3.3 yards per carry.

Overall, the Arizona offense is averaging 506.0 yards – and 36.4 points – per game. In the past two games against Colorado, Rich Rodriguez and his Wildcats have scored an even 100 points. Last fall in Boulder, Arizona posted 670 yards of total offense, third-highest total in school history.

A significant improvement on those numbers will be vital for Colorado to have a chance against Arizona.

On defense, the Wildcats are a paradox.

Arizona is giving up 449.4 yards per game to its opponents, five yards per game more than Colorado is surrendering.

The Wildcats, though, are giving up an average of 26.9 points per game, while the Buffs are having 38.7 points per game put up by the opposition.

One of the factors leading to the discrepancy is turnovers. Arizona is a plus-three overall this season in turnovers, while Colorado is a minus-five.

Another reason is Scooby Wright.

Wright, only a sophomore, has won back-to-back Pac-12 Defensive Player-of-the-Week honors, and was just named as a semi-finalist for the Chuck Bednarik award this week. Wright is the only player in the FBS who is ranked in the top 20 nationally in tackles, tackles-for-loss, sacks and forced fumbles. Against UCLA last weekend, Wright racked up 19 tackles (11 solo), 4.5 tackles for loss, and three sacks. Two weekends ago, Wright forced three fumbles against Washington State.

Just guessing here … but it might be a good idea for the Buffs to keep an eye on Mr. Wright this weekend.

I – Intangibles

A month ago, Arizona defeated Oregon for the second year in succession, and the rise for Arizona in the national consciousness was meteoric. The Wildcats went from unranked to No. 10 in the nation, the largest jump for an unranked team since the AP poll moved to 25 teams in 1989.

Tough not too be on a high after that much adulation.

Since then, however, Arizona has gone 1-2, falling to No. 21 in the AP poll. Both losses were tough, falling to USC, 28-26 and No. 25 UCLA, 17-7.

The Wildcats would be forgiven if they were a bit down after doing from national playoff contenders to almost out the polls in three games.

And last weekend’s game was a cold splash of reality after regularly posting over 500 yards of total offense each weekend.

Against UCLA last Saturday, the Wildcats scored on their opening drive against the Bruins, but were shutout the remainder of the game. Overall, Arizona was held to 255 total yards on 79 plays – an average of 3.2 yards per play. Both the yardage figure and the average per play were the lowest for any Rich Rodriguez Wildcat team, and in fact the lowest for any Arizona team since 2009.

It wouldn’t be a surprise, then, if Arizona wanted to come out early against Colorado and make a statement – a statement that the offensive drought in the final 3 1/2 quarters against UCLA was an aberration, not a new reality.

But what of the Buffs?

After losing game number seven last weekend, Colorado was officially eliminated from any chance at a bowl bid.

How will the seniors, who will finish their careers without ever getting to the post-season, react?

“They practiced really well (Tuesday). They have an upbeat attitude,” said Mike MacIntyre. “It’s interesting, and I mean this, we want to win as many games as we can always and I take each week and go 1-0 each week no matter what happens the week before. They’ve taken that philosophy on. Every time I always tell them too, and I truly believe this: you only get so many times to play … I talk about us getting better, going 1-0 and improving. Then, all of a sudden, that will happen, it will happen. Unfortunately, it won’t happen with these seniors, but it will happen with guys on this football team. But, these seniors have set the stage of the improvement with the way we’ve improved, the buying in, the practice attitude, the way they conduct themselves in the classroom, the way they come over to workouts, their whole attitude change, the whole culture change. These seniors have set that stage. So, when we do go to a bowl, they’ve helped set that stage because it’s a foundation as you help build it up.”

This will be the second-to-last time that the Buff senior class, which includes players like Kaiwi Crabb, Brady Daigh, D.D. Goodson (questionable for Arizona, out with a sprained ankle), Woodson Greer, Greg Henderson, Tony Jones, Tyler McCulloch, Daniel Munyer, Darragh O’Neill, Will Oliver, Juda Parker, Kyle Slavin, and Terrel Smith, will be able to run out onto the field in their road whites to represent the University of Colorado.

Prior Buff squads have folded late in the season, but the 2014 team has showed a willingness to fight to the end of every game.

It’s a fair bet that they will continue to fight to the end of the season.

P – Preparation / Schedule

Less than a month ago, there was talk in Tucson about Arizona earning a berth in the first-ever College Football Playoffs. The Wildcats were 5-0, ranked 10th in the nation, and were the talk of college football, having taken out No. 2 Oregon, 31-24.

Now, after a 1-2 stretch, talk of playoffs is over, but not talk about a Pac-12 title. The two losses make it more difficult for the Wildcats to represent the Pac-12 South in the title game in December, but not impossible.

Arizona is 3-2 in Pac-12 play, but every other team in the Pac-12 South except Arizona State also has two losses, and the Wildcats get the Sun Devils at home in the regular season finale. A four game winning streak to end the season, including wins over Colorado, Washington, Utah, and Arizona State, could land Arizona in Santa Clara, pitted against Oregon for the Pac-12 title.

Colorado, meanwhile, has no aspirations. Already saddled with six conference losses, even a three game winning streak to end the season would not raise the Buffs out of the Pac-12 cellar.

“It all is the process and the work ethic,” said Mike MacIntyre when asked what it would mean to win a game in the final three weeks. “There is no doubt that I don’t wake up and our kids don’t wake up wanting to win this game on Saturday, getting a win and getting it going. The way these games are happening, it lingers with you. You can say it doesn’t, but it lingers with you a little bit longer. But, you can also use that as fuel to energize yourself. Two weeks ago I think it was, I told you that that Tuesday was a bad practice. Today, this was the best Tuesday practice we’ve ever had. Maybe it was because of the weather, it was gorgeous. But, they came out there understanding and they saw what they saw on film, they felt it in the game and they just need to understand”.

While Arizona has a game against Washington next Saturday to think about and prepare for, Colorado has a bye next weekend.

There is nothing in the Buffs’ immediate future to distract the team.

There is no reason not to lay everything out on the line against the Wildcats.

S – Statistics

Gunning for 100 … Nelson Spruce set the Colorado single season receptions record last weekend. With 13 catches against Washington, he now has 90 for the year, bettering the old record of 83 set just last season by Paul Richardson. A ten-catch evening in the desert will make Spruce the first Buff in history to hit triple digits in receptions in a single campaign. If Spruce hits double digits in yardage, he will tie the single season record of six 100-yard games.

Strength against weakness … If the numbers hold, both teams should be successful on offense against one another. Arizona is 13th in total offense, going for 506.0 yards per game, and is pitted against the nation’s 95th-ranked Colorado defense, which is surrendering 444.1 yards per game. At the same time, the Buffs are putting up good numbers on offense (473.1 yds/game; 26th nationally) while Arizona is ranked even lower on defense, giving up 449.4 yds/game (99th nationally), giving up almost 300 yards per game in passing yards (118th nationally). The difference between 6-2 and 2-7? Arizona, despite giving up more yards per game, is giving up 26.9 points per outing, while Colorado is giving up 38.7 points per game.

Hold onto the ball, please … Want another reason for the point discrepancy between the two teams? Look at turnovers. Both Colorado and Arizona have forced 11 turnovers this season. The difference between the two teams is in turnovers given up. The Wildcats have only eight turnovers this season, half of the 16 surrendered by the Buffs.

Bring on the fake grass! … The Arizona game will mark the third time this season that Colorado has played on artificial turf. The other two were against UMass (a win) and against California (a should have won). So, if you are looking for a sign, be glad that the Wildcats play on the fake stuff.

Keep away still a key … Colorado is seventh in the nation in time of possession, at 33:30 per game. Arizona, meanwhile, is 100th, at 27:57. While time of possession does not immediately transfer into points or victories, if the opposition is willing to let you have a six minute edge in possession … take it!

Don’t look, Ethel! … Arizona has out-scored its opponents by exactly 40 points in both the first and third quarters this season. The Wildcats have a 71-31 scoring advantage in the first quarter, and a 93-53 scoring advantage in the third quarter. Colorado, meanwhile, has been out-scored, 100-55 in the first quarter, and 103-48 in the third quarter this fall. Suffice it to say, Buff fans will be holding their breath in the early stages of both halves on Saturday.

And, finally,

CU has history on its side, which is nice … Colorado has a 13-3 advantage in the all-time series against Arizona, including wins in the first 11 games played between the teams. Colorado is also on a four game winning streak in games played on November 8th, having taken out Kansas, Iowa State, Missouri and Iowa State again the last four times the Buffs have played on that date.


As always, your thought and comments are welcome. Post your comments by clicking on the “comments” icon above, or drop me a note at

Go Buffs!

One Reply to “CU at No. 21 Arizona – A Preview”

  1. Stuart,

    Just a quick note to say thank you for all the posts throughout the year and to keep up the good work. Love reading the articles and can’t wait ’til the Buffs finally breakthrough. The team has made great strides compared to previous seasons, but as you are well aware, the wins have yet to come. Patience is tough, but it WILL happen. Keep up the good work.



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