Utah at Colorado – A Preview – Your “T.I.P.S.” for the 2014 season home finale

Once again, the University of Colorado had been chosen for the Pac-12 Networks “Breakfast Game of the Week”, with an 11:00 a.m., kickoff (Pac-12 Networks), an appetizer of a game before the rivalry games holding more meaning get started later in the day.

While Utah (7-4, 4-4) at Colorado (2-9, 0-8) does not hold much meaning on a national scale, the results will be very important for the participants. For Utah, a win would mean the end to a season-ending slide, which has seen the Utes lose three of their last four games. It would also mean that, for the first time as a member of the Pac-12, the former Mountain West power will finish with a conference record above .500.

For Colorado, the goals are more modest. A victory would bring to an end a seven game losing streak, and send the Buff players into the off-season with some semblance of a reward for all of the hard work they have put in this season.

It would also provide the Buff Nation with some token of assurance that the program is pro-gressing … and not re-gressing.

So, for the final time this fall … Here are your “T.I.P.S.” for this weekend’s game:

T – Talent

As was the case last season, the quarterback position at Utah in 2014 has been a revolving door, with injuries and inconsistent play plaguing the position. Travis Wilson, all 6’7″ of him, has managed to play in all 11 games this fall, but has taken all of the snaps for the Utes in only three of those games. Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson split time with Wilson in the first half of the season, taking over as the starter in two of those contests, before being lost for the season to a knee injury against Oregon.

Wilson has posted some decent numbers, completing 59% of his passes, with 14 touchdowns to only four interceptions. That being said, Utah is averaging only 188.2 yards passing per game, last in the Pac-12, and 102nd in the nation.

It didn’t help when the Utes’ leading receiver, Dres Anderson, was lost for the year a few weeks ago. Anderson, at the time of his injury, was leading the team in receiving (and was fifth on Utah’s all-time receiving list). The best Utah has to offer against Colorado is junior Kenneth Scott, who has 37 catches for 391 yards and four touchdowns.

As a result of deficiencies in the passing game, Utah has turned to junior college transfer Devontae Booker to carry the load. Booker is second in the Pac-12, and 18th in the nation, in rushing, averaging 114.1 yards per game. Booker has rushed for 100 yards or more in six of Utah’s eight conference games, including 142 yards on 23 carries last weekend against Arizona. Booker is also the team’s second-leading receiver, with 34 catches for 260 yards and two touchdowns.

So, hold Booker under 100 yards, and put pressure on Wilson … if the Buff defense can be successful in those two tasks, it can keep CU in the game.

But that’s only half the battle.

Please allow me to introduce you to “Sack Lake City”.

Utah leads the nation to total sacks (49) and sacks per game (4.5), and has held that lofty ranking for the past eight weeks. Senior defensive end Nate Orchard leads the nation with 17.5 sacks (Colorado, as a team, has 20 sacks this fall). Twice this season – against UCLA and against Stanford – Orchard was the Pac-12 Defensive Player-of-the-Week.

Orchard has 24 career sacks. The school record is 27 … here’s guessing the senior knows that.

Focusing on Orchard only makes it easier for defensive end Hunter Dimick. The sophomore is tied for ninth in the nation with ten sacks (so that is two Utes with double digit sack totals. Derek McCartney leads the Buffs in that category … with four).

Behind the tough defensive line is linebacker Jared Norris (tops on the Utes and third in the Pac-12 with 101 tackles), and safety Brian Blechen (a former freshman All-American who has started 46 games in his career in Salt Lake City).

If the game comes down to a field goal contest, the Utes will be confident. Sophomore kicker Andy “Automatic” Phillips has made 11 (of 14) kicks of over 40 yards, and is 2-for-2 on 50-yard attempts. Phillips is 20-for-24 overall this year, and twice (against Michigan and against UCLA) was named the Pac-12 Special Teams Player-of-the-Week.

Sounds like a low-scoring game this weekend (recall last year’s game was 24-17) … which means there is reason for hope that the Buffs will be in this one for four quarters.

I – Intangibles

A week ago, Utah was still mathematically alive for the Pac-12 South championship. Any number of game results had to go the Utes way, starting with a win over Arizona. A 42-10 home defeat later, and the Utes are out of the Pac-12 title chase, and out of the national rankings.

That doesn’t mean that Utah doesn’t have anything to play for on Saturday, however.

As noted, a victory would give the Utes a 5-4 Pac-12 record, their first winning record as a member of the Pac-12 conference … and don’t think that wouldn’t mean something to the former Mountain West team which came into the Power-Five conference with something to prove.

A win would also give Utah an 8-4 record overall, and would improve the Utes’ standing in the eyes of bowl committees. After Oregon (10-1), UCLA, Arizona, and Arizona State (all 9-2), there is a jumble when it comes to the Pac-12 bowl pecking order. Utah and USC are both 7-4, Washington 7-5, and Stanford 6-5 (Cal and Oregon State, at 5-6, are both playing for bowl eligibility this weekend). ESPN bowl projections currently have Utah being selected by the Sun Bowl, heading to El Paso to take on Louisville.

The outcome of Saturday’s game against Colorado could raise – or lower – Utah’s bowl attractiveness.

For Colorado, the math is much easier.

Win, and the Buffs finish the season on a high note. The 21 seniors on the roster go out with a victory, and the knowledge that there was some reward at the end of their final campaign.

Lose, and the 2014 team will go down in Colorado history as the first team in 99 years to finish a conference campaign without a victory. In fact, only two teams in the 125 year history of Colorado football have gone without at least one conference win: the 1898 Buffs, who finished 0-2 in Colorado Football Association play; and the 1915 Buffs, 0-5 in Rocky Mountain Athletic conference action, ever finished without a victory. Every Mountain States (Skyline) Conference team, every Big Seven, Big Eight, Big 12 and Pac-12 team wearing CU uniforms came through at least once.

The current members of the CU football team aren’t playing for history this Saturday. I would venture that only a handful, if any, are aware of the infamous record they might set. They aren’t playing for history – they are playing for themselves and their pride.

And that should be enough.

P – Preparation / Schedule

As is the case with the first game of the season, the last game of the season does not carry much weight in this category.

That being said, there is some intrigue when it comes to CU’s final game of the 2014 season.

First is the date of the game. After playing on the Friday after Thanksgiving for years, this is the second year in a row the Buffs have played their final game on Saturday. You would think that, in a short week – made even shorter by the Thanksgiving celebration – that the home team would have an extra advantage. With the game on Saturday, the Utes have the opportunity to enjoy Thanksgiving in Salt Lake City, rather than having to travel on the holiday. Slight extra advantage to Utah.

Then there is the time of the game. The Buffs have certainly gotten used to early starts, with this the third straight home game kicking off at noon or earlier. The early wake up call didn’t bring about a victory over Washington or UCLA, and those teams were coming to Boulder from the Pacific time zone. The Utes will be on an equal footing in terms of body clocks, but the Buffs might have a slight advantage having become accustomed to early starts.

Finally, though, there is the disappointment that another early start will mean another half-full, half-empty stadium for the Buffs to run out onto behind Ralphie. The students, who never show up early anyway, are off on break. That reality, coupled with the 11:00 a.m. kickoff, all but guarantees a Folsom Field bowl with few occupants.

And that’s a shame.

Colorado will be introducing 20 seniors to the crowd before the game (there are 21, but defensive back Jered Bell will be petitioning the NCAA for another year of eligibility). These players will be suiting up for the final time as Buffs, and will be finishing their careers without every playing in a bowl game. Some of them (counting the interim games coached by Brian Cabral after Dan Hawkins was fired) have played for four different head coaches.

They deserve acknowledgement. They deserve a hearty round of thanks from the Buff Nation.

It’s too bad there will be more empty seats than fans when their names are announced.

S – Statistics

Some interesting numbers to keep an eye on before the 2014 season is put to rest …

– Christian Powell has led the Buffs in rushing the last two seasons (691 in 2012; 562 last season). This fall, the competition for the Buffs’ leading rusher will come down to the finale, and it’s a four-horse race. Michael Adkins is the leader, with 398 rushing yards to date. Right behind him is Phillip Lindsay, with 387. Then there are  Christian Powell (373) and Tony Jones (361). Though currently in fourth position, the sentimental favorite would be Jones, the only senior in the group;

– Want some concrete evidence that CU is getting closer to the competition? Heading into the finale, Colorado and its first 11 opponents of the 2014 season have each been forced to punt 60 times. Not a big deal? Check out these numbers: 2013: number of CU punts – 67; opponents – 59; 2012: CU punts – 76; opponents, 47; 2011: CU punts – 77; opponents, 48.

Don’t Look, Ethel! … Colorado is giving up 211.8 yards per game rushing, ranked 106th in the nation. The Buffs will be going up against the second-best runner in the Pac-12 with a defense which is giving up an alarming 5.8 yards per carry.

Records which could be broken Saturday:

– Most passing yards, season: 3,156 (Koy Detmer, 1996) – Sefo Liufau needs 274 to break the record;

– Most total offense, season: 3,150 (Koy Detmer, 1996) – Sefo Liufau needs 138 yards (passing and rushing) to break the record;

– Most receiving yards, season: 1,343 (Paul Richardson, 2013) – Nelson Spruce needs 236 to break the record;

– Most receiving yards, freshman, season: 514 (Paul Richardson, 2010) – Shay Fields needs 92 to break the record.

One last chance to make a good impression … let’s get it done, Buffs!


2 Replies to “Utah at Colorado – A Preview”

  1. Stuart, just a quick question: last season there was always a weekly update on the “sledgehammer” award for the most deserving defensive game day hitter. Is this something that is still being given out?

    1. Yes. There hasn’t been as much play with the awards, but the tradition has continued. Here are the awards for the Oregon game:
      Players who carried out CU’s symbolic instruments today:
      American Flag: Kaiwi Crabb
      Colorado Flag: Shane Callahan
      Sledgehammer: Sean Irwin
      Toolbox: Brad Cotner
      Special Teams Belt: Kyle Slavin
      Buffalo Head: Aaron Howard

      If you would like to see the list for the season, it can be found on page 22 of the Game Notes for the Utah game.

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