Colorado v. Arizona Preview: “T.I.P.S.” for the Buffs and the Wildcats

 

Hard to believe, but after Saturday night, half of the 2017 regular season will be in the books.

Yet it seems like the Buff Nation is still waiting for the season to start.

Waiting for the Colorado offense, with its nine returning starters and “second-best in the nation” receiving corps, to dominate opposing defenses.

Waiting for the Buffs to play a complete game, one with few (if any) penalties, one with few (if any) turnovers, one with multiple long scoring plays, coupled with multiple long scoring drives to wear down an inferior opponent.

This weekend’s opponent is an Arizona team the Buffs beat, on the road, 49-24, last November. Just ten games ago, Colorado raced out to a 28-10 halftime lead over Arizona, and were never really threatened in the game, despite being out-gained by the Wildcats, 417-388, in total yards.

Colorado is a touchdown favorite over a team which hasn’t won a Pac-12 game on the road since … well, since they beat the Buffs in Boulder in 2015.  Since that 38-31 win over the Buffs, the Wildcats have gone 2-13 in Pac-12 play, 0-7 on the road.

CU fans can only hope and trust that those Arizona trends will continue …

 

This week’s “T.I.P.S.” for CU v. Arizona … Saturday, 6:00 p.m., MT, Pac-12 Networks

 

T – Talent 

If it’s another Pac-12 game, it’s another week to talk about the opposing quarterback.

This week, it’s dual-threat quarterback Brandon Dawkins. In four games, Dawkins has completed 66-of-105 pass attempts for 670 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions. Dawkins is also Arizona’s leading rusher, with 52 attempts for 341 yards (6.6 yards per carry) and six touchdowns.

“You always have to account for him in the run game, you always have to account for him in your pass rush lanes, making sure you’re not getting too far up the field and giving him a lane to tuck it and run it,” Buffs’ defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. “Those things are always in consideration in your game plan and your techniques for that week for an athletic quarterback.”

In last November’s 49-24 CU win, though, the Buffs contained Dawkins, holding him to 9-of-19 completions for 107 yards passing, together with 18 carries for 76 yards.

The Arizona offense is most effective when it runs the ball, with the Wildcats having posted more rushing touchdowns in four games (15) than the touchdowns the Colorado offense has posted, total, in five games (13).

When Dawkins does hand off, it’s usually to freshman running back J.J. Taylor, who has 49 carries for 229 yards on the season. Senior Nick Wilson, who rushed for 1,375 yards as a freshman in 2014, has been relegated to backup duty, with 34 carries for 171 yards to date.

“The key is if they can get the running back going, you just can’t stop them,” said Mike MacIntyre. “We’ve got to somehow keep the running back from getting going and then we’ve got a chance.”

The Arizona defense in 2017 has been on par with that of Colorado, with the Wildcats giving up 376.0 total yards per game (63rd nationally), compared to the Buffs’ 366.8 yards per game (58th). Arizona is surrendering 22.3 points per game (48th nationally), while Colorado is giving up 18.2 points per game (22nd).

 

I – Intangibles

Mike MacIntyre detractors believe that the CU/Arizona game is a make-or-break game for the Colorado coaching staff.

A loss to Arizona – and the likely losing record coming the end of November that such a loss would portend – will certainly send the Buff Nation into a funk. Colorado, however, is not going to fire Mike MacIntyre this fall.

The same might not be true for Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez. The well-traveled Rodriguez, who had a successful run at West Virginia and a disastrous three years at Michigan before landing in Tucson, is in his sixth season coaching the Wildcats. Rodriguez is 38-31 at Arizona, 18-27 in Pac-12 conference games. After claiming the Pac-12 South with a 10-4 record in 2014, the Wildcats have gone backwards, going 7-6 in 2015 and 3-9 last year.

There is the feeling that Rodriguez needs to get back to a bowl game this fall (at the very least) in order to save his job. With three of Arizona’s final four games on the road (at USC, at Oregon, at Arizona State), the Colorado game might just be a make-or-break game for coach Rodriguez.

That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty at stake for the Buffs as well.

There is more than a little consternation that the Colorado offense has not produced the numbers on offense which were expected six weeks ago.

“I believe we’re close to that breakthrough-type game,” Buffs co-offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini said after Monday’s practice. “But at the end of the day, you can’t have drops, you can’t miss reads, you can’t hurt yourself with penalties. …  I’m a firm believer you are what your record says you are and right now we’re 3-2. We have to find ways to score points and get better.”

Chiaverini’s words were about the Buffs, but his head and heart had to be elsewhere. Chiaverini’s brother-in-law, along with his wife’s best friend, were victims in the Las Vegas shooting Sunday night.

“He went home early after they found out,” said MacIntyre of Chiaverini. “I told him the other day, whatever he needs to do, go do it. If he needs to go, he can go for sure. I’m going to let him take it. They’re could be or they’re could not be. It depends on what their family decides. He’s completely free to go do what he needs to do. It’s a lot more important than football. Other people are ready to jump in”.

Certainly, the absence of Chiaverini this week could have an impact on the CU offensive preparations for Arizona.

Clearly, however, that should be the last of our concerns here … Thoughts and prayers for Darrin Chiaverini and his family …

 

P – Preparation / Schedule

Arizona has played only four games to date, defeating Northern Arizona and UTEP, while losing to Houston and Utah. The Wildcats posted big offensive numbers against the Lumberjacks (62-24) and Miners (63-16), but struggled to score against the Houston Cougars (19-16) and Utah Utes (30-24), with both losses coming at home.

To hear Mike MacIntyre tell it, the Wildcats are just a bounce or two away from being undefeated and ranked.

“Arizona is playing really well. They could easily be 4-0, but they’re 2-2,” said MacIntyre. “They’ve gotten beat by two good football teams that have played well for the last few years. It’s going to be a very tough contest. They’re much improved on defense compared to where they were last year. Offensively, [quarterback Brandon] Dawkins reminds me so much of Colin Kaepernick when I coached against him when I was at San Jose State.”

Of course, if you want to look at it the another way, Arizona’s only wins have come against a Big Sky Conference team and an 0-5 UTEP squad which earlier this week became the first FBS team this fall to have their head coach resign.

Glass half full; glass half empty.

The last game Arizona played was two weeks ago against Utah, with the Wildcats enjoying a bye week before coming to Boulder.

A week off is almost always considered an advantage, with the resting team getting players back who have lingering injuries, while giving the coaching staff extra time to devise a game plan. While it won’t be obvious to fans in the stands, the Buffs will be facing different formations and personnel groupings early in the game, with the Wildcats attempting to exploit assumed weaknesses.

While the Buffs are still healing from Saturday’s game, they don’t sound like not having the weekend off is a great disadvantage compared to the lounging Wildcats. “We’re definitely more motivated. You can tell at practice that everybody is locked in and ready to do everything we’re supposed to do”, said safety Evan Worthington. “We need to get this ‘W’, that’s all we’re thinking about right now.”

 

S – Statistics

— As upset as Buff fans have been in the inability of the Colorado offense to score touchdowns in the red zone (18 trips – 8 touchdowns; 7 field goals; 3 failures to score), the Buff defense has been just as stingy against CU’s opponents (13 trips – 5 touchdowns; 5 field goals; 3 failures to score);

— Phillip Lindsay is well on his way to becoming the first running back in CU history to post back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, with 539 yards rushing in five games. The hope for CU to have a 1,000-yard rusher and a 1,000-yard receiver for the first time ever, however, is waning. The Buffs’ leading receiver in yardage is Devin Ross, with 327 yards, which equates to about an 800-yard receiving campaign;

— Colorado has only had three offensive plays going for over 40 yards this fall, while surrendering eight;

— For the offensive coordinators (and yes, that’s plural) aren’t making adjustments crowd … Colorado has out-scored its opponents 76-41 in the first half of games this season (45-14 in the first quarter), but only 44-42 in the second half;

— Freshman kicker James Stefanou is 10-of-11 on field goal attempts this season, the third-best beginning in field goal makes by any kicker in CU annals; only Jeremy Aldrich (1996-97) and Jeremy Flores (2000-01) are better, as they both made 13 of their first 14 field goal tries.

 

Bottom Line … Neither team would describe this weekend’s game as a desperation game. It’s the sixth game of the season for Colorado; game five for Arizona.

But many fans – of both teams – would describe this as a desperation game (as does Jon Wilner – scroll down to “Desperate times: Arizona at Colorado“).

If Colorado loses to Arizona at home this weekend, the Buffs will be 0-3 in Pac-12 play, and there will be only one opponent left on the schedule (Oregon State next weekend) which will an underdog to the Buffs.

While it may not be time to push the panic button, it wouldn’t hurt to have hit handy Saturday night.

“We’re going to be fine,” Phillip Lindsay reassures us. “Last year, we had a lot of the bounces go our way. Now, we have to make those bounces go our way again. We’ve got a lot of big games coming up. We’ll get some bounces our way.”

Another captain, defensive end Leo Jackson, agrees. “Luckily we have leaders on the team, like myself, some of the other captains and the seniors that have been through it, when we had two-win seasons and three-win seasons,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing. We’re trying to keep the young guys’ heads in it and let them know that losses happen; you have to bounce back from it.”

Jackson believes that good team chemistry will help the Buffs bounce back.

“It’s the brotherhood aspect,” he said. “We know we’re going to fight for each other.”

That’s all well and good, but CU fans have been waiting for six weeks for the Buffs to get their collective act together.

If not now … when?

Last weekend, the Buffs had five red zone opportunities, coming away with one touchdown, three field goals, and a botched fake field goal (CU’s other score came on a 21-yard pass from Montez to Lindsay).

It says here that against Arizona the Buffs will have at least one score from outside the red zone, and get at least five trips into the red zone. This time the CU offense will generate three touchdowns and two field goals.

Not a great improvement over one touchdown and three field goals from last weekend, but against a mediocre Arizona team, it will be good enough …

Colorado 34, Arizona 24

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17 Replies to “CU v. Arizona – A Preview”

  1. I think this game is going to be a critical game for this season. CU is playing a lower middle to bottom dwelling PAC 12 Arizona team at home. Lose this game and that probably means the Buffs are one of the bottom dwelling conference teams. Teams near the bottom of the conference usually only win one or two conference games. That would sadly put us back to where we came from and make last year look more like a fluke then a team trending up.

    I am hoping that CU wins by a couple of touchdowns on their way to a 7 win season and a minor bowl game. I think they get it done tomorrow and start a two game win streak. CU 38 Arizona 24

  2. I don’t see THE complete game happening yet. But I hope for fewer mistakes. AZ hungry because of RichRod’s status, better than last year. Buffs in a one possession win:

    CU 31 AZ 24

  3. So

    The “Hot seat” exists because coaches are responsible for winning games period.
    From recruiting to planning to execution.

    So the “player make plays and players win games” the “MacMantra” is the teflon shield that begets “He doesn’t know what he is talking about” comment from the coach of the year toward McCarntey.

    Yup the players make mistakes but so do the coaches.

    At some point the realization that “peter principle” exists needs to be acknowledged. Lowest paid staff or not, it is here and it starts at the top.

    “Turn around expert” does not equate to “running the business”

    Okay 7 more games to see what this staff is really about.

    Hoping for the best for all.

    Buffs

    Note: Players good about “taking the responsibliiy” Mac not so much. Although he is good at accepting all the glories.

    Note: No Stuart I don’t love to hate the Buffs.

    1. There have been many coaches since the time I received my undergrad and grad degrees from CU. Some I have liked, others not so much. Successful coaches, like successful business executives, demonstrate a key trait: “fierce ownership”. That means not ducking questions, taking your beatings when they come and doing so with class and not making excuses, and being able to say: “that is on me”. I am OK with Macintyre overall but not totally fired up about him. All of the wins and losses stop with him. The buck always stops at the top. He takes ownership but not to the full extent that he should, IMO, regardless of his accolades. I agree with you, given my personal long-term experience and learnings, that turnaround and running are two different skill sets. The jury is out on whether he can demonstrate that he can run things over a sustained period.

  4. If the o-line plays well enough to allow Montez to operate in the pocket, Buffs win. Simple as that.

    By the way I really liked the two fullback formation the Buffs ran in the second half vs. UCLA. It was a nice smash-mouth change of pace and it worked for Lindsay. Oh yeah, they only used it for one series and never ran the formation again.

  5. So here they go! One of the games everyone assumed the Buffs would win. As are the games against Cal and OSU. And a maybe against ASU and a hopeful against Utah, and a no chance against USC and WSU.

    Very interesting.

    I was hoping for 8-4.

    I am just gonna leave this here.

    The Emperor and his staff have no clothes

  6. Yo Stuart,

    Nobody does or should think MacIntyre will be fired. Why would he be fired? Some may be hoping that he wins enough games to be lured away back to his part of the country, and some are hoping he turns things around and gets the Buffs back in the annual bowl extravaganzas year after year.

    Most fans don’t have the same warm fuzzy feelings about the offensive play-caller. BL did a good job against UCLA. But the games in which his play-calling outsmarted a good defense are pretty much non-existent. One good game doesn’t get him off the hook for the years of head-scratching play calls.

    The Pac-12 is a tough league to play in, especially on the road. It’s not really a surprise that a struggling UCLA (or any other Pac-12 team) is tough to beat on their home turf.

    That said, the Buffs need to take advantage of every opportunity they have. They only play 12 games (and a bowl if they earn it and yearn for it). The key to being a good team is being UP for every game, which is something they have not done this year.

    Some of us are concerned that a third straight loss, especially to a horrible road team like Arizona, would portend a likely collapse this season. We are all hoping for an inspired CU team to show up and finally live up to pre-season expectations. If not, we have a mostly lost decade to look back upon and prepare us for our feelings of despair about losing football.

    The truth may be that the Buffs are not as good as advertised. And since Mac won’t let anyone watch his practices, he takes the blame when he makes statements that are clearly not true about how good, prepared, and dominating his team will be.

    The best coaches I have watched over too many decades had certain traits in common: They voluntarily took the blame when their players were not prepared because it’s why they get paid; and they protected their kids from having blame pushed onto them. These are not NFL players, they are college kids.

    If some of us seem too critical of MacIntyre, maybe it’s because we believe that is where the blame should go. Everyone in the press knows Mac doesn’t handle criticism well… but, hey, we’re football fans, not his therapist. He can pay them to work on his feelings, and he can afford it.

    Mark
    Boulderdevil

    1. “Nobody does or should think MacIntyre will be fired. Why would he be fired?”

      Your previous post opened with … “Mike MacIntyre’s future depends upon this game against Arizona perhaps more than any other since he arrived in Boulder”.

      Not sure how else to read that …

      1. Yo Stuart,

        I certainly hope that Mac’s future will go many more years. The implication is that if the Buffaloes lose to Arizona it will signal a downturn from the gains the program made last year. And that if the CU goes on to have a dismal ending to the 2017 it will be hard for Mac to reclaim the faith of the fans and the players.

        MacIntyre made a national name for himself last year and was rewarded with National Coach of the Year honors from numerous sources. Considering the general disregard for what Colorado would do THIS year from the media is pretty telling. So far, it seems the prognosticators were more right than MacIntyre about how good the Buffaloes would be, especially the O-line and scoring.

        In football, there are watershed moments that portend the future. Before the UCLA game I wrote how a big win or loss (point wise) would be a serious indicator but that a close win or loss like they had would put the pressure on the next two games with Arizona and Oregon State to set the tone for the rest of the year.

        Colorado MUST beat Arizona at Folsom if they want to salvage this season. If not, they have a good chance of ending up near the bottom of the Pac-12 yet again. If they don’t beat Arizona, even teams like Oregon State will believe that they can beat Colorado, especially playing at home.

        The quote you gave of mine above covers a multi-year period since his arrival in Boulder. I’m just pointing out that trends in football tend to go on for several seasons. The Buffs went from being blown out every game to getting close but still losing. Then they finally started to win the close ones and win some big last year in Pac-12 play. If they start moving the other direction, as a pendulum always does sooner or later, it will be hard to change that momentum.

        I’ve written many times in praise of MacIntyre (check my blog), but I feel that when criticism is warranted it should be given. If you want to be the highest paid state employee then you should expect folks to have high expectations. He can’t expect only accolades.

        Mark
        Boulderdevil

  7. We have scored a total of 7 TD’s in the past 5 games against major opponents since the Pac 12 championship game last year, (Washington, Oklahoma State, Colorado State, Washington and UCLA).
    Those kind of numbers will produce very few victories. Considering that we have an excellent receiving corps, a top-flite running back and a QB with a potent arm and the ability to run with the ball, these dismal touchdown numbers suggest that our Offensive line and, perhaps the play-calling of the coaches
    are the culprits.
    If we can’t get the job done against Arizona, this will become a season to forget.

  8. I’m not as fatalistic as some, in thinking if our Buffs lose, the season’s over. Either way, it’s actually only half over.

    Nevertheless, I do agree that this team’s struggling to find an identity, for whatever reasons. In my eyes, Montez is improving each game, and this team will go as he goes. Last week, it didn’t, but I still chalk that up to growing pains.

    I think this is the week they put it all together. Finally. Of course, I’ve been saying that for five weeks already. I sort of feel like the doom and gloomers, in that… sooner or later I’ll be right…

    CU 38 UA 21

    Go Buffs.

  9. “The Buffs’ leading receiver in yardage is Devin Ross, with 327 yards,….”
    When I read that my disappointment with the offense went deeper. What is going on here? We have a QB and a plethora of receivers who are overrated? or are their routes ill designed? Even if the O line is that bad a coach with Chev’s background in the air raid should be able to design plays to get the ball out of the QB’s hands quickly. Not having a TE and running the QB 15 times might have something to do with it too.
    Will Az be bad enough that our sleepwalking offense will look good and breed some ill advised confidence that it will still work against better coached teams?

  10. Very simple. Keep Dawkins in the pocket and make him beat us with his arm. Right? …. Right? Lindgren has Montez throw two of those wide receiver screens to start the game and then Montez unleashes a 73 yard bomb for a touchdown. Excitement then then creates passion and the Buffs roll to 41 -21 dismantling of the Wildcats.

    GO BUFFS

  11. Arizona’s game against Utah was an interesting one: they looked very competitive and could have won that game….but that might say more about no one having any idea how good Utah is yet than it does about Arizona. This week will tell us more (Stanford is a favorite at Utah?!), but it doesn’t seem like people are really taking the Utes seriously yet. Which means their kinda-narrow win at Arizona shouldn’t be taken very seriously.

    Brandon Dawkins, despite his decent numbers, is not a real threat to any half-competent defense. His history in games against bigger schools has proven that. The Wildcats are playing far too many true freshman. This game *should* be a blowout, along the lines of the Arizona St game at home last year.

    Montez had his best game at UCLA, in terms of making progressions, staying in the pocket or (when he rolled out) keeping his eyes downfield. The big adjustment I want to see from him: throwing the check-down to Lindsey in the flat. Lindsey could easily have had 6 catches for 60 yards against UCLA, just from easy check-downs that Montez instead threw out of bounds. Let’s see if Lindgren notices this on film and gets Montez to do it in practice. I’ll give this to Lindgren, though: I haven’t been a big fan of his play calling this year, but I’ve been very impressed with how much improvement Montez is making on the mental side of being a QB. And as the QB coach, that praise thus trickles over to Lindgren.

    Buffs 45, ‘Cats 20. Maybe we even get to see the backups get some playing time!

    1. Agree with you on the Montez analysis. He is progressing in a way that only meaningful playing time can provide, and he is making better decisions. Lingren can’t be blamed for the loss due to poor play calls in my opinion. Two drops in the end zone and a (very questionable) holding call that negated a touchdown are on the players.

      That being said, a mere handful of throws to the tight end across the middle would loosen up the defensive backfield, but with the sieve masquerading as an offensive line, perhaps they need the extra blocker. At this point, I’ll go with that explanation for the lack of TE catches.

      Here’s to hoping that your prediction is correct, they need the confidence booster.

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