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This Week’s “T.I.P.S.” for CU’s shot at redemption in the desert

First and foremost, I just want to thank you for checking with the website for this week’s preview.

There have been tougher weeks to be a Buff fan, but (thankfully) not too many.

For many, the CU football program is a distraction. Something for amusement on Saturdays, but there are no huge emotional (or time) commitments. Then there are those who are ardent fans, but their lives just don’t permit them to devote the time and energy they would like to the day-to-day goings on of the Buffs.

Then there’s us.

The die-hards. The fanatics.

Last Saturday hit us harder than it did the others. We know the loss to Oregon State was not just one game in twelve. We know what the loss to Oregon State cost the program, not just for the next few games, but potentially for the next few seasons.

A win over Arizona would be a much needed salve for our wounds.

I’m just not sure we’re going to get it.

Colorado at Arizona … Friday, 8:30 p.m. MT, FS1

T – Talent 

The football gods really seem to have it in for Colorado when it comes to opposing quarterbacks.

Last season against Arizona, quarterback Brandon Dawkins went down to injury in the first quarter. It turned out to be a non-issue for the Wildcats, as the Buff defense watched helplessly as Kahlil Tate became an NCAA-record holder with his 327 rushing yards.

Last week against Oregon State, Jake Luton, who had missed every other Pac-12 game this season with a high ankle sprain, suddenly got healthy over halftime in Boulder, coming out of the locker room to throw for 310 yards and three touchdowns.

For much of the 2018 season, Kahlil Tate has either been hobbled by injuries or handicapped by the play-calling of new head coach Kevin Sumlin.

That was, of course, until last week. when Tate returned to action, throwing for three touchdowns in leading the Wildcats to a 44-15 upset romp over Oregon. It appears that Tate and Sumlin are finally on the same page … just in time to take on the Buffs.

The Colorado secondary may not be able to put up much resistance, as there are more injured Buff defensive backs than there are healthy ones.

The Buffs entered last week’s game already hampered in the secondary, with starting corner Chris Miller out for the season and another starting defensive back, Delrick Abrams, having missed the previous week with an injury. Against Oregon State, the Buffs lost starting safety Evan Worthington to a concussion and backup safety Kyle Trego to a targeting call (Trego will have to sit out the first half against Arizona; Worthington’s status for the Arizona game is uncertain)

Those losses meant the first significant playing time of the year for safety Derrion Rakestraw, a converted wide receiver who played 32 snaps, as well as some time for Aaron Maddox.

Meanwhile, at corner, Abrams came in and played 31 snaps, Dante Wigley played 66 and Trey Udoffia played all 99 defensive snaps. Each of them had tough moments, as Beavers quarterback Jake Luton had no problem carving up the Buff secondary.

Lest you think Arizona has become a passing team, however I offer you one J.J. Taylor.

Wildcat running back J.J. Taylor has already gone over 1,000 yards for the season (1,029, with a 6.2 yards/carry average), with two 200-yard Pac-12 games already under his belt. Against Oregon, Taylor had 30 carries for 212 yards and two touchdowns.

For a Colorado defense which looked confused and ineffective in the second half against Oregon State, the fact that Kahlil Tate and J.J. Taylor are playing their best ball of the season is not a good omen.

If the Buffs are going to win, it will be by out-scoring the Wildcats. Arizona is 92nd in the nation in total defense (421.7 yards/game) and 70th in scoring defense (27.4 points/game).

And, if the history between the two schools is any sort of a guide, that’s not outside the realm of the possible.

One common thread in every Pac-12 meeting between the two schools? The winning team has scored at least 38 points in every game. Overall, the two teams have combined to average 73.6 points per game in their seven meetings in Pac-12 play.

I – Intangibles

The Arizona game was supposed to be CU’s payback game.

The Buffs were surging; the Wildcats were struggling.

It was time for redemption for the 2017 game, which became Kahlil Tate’s coming out party. Brandon Dawkins started at quarterback for the 2-2 Wildcats against the 3-2 Buffs last October, but was knocked out on the first drive of the game. Tate entered the game … and ran for 327 yards, an FBS record for a quarterback, leading Arizona to a 45-42 win. Arizona goes on to a bowl bid; Colorado stays home.

A week ago, the set up was there for the Buffs. Arizona was reeling, with a 3-5 record after back-to-back losses to Utah and UCLA. Oregon was coming to town, ready to give the Wildcats a 3-6, 2-4 record. The Buffs, meanwhile, were set to gain bowl eligibility with a win over Oregon State, and head off to Tucson with a 6-2 record and momentum for the November schedule.

Instead, last weekend went bass-ackwards, with Oregon losing and Oregon State winning.

Now it’s Arizona with momentum for the November calendar, and the Buffs who are reeling.

“This is where you find out if you really do have that brotherhood,” senior safety and team captain Nick Fisher said after Monday morning’s practice. “Everything’s good when it’s 5-0. You let things slide, people are showing up late, maybe not doing things right. Then when you lose a couple everyone’s kind of hot, going at each other … this is really when you find out if we’re really going to stick together.”

According to Neill Woelk, the Buffs spent part of Sunday and Monday morning discussing how to move forward.

“You don’t want anything unsaid,” Fisher said. “… You want something to be said. You don’t want to go into this week, everyone walking on eggshells. You want to get everyone’s head right. Let them know — three losses sucks, back to back to back. It’s heart wrenching. … It’s hard to let one go like that. But it’s everything to let them know we have more games to play and we can still be where we want to be.”

The Buffs are saying the right things. But saying and doing are too different animals.

P – Preparation/Schedule 

Pac-12 road teams don’t generally fare all that well in Friday night conference games. Colorado spoiled Chip Kelly’s UCLA Pac-12 return on a Friday night in Boulder, while Arizona had one of its worst games of the season in a 42-10 road loss to Utah on a Friday night a few weeks ago.

Advantage, Arizona?

Probably.

On the other hand, it probably doesn’t hurt the Buffs that they don’t have an extra day to dwell on the Oregon State game, but have to get focused on Tuesday. The team held a players only meeting, in an effort to air grievances and move past the humbling loss to the Beavers.

“The attitude that’s been circulating around the team (this week) has been a pretty good attitude to have,” said quarterback Steven Montez. “It’s kind of been the same attitude we’ve had all year long. Oregon State, it’s over now; what happened, happened. But, we have another game coming up and we have to focus on U of A now.”

There was nothing but smiles and goodwill coming out of the players-only meeting on Monday.

Will that translate onto the field?

We’ll see …

S – Statistics

— CU sophomore wide receiver Laviska Shenault continues to lead the nation in both receptions per game (60, or 10.0/game) and receiving yards per game (780, or 130.0/game) … this will not go on indefinitely. If Shenault doesn’t get back on the field soon, he will no longer have enough games played to be ranked;

— Hope for the Buffs … Pac-12 teams are only 17-15 at home in conference games thus far in 2018;

— Running back Travon McMillian is 25th in the nation in rushing (97.3 yds/game) … Arizona’s J.J. Taylor, meanwhile, is 11th in the nation in rushing, with 114.3 yards/game. Taylor leads the nation with 1,579 all-purpose yards (Arizona and Taylor have played nine games, however, while other leading backs have played eight);

— For the season, the Buffs are scoring more points (32.0/game v. 29.6/game) and giving up fewer points (23.9/game v. 27.4/game) than is Arizona. In Pac-12 play, however, the Wildcats are holding opponents to 23.8 points/game, while the Buffs are giving up 27.2 points/game;

— Keep an eye on third-down conversions. Arizona is 84th in the nation in third-down conversion defense (40.8%), but that ranking actually went up considerably after the Wildcats limited Oregon to 3-of-16 on third downs last Saturday night;

— The Wildcat defender to keep an eye on is linebacker Colin Schooler, who leads the nation in tackles-for-loss, with 16.

Prediction …

Last Saturday, as the Buffs took a 24-3 halftime lead over Oregon State, I was pretty confident about my 42-17 prediction. Even when the Beavers scored to make it a 31-10 game midway through the third quarter, my pick looked pretty solid. Each team would get a score or two in garbage time, I figured, with the Folsom Field crowd soaking in some sun, passing the time talking about which bowl game the Buffs would be invited to in a few weeks. A 42-17 final seemed pretty realistic.

An hour or so later, and we were filing out of Folsom Field in stunned silence.

Meanwhile, Arizona decided to play its best game of the season last Saturday night against Oregon. The Wildcats dominated the Ducks on both sides of the ball, racing out to a 23-8 halftime lead and never looking back, winning 44-15.

Looking to try a positive omen? Call it the revenge of the slighted …

A few weeks ago, UCLA was 0-5 and left for dead. Then, the Bruins traveled to Berkeley and throttled Cal, 37-7.

The Bears were then considered a bottom feeder … until they traveled to Corvallis the following weekend and dominated Oregon State, 49-7.

The Beavers were then considered one of the worst teams in the country … until they traveled to Boulder and beat the Buffs.

So, is it CU’s turn to be the beaten down team who turns it around on the road?

We can certainly hope so.

I’m having a hard time seeing it, though. The Colorado secondary is a M*A*S*H unit, just as Kahlil Tate is turning into a quality passer. J.J. Taylor is poised to run over and around the Buff defense. If the Buffs couldn’t get to Jake Luton, who was a statue in the pocket, how are they going to corral Kahlil Tate?

Oh, and this just in … the Colorado offense has stagnated.

Perhaps Laviska Shenault can get back on the field, and reignite the Buff offense. Otherwise, I just can’t see the Buffs scoring enough to keep up with the Wildcats.

… Arizona 38, Colorado 24 … 

Previous predictions … 

Prediction: Colorado 42, Oregon State 17 … Actual: Oregon State 41, Colorado 34 OT

Prediction: Washington 31, Colorado 14 … Actual: Washington 27, Colorado 13

Prediction: USC 24, Colorado 20 … Actual: USC 31, Colorado 20

Prediction: Colorado 34, Arizona State 27 … Actual: Colorado 28, Arizona State 21

Prediction: Colorado 30, UCLA 21 … Actual: Colorado 38, UCLA 16

Prediction: Colorado 48, New Hampshire 10 … Actual: Colorado 45, New Hampshire 14

Prediction: Colorado 31, Nebraska 24 … Actual: Colorado 33, Nebraska 28

Prediction: Colorado 41, Colorado State 24 … Actual: Colorado 45, Colorado State 13

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8 Replies to “CU at Arizona – A Preview”

  1. Stuart I swear, you read my mind. While not the same score pretty damn close
    AZ-34 CU-24***With Shenault
    AZ-40 CU-17**Without
    Until I see coaching, fire and heart from this team, I just don’t see any victories. God I hope I’m wrong.

  2. yeah we might win if Viska returns if they find a few new ways to get him the ball. NO MORE WILDCAT please….unless you have a new wrinkle by allowing him to throw the ball or hand it off. The rest of the team could have used the extra day to practice something new on offense. whoops, like Eric, I’m getting irrational.

  3. It is nice to see some relative optimism on the website and hope it comes to pass and that I am way off base. Unfortunately, I am not feeling it. Having Shenault return would be a positive spark but there are so many deficiencies, it seems unlikely that the return of one man, even the ultra talented Viska, will be enough to offset the negative dynamics. I see the next 3 games with CU’s opponents scoring in the 40’s and the Buffs scoring in the 20’s. CU has had chances in the last 3 games and didn’t capitalize. Go Buffs, prove me wrong and I will eat my words.

    AZ 45 CU 24

  4. Shenault is the wildcard. If he can play this week and beyond, I think we can become bowl eligible and avoid finishing in the cellar again. Without Shenault this season, I seriously believe we are a 2-6 team at this point. I agree with Chirality that our wide-open offensive attack (abandoned the last 3 games) is what kept defenses on their heels and opened up the run – however, Shenault is the key. He came up with so many key catches in our 5 wins at crucial times, something we needed only once last week to hold off the Beavs 2nd half gauntlet. He makes everyone around him better just by being on the field.

    I’d hate to see this team not finish with a few more wins, but it is going to depend on Shenault’s return. I’m still sick to my stomach, not only about last Saturday, but on the number of opportunities we’ve had over the last few weeks. Everything lined up for us to take a huge step forward to the next level – but here we are yet again. We’ll see how things play out over the next few weeks and I’ll be cheering for my Buffs just as loud and hard as I have been since ’87. We’ve made some strides over the years, but we still have a long way to go.

    Go Buffs!

  5. If Shenault doesn’t play the Buffs lose this game. The offense has stalled without him. I love Montez but I am not sure he is the right answer. I feel he doesn’t have the play making ability that Sefo had. Last week Oregon State’s qb was lights out and basically won that game single handily. I do not see Tate with the same throwing ability and his running has been figured out, plus the Buffs have stuffed runners. I see this game as a low scoring affair without Shenault and the Buffs losing. 21-10. If Shenault plays the Buffs win no doubt. Miss the guaranteed touchdowns against ASU with him in the wildcat. If he plays AU is toast. Buffs 31-14

  6. Oh man, this is where I get irrational. Maybe McCartney did sell his soul, and our beloved program, for that Natty? Probably not. Probably not.

    So? 95-5. Buffs win.

    Go Buffs

  7. hythloday1 on the Oregon-focused addictedtoquack site had a fantastic film review of the Oregon-Arizona game that everyone should read/watch. The main takeaways:

    – Oregon’s offensive line was awful, and they were unproductive running on first and second downs
    – Oregon’s defense gave up a ton of yards because they had terrible (backup) linebacker play

    The first one should give us cause for concern. We’ve seen CU’s offensive line utterly fail to open holes over the last few weeks (running the same play over and over, no less). The second one should give us hope. I don’t think that Taylor can run over Landman and Gamboa and Lewis like he can Oregon’s third-stringers.

    This game thus hinges on whether or not Chev/Klayton can pull their heads out of their asses and go back to the the wide-open offensive attack that spread the field (prior to the USC game) both horizontally and vertically, rather than the ‘up-the-gut, up-the-gut, third-and-long’ gameplan we’ve seen the last three weeks.

    I think the Buffs can actually steal the game…if Shenault plays.

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