Colorado v. Arizona – “T.I.P.S.” for Kahlil Tate’s (Possible) Return to Folsom

There is a great deal of speculation as to whether Arizona’s star quarterback Kahlil Tate will be on the field when Arizona plays Colorado this Saturday. The return of the Buff killer is certainly reason for concern, as Tate has posted video game numbers against the Buff defense the past two seasons.

That being said, be careful what you ask for, Buff fans.

Brandon Dawkins was the starter at quarterback for Arizona two years ago when the Wildcats last came to Boulder. Dawkins was injured in the first quarter, and was replaced by a relative unknown by the name of Kahlil Tate. All Tate did is set an FBS record for rushing yards by a quarterback, with 327 yards (and four touchdowns), leading the Wildcats to a 45-42 win.

CU’s chances at a win Saturday would certainly be enhanced if Tate can’t play … or at least we assume that to be the case.

This week’s “T.I.P.S.” for CU v. Arizona … Saturday, 2:30 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Networks

T – Talent 

A quick recap of Kahlil Tate’s two-game career against Colorado:

  • 2017 … Kahlil Tate rushes for 327 yards and four touchdowns, goes 12-for-13 passing for 154 yards and another touchdown … Arizona 45, Colorado 42
  • 2018 … Kahlil Tate held to 15 yards rushing (yea!) … but goes 17-for-22 passing for 350 yards (oops!), with five touchdowns and one interception … Arizona 42, Colorado 34

So, quick back-of-the-napkin math gives you … 342 yards rushing (with four touchdowns) and 29-for-35 passing for 504 yards (and six more touchdowns) … or, put another way: 842 yards of total offense, an 83% pass completion rate, and ten total touchdowns … in only two games.

Ya think the Buffs would just as soon seen Tate in street clothes this weekend?

If Tate can’t go, freshman Grant Gunnell will get his second start. Gunnell was a more than adequate 29-of-44 for 352 yards passing in Arizona’s 20-17 win over UCLA, with one touchdown and no interceptions. For his efforts against the Bruins, Gunnell was named the Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Player-of-the-Week.

Of perhaps of as great or greater concern for Arizona than which quarterback will start is the status of star running back J.J. Taylor. Taylor had 1,434 yards rushing last year, but has been limited by injuries so far in the 2019 season. Junior Gary Brightwell, with 259 rushing yards and four touchdowns so far this season, has been called on to lead the rushing attack in Taylor’s absence.

On defense, keep an eye on linebacker Colin Schooler, No. 7 in your program (do they still sell programs?). A junior All-Pac-12 performer, Schooler had 215 tackles in his first two seasons in Tucson, and has continued his torrid pace this fall. In the 20-17 win over UCLA last weekend, Schooler posted 13 tackles (ten solo).

I – Intangibles 

What’s keeping the Buffs from a fast start?

Or, more precisely, what is keeping the Buffs from playing well in the second quarter?

The Colorado offense, it may come as a surprise to learn, has actually scored a touchdown on its first possession in three of its four games (the Nebraska game being the lone exception). So it’s not starting fast that’s an issue. Rather, it’s been maintaining momentum that has been the Buffs’ problem:

  • Against Colorado State, the Buffs allowed the Rams to match them score for score in the first half, actually falling behind 14-10 and 21-17 in the second quarter before finally taking command in the second half;
  • Against Nebraska, the Buffs not only didn’t score on their first drive, they didn’t score in the first half, not denting the scoreboard until the final two minutes of the third quarter;
  • Against Air Force, the Buffs jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead … and then floundered, watching helplessly as the Falcons scored the next 23 points, with the CU offense going three full quarters before scoring again; and
  • Against Arizona State, the Buffs jumped out to a 14-0 first quarter lead before the Sun Devils went on a 21-7 run to tie the score 21-21 in the second quarter.

Colorado has only been out-scored in one quarter thus far this season, but it’s a noteworthy discrepancy. In the second quarter, CU’s four opponents have out-scored the Buffs by a whopping 59-27 margin. The Buff defense has given up 116 points in regulation this season … with over half of those points coming in the second quarter.

“I think if we play a complete game, with our brand of football … I don’t think anybody can beat us,” safety Mikial Onu said. “I think we could be one of the best teams in the country, but we have to focus on getting better every day, day in and day out, play in and play out.”

P – Preparation/Schedule

It was a September of firsts for Mel Tucker at Colorado.

Tucker has coached his first game at Colorado (CSU), first home game (Nebraska), his first game against a ranked opponent (also Nebraska), and his first Pac-12 game and first Pac-12 road game (Arizona State).

And now, Tucker & Co. face their first Pac-12 home game … and first game after a bye week.

Since 1948, CU is 27-22 in games following a bye. Since joining the Pac-12 in 2011, the Buffs are just 2-5 following an open week.

The Buffs practiced three days last week in their bye week, then had the weekend off, and coach Tucker said he liked what he saw from his team after their time off.

“Coming off of Colorado State (the season opener on a Friday night), we had a couple days and that Monday practice we had to do some extra things to get them going,” Tucker said Monday. “We didn’t have to do that today. That’s a good sign of our maturity and how far we’ve come in a short period of time.”

Most importantly, Tucker said, the Buffs took stock of where they are now — and where they want to be.

“The focus was good today,” he said. “We worked with a purpose. We laid out some things for them in the team meeting. Just showed them where we are and where we need to go.”

As far as looking ahead … Both teams will want this win. Both Colorado and Arizona are 3-1, 1-0, and the winner late Saturday afternoon will sit alone atop the Pac-12 South standings. Meanwhile, both teams are facing daunting tasks next weekend, with CU traveling to Eugene to take on Oregon, while Arizona returns home to face Washington. Suffice it to say, both the Buffs and the Wildcats would like to get Pac-12 win No. 2 in the bank before facing next weekend’s opponents.

S – Statistics

— Colorado has given up 79 points in the first half this season, including 59 in the second quarter. In the second half (and two overtimes), however, the Buffs have yielded just 44 points — including only six total points in the third period;

“We talk constantly about not giving up explosive plays,” defensive coordinator Tyson Summers said. “The big part has got to be just communication. What we’re able to do is settle in and be able to play pretty well about halfway through the second quarter throughout the rest of the game”;

— Arizona is 1-5 on the road under Kevin Sumlin, with the one win coming at Oregon State last year;

— In its last two games, Arizona defeated Texas Tech 28-14 and UCLA 20-17. The two games represent the first time since the first three games of 2013 in which Arizona has held consecutive opponents under 21 points;

— While Kahlil Tate’s success against Colorado is well-documented, Steven Montez has fared well against the Wildcat defense. In his two starts against Arizona, Montez has completed a combined 46-of-74 passes, going for 594 yards and six touchdowns;

Something’s gotta give department … Buff coaches point to CU’s dominance in the fourth quarter as a major factor in the Buffs posting a 3-1 record in September. Colorado has out-scored its opponents 54-31 in the fourth quarter … but … check out this quote: “I think the coaching staff has made some nice adjustments. You don’t get those numbers in the fourth quarter without conditioning, and mental toughness out of our team, and then some adjustments have been made on the sideline or from upstairs with what we’re doing”. Mel Tucker? No. Arizona’s Kevin Sumlin, talking about how the Wildcats have out-scored their opponents, 22-0, the past two games;

What to watch for … Colorado is tied for the Pac-12 lead with 11 forced turnovers thus far this season. The team CU is tied with for that position? Arizona, which has also forced 11 turnovers this season (Arizona leads the nation with nine interceptions). This just in … there’s a pretty good chance that the team which wins the turnover battle on Saturday will win the game.

Prediction … This is the week of “game-time decisions”. On the Arizona side of the ball, star quarterback Kahlil Tate and star running back J.J. Taylor missed last weekend’s game against UCLA, and Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin has been mum as to whether either or both will play against Colorado.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the poker table sits Colorado head coach Mel Tucker. He has some stars of his own – wide receiver Laviska Shenault, defensive lineman Mustafa Johnson, and defensive back Chris Miller – who are officially “game time decisions”.

Who will play? Who will sit?

Who knows?

It can be argued that both teams can get along just fine without their stars, as Arizona defeated UCLA without Tate and Taylor, and CU was without Shenault and Johnson for most of the 34-31 win over Arizona State.

Colorado was installed by Las Vegas as a three-point favorite, which basically means that the oddsmakers would rate these two teams as even on a neutral field … and it’s hard to argue that fact. Both teams have posted decent wins; but both teams have also posted embarrassing losses to a Mountain West opponent.

The Colorado defense has given up 31, 31, 30, and 31 points to its opponents thus far this season, so picking Arizona’s side of the score should be fairly easy.

That being said, Arizona only scored 20 at home against a UCLA defense which is 112th in the nation in scoring defense. On the other side of the ball, the Arizona defense has become sneaky good, giving up only 14 points to a normally high-scoring offense in Texas Tech, and only 17 points to a UCLA offense which had just scored 50 points in one half against Washington State.

Will Kahlil Tate return to the lineup, with the Wildcats going for 40+ against a Buff defense susceptible to big plays? Will the Arizona defense, stout of late, stymie the Buff offense if Laviska Shenault can’t play?

Part of me does want Kahlil Tate to play this weekend. I don’t want to hear the “if Tate had played, he would have put up over 40 points and five touchdowns – again – against the Buffs” argument if CU wins. Mel Tucker has been great at erasing bad historical stats from the CU ledger, and a win over a Tate-led Wildcat offense would put another sorry chapter from the past few seasons behind us, once and for all.

The other part of me says, “To Hell with that. Leave Tate on the sidelines – I just want to win the damn game”.

Las Vegas oddsmakers, just like the rest of us, haven’t yet figured out the 2019 Buffs. Colorado was a touchdown underdog to both Nebraska and Arizona State … and won both games. The Buffs were a 4.5-point favorite over Air Force … and lost.

I went 11-1 last year in my predictions (the Oregon State debacle the only outlier). Mike MacIntyre’s 2018 Buffs were all too easy to forecast – winning the games they were supposed to win, and, unfortunately, always losing the games they were supposed to lose.

Coach Tucker’s team is not as predictable … and that’s a good thing.

Mel Tucker is getting the most out of his team, but injuries are making the task more difficult. The Buffs have had an extra week to rest, and will (hopefully) have some of the walking wounded ready to play.

The Buffs should be well-prepared for Kahlil Tate, J.J. Taylor … or whoever the Wildcats put on the field. The weather will be perfect (high 60’s and sun), and the Folsom Field advantage will make the difference.

In Mel we Trust …

Prediction … Colorado 38, Arizona 31 … 

Previous predictions … 

Colorado 38, Colorado State 20 … Actual: Colorado 52, Colorado State 31

Colorado 37, No. 25 Nebraska 31 … Actual: Colorado 34, No. 25 Nebraska 31 (OT)

— Colorado 34, Air Force 24 … Actual: Air Force 30, Colorado 24 (OT)

No. 24 Arizona State 27, Colorado 17 … Actual: Colorado 34, No. 24 Arizona State 31


7 Replies to “CU v. Arizona – “T.I.P.S.” for Mel Tucker’s First Pac-12 Home Game”

  1. Our overall talent level still leads me to believe we still will lose a game we ‘shouldn’t’…no weather advantage which is a bummer. Think we drop this game (desperatly hoping I’m wrong)….but still come back to win a game/two we ‘shouldn’t’ and go bowling.

  2. I want Tate on the field and a no asterisk Buff win to show CU can get it done with the opposing team’s best players on the field. It only gets tougher from here. I see other write ups that appear to assume this is a Buff win. Based upon what? AZ and Tate have won the last two and our D is still giving up a lot of points. Buffs in another close one: 38-35. Go Buffs!!!

  3. Well coached teams get better as the season progresses. Something we haven’t seen for a couple of years….Pretty sure we’ll see this out of HCMT. Buffs win going away this week.

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