No. 21 CU v. Utah: “T.I.P.S.” for the Buffs’ regular season finale

It’s been a unique “season”, with Colorado entering its final “regular season” Pac-12 game with an undefeated record. The Buff Nation is fully apprised that, if CU and USC both win, the Buffs will become the first Power Five conference school (which is not under NCAA sanctions) to go undefeated and not have the chance to compete for its conference championship.

As strange as this fall has been, however, there is an odd sense of familiarity when it comes to this weekend’s CU/Utah game.

In the 2016 regular season finale, No. 9 Colorado, playing as a ranked team in late November for the first time in over a decade, took on a quality Utah team (ranked 22nd). At stake for the Buffs? A Pac-12 South division title and a shot at the Pac-12 championship game.

The result? A 27-22 Colorado victory.

Fast forward four years.

In the 2020 regular season finale, No. 21 Colorado, playing as a ranked team in December for the first time since 2016, is taking on a quality Utah team. At stake for the Buffs? A possible Pac-12 South division title and a shot at the Pac-12 championship.

The result?

To be determined …

This Week’s “T.I.P.S” for No. 21 CU v. Utah, Friday, 7:30 p.m., MT, FS1

T – Talent 

Remember how Buff fans couldn’t wait to see the end of the Kahlil Tate career at Arizona?

Welcome to the Britain Covey watch.

Covey was a star as a freshman playing for Utah in 2015 (yes, 2015!). Thereafter, Covey went on a two-year Mormon mission in 2016 and 2017, then played but was hurt in 2018 and 2019, and is back at full strength to take on the Buffs in 2020 … as a redshirt junior. Which means that, if he chooses to, Covey could take the field against the Buffs this weekend, return for another junior year in 2021, and play his senior year in 2022.

Your standard eight-years-to-play-six plan.

The significance for Buff fans is that against Oregon State, Covey had two carries for seven yards, four receptions for 54 yards and a touchdown, and a 64-yard punt return for a touchdown. Covey is that kind of player against which CU defenses have struggled over the years.

And Covey isn’t even the featured skill position player.

Running back Ty Jordan continues to be a revelation.  Against Oregon State Jordan, a true freshman playing in his third career game, rushed for 167 yards and his first career touchdown on 27 carries. He added two catches for 22 yards to finish with a team-high 189 all-purpose yards. Think: Jarek Broussard without the leg braces.

Notice I haven’t mentioned the quarterback yet?

Jake Bentley is the starter. Bentley is a fifth-year senior who had 33 starts for South Carolina before transferring to Utah this past off-season. Bentley has completed 50-of-78 passes for 489 yards in Utah’s three games, with three touchdowns and four interceptions. The receiver to keep an eye out for is not one of the wideouts, but rather tight end Brant Kuithe. Kuithe has 16 receptions for 122 yards, and is a possession receiver who can get you eight yards on third-and-seven.

Utah is hovering around the 100 mark nationally in total offense and scoring offense, but is 47th in the nation in rushing offense. Not exactly awe-inspiring numbers, and, with the weather being an issue for Friday night (see below), the game plan for Utah appears clear – run the ball, control the clock, and wear down the CU defense.

Not surprisingly, that is likely going to be CU’s game plan on offense as well. However, rushing for 407 yards – as the Buffs did against Arizona – isn’t likely to happen. The Utes are 11th in rushing defense nationally, holding Oregon State to 133 yards on the ground (granted, the Beavers were playing without their star running back, Jamar Jefferson, who is competing with Jarek Broussard for the Pac-12 rushing title).

The interior of the Utah defensive line, led by  team captain Mika Taufu, is a strength. The Utes will do their best to stuff the run, and force Colorado into passing the ball more. The Utah defensive backfield is talented, but is young and inexperienced. The key to the game for the Buffs may be getting Sam Noyer and the passing game back on track.

Fingers crossed.

I – Intangibles 

The Buffs are 4-0; the Utes are 1-2.

The fact that Colorado is only a three-point favorite (down to 1.0 on some sites) is a testament to the fact that Utah has a strong recent history of success, including back-to-back Pac-12 South division titles.

CU? Not so much.

Still, the Utah 2020 campaign, which for the Utes didn’t even start until November 21st after two cancellations, is now just two games from being over. Utah will have its game against Colorado, a game next weekend (presumably) against a Pac-12 North opponent, and then the Utes will start planning for the 2021 season. Even if the Utes win both games, they will still only have a 3-2 record. Three wins would make Utah bowl eligible, but, in a season in which the Pac-12 affiliated Holiday Bowl, Red Box Bowl, Las Vegas Bowl and Sun Bowl have been canceled, there aren’t likely going to be enough bowl bids for teams with only three victories (five teams – USC, Colorado, UCLA, Washington, and Oregon – each already have three or more wins, and each still has two games to play).

That being said, players on the Utah side of the field know what it is like to be a division champion, and are not going to surrender the title to their division rival without a fight.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the field, the Buffs have plenty to play for this weekend. Colorado is 4-0, and, at least as of kickoff on Friday night, will have a lingering hope to play for a Pac-12 championship. True enough, CU is 3-0 in conference games, but USC is 4-0. The Trojans play a resurgent UCLA team on Saturday, and you never know with rivalry games … so we’ll just have to wait and see.

This being the case, the Buffs may have a slight advantage in playing on Friday night instead of on Saturday. There will be no need for scoreboard watching for the Buffs, what with the USC/UCLA game kicking off at 5:30 p.m., MT, on Saturday (ABC). If the Buffs take care of business against Utah, they can sit back and watch the USC/UCLA game to see where they will be seeded (after watching the Washington/Oregon game – 2:00 p.m., MT, Fox) to see who their opponent might be next weekend … and whether CU has a title to play for.

P – Preparation/Schedule

— It’s finals week in Boulder.

While fans can certainly hope that the Buffs have their academics in order, and will be able to get through their (likely diluted) fall slate of classes, a distraction is a distraction.

— While the Friday night game reduces preparation time for both schools, it obviously is a bigger nuisance for the visiting team. Traditionally, the opposition flies out the day before, but, because of the Friday evening kickoff and the short flight from Salt Lake City to Denver, the Utes may opt to fly in on Friday morning. In either event, the Buffs are at home, and will have that time to prepare.

— But that advantage may be offset by the weather. The forecast for Friday a few days ago called for snow in Boulder this weekend, but that has been dialed back to partly cloudy with only a chance of snow.

Still, it will be cold (I got a kick out of the note Dave Plati attached to his weekly media info email: ADVANCE WEATHER FORECAST: temperature in the mid-30s at kickoff, possible snow flurries.  A reminder that due to COVID protocols set forth by Boulder County, the windows must be open for air flow purposes.  Dress warm).

Sure, both teams have played in cold weather over the years, but Utah has the advantage of already having played night games in the cold. Against USC on November 21st, the temperature for the 8:30 p.m. kickoff was 35-degrees. Against Oregon State, which was also an 8:30 p.m. kickoff, the temperature at kickoff was 30-degrees.

Meanwhile, the Buffs have had yet to have a kickoff later than 5:00 p.m., and have yet to have a temperature at kickoff lower than 55-degrees.

It shouldn’t – and probably won’t – make a difference for the game on Friday, but … if you see Utah receivers hanging on to tough passes, while Colorado receivers are dropping them … there could be a reason why.

S – Statistics 

— Utah has won the last three matchups in the series (CU leads the all-time series, 32-31-3). As was the case with the three straight losses to Arizona, you can make the argument that it has been Utah which has denied Colorado a bowl bid each of the last three seasons;

— CU is averaging 432.0 yards of total offense per game (including 499 v. Arizona last weekend). Utah, meanwhile, has yet to allow any opponent more than 360 yards of total offense;

— Utah already has five interceptions, which leads the Pac-12 … even though the Utes have only played three games;

— Utah is first in the Pac-12 in third-conversion defense, allowing conversions only 28.9% of the time. The Buffs meanwhile, are second in the conference, giving up first downs on only 32.2% of third-down opportunities;

— The Buffs are 11th in the Pac-12 in passing offense, generating only 186.5 yards/game through the air. The Utes, meanwhile, are last in the Pac-12, gaining only 178.0 yards/game through the passing game;

— The Utes endured over a full calendar year between victories. Utah defeated Colorado in the regular season finale last November 30th. The Utes then went on to lose in the Pac-12 title game to Oregon, 37-15, and to Texas in the Alamo Bowl, 38-10. That was followed by the Utes losing to USC and Washington to open the 2020 campaign. Utah finally snapped its four-game losing streak – covering 370 days – with its 30-24 win over Oregon State last weekend;

— The Utah secondary, should the Buffs decide to test it, is made up of four new starters. There is one senior, safety Vonte Davis, but the other three first-year starters are two freshmen and a sophomore;

— Utah has played well in the first half so far this season, out-scoring its three opponents, 54-34. In the second half, however, the Utes have been out-scored 47-14.

Prediction … Here’s why you will need to be prepared to stay up late on Friday night … Both Colorado and Utah have suffered from “let ’em back in the game” syndrome this fall. Both teams have been able to build leads against quality opponents, only to allow their opponents to make it a game late. The Buffs squandered big leads against both UCLA and Stanford, but managed to hang on. The Utes, meanwhile, had a 21-0 halftime lead over Washington disintegrate into a 24-21 loss two weeks ago. Last weekend, the Utes had a 30-10 lead over Oregon State in the first minute of the fourth quarter, but, with five minutes remaining, the score was 30-24, with the final result very much in doubt as Oregon State had two drives late in the game with a chance to win the game.

As a result, neither team should feel comfortable with an early lead, and both could get nervous late protecting an advantage. With the Buffs having more at stake on Friday, you would think that Colorado players would up their game when the temperature dips and the pressure rises.

I am also encouraged by the way the Buffs played as the Arizona game unfolded. Not the way it started, of course, but the way the Buffs responded to adversity. There should be no way that the Buffs will let the new national ranking go to their heads. If there was any risk of the team getting to big for their britches, they should have gotten it out of their systems after falling behind winless Arizona 13-0 early in the second quarter. If the Buffs fall behind the Utes early Friday night, they will have an unspoken confidence that they have a game plan which will allow them to get back into the game. Meanwhile Utah, with a host of younger players, doesn’t have a comeback game to fall back on for inspiration.

Utah is coming off of its first win of the year. At first glance, it’s impressive that the Utes took down the Oregon State team which took down Oregon. But, Oregon is not looking like a top ten team anymore, and the Beavers played last weekend with a backup quarterback and without star running back Jamar Jefferson … and still almost won the game on the road.

Everything points to this being a low scoring game … the weather will keep the teams from airing it out (not that either team is good at the passing game, anyway) … both teams will want to put together time-consuming, momentum-seizing drives … but will have to do so against defenses which are good against the run.

Utah is used to playing a physical game played in the trenches. Colorado is developing that reputation, but the losses in personnel along the offensive line concerns me. If the Utah defense stacks the box, will Sam Noyer be able to exploit the young Utah secondary?

It will be a nail-biter, a game which could come down to a special teams play (or gaffe).

In Karl we Trust …

Colorado 24, Utah 20

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10 Replies to ““T.I.P.S” for CU v. Utah”

  1. Okay listen up.
    This new Vaccine is always kept in the fridge until injection. Being injected on a cold day only enhances its powers. Watch

    Also it is a new Batch.

    You know what the uniform selection is for this home game?

    STORM TROOPER.

    I love it

    Buffs.

    Note: The vaccine has not failed you yet and it will not fail this weekend nor next weekend when they play USC.

    Note 2: Extra strength dose this week

    Note 3: Buffs 31 to 14

  2. Stuart, I always love your T.I.P.S. and optimism when the Buffs have a ‘peek of a chance.’

    I might be a bit like Darren M, CjBuffco, and LoCoBuff as I never count Utah out. One of the “Intangibles”……. Coaching is a BIG DEAL in my books. I’ve never felt complete confidence going up against Whittingham. He just seems to have a “Baller” FB I.Q.

    When it comes down to coaching and C.U., one thing that impressed me about HCKD and his coaches is they can adjust “on-the-fly” something we haven’t seen in YEARS. Also… something about KD is you never see him without the “Gambler’s” stoic expression…. and, it seems that the “GEARS” are really in motion on the sidelines. In the game where the Buffs were behind two scores, our “D” was porous….that’s when coaching adjustments came to the fore.

    In Karl Dorrell and his OC and DC, I TRUST……..THE BUFFS JUST NEED TO CONTAIN THE BIG RUNS.

    GO BUFFS…………C.U.- 31…. UTES – 28

  3. The weather, recent Noyer passing struggles, strong Utah D line point toward Utes. Intangibles of calm focus, strong team togetherness, and desire point toward Buffs in addition to this season’s physical O line play and running game. Expect close, tough game. Going with CU 17 Utah 14

  4. I also thank you Stu for the great writing every week. Actually RobO I also appreciate your comments too because you know a lot more about football than I do and you can communicate some of the X’s and O’s to dorks like me.

    So I’m a worrier. This game concerns me more than any this season. I don’t think Utah is very good compared to teams the Buffs have already beaten. The Utes are in rebuild mode this season. The Beavs were a depleted team on the road. But Whittingham is really good and could have the Ute’s ready at another level.
    I think the Buffs D will show up like they have the last 2 games. I’m mostly concerned with the Buffs O line depth and how that will affect their run game vs. the Ute’s run D. I’m also seriously wondering what is going on in the passing game and why it couldn’t thrive vs. a depleted and probably worst secondary in the Pac12 last week.
    At the end of the day, I trust HCKD. When he said they are fixing some things on D after game 2, look what happened the next 2 games. When he says they are working on the passing game this week, I expect it to be better vs. Utah. We’re not getting flim-flam platitudes. It is real. I think the Buffs score TDs and a FG. I think the Ute’s only score 1 TD, and their very good kicker gets some FGs but not enough. Buffs win 24-16.

  5. Stuart,
    Thanks as always for TIPS! I look forward to it every week and you always send me diving into the match up down some interesting tangents. Here is some thoughts:
    – Utah’s run defense is good but against worse competition. USC, Oregon State, and Washington have less run offense than UCLA, San Diego State, Arizona, and Stanford. CU has kept two very good rushing teams down and Utah has not faced a team that can run like CU. I said this before and I will say it again. In Landman I trust. Our run game will be better than theirs.
    – on the passing game I think you hit it on the head. Which Noyer will show up. The one on time throwing dimes, or the one who is a half a second late and throwing behind receivers. Both interceptions could have been avoided if he threw to the front shoulder of the running wide receiver instead of the back…..
    – for the last two weeks we have not faced a good qb. I suspect we have an average one in front of us.

    So the way I see the match up:
    Our run d vs. their run o and our run o vs their run d – lean Buffs because of Landman.
    Our pass o vs. their pass d and our pass d vs. their pass o – even with lots of uncertainties.
    Both teams are going to slow down the game, grind out yards in the ground and short passing game. 20-17 Buffs win, unless Noyer from the first two games shows up.

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