Welcome to another week of nervousness, Buff fans. It's 2015 and Colorado STILL hasn't won a conference game since 2013. And I think this is the week that that sad streak ends, if only for my sanity. CU needs a win badly, and I think the team realizes that much more than we as fans do. They will come out strong and hopefully fast, and that's what's needed against a blistering Arizona offense. I don't know if you heard, but the fightin Leavitt's are down to Rick Gamboa and true freshmen NJ Falo, and Grant Watanabe (who should be redshirted) for MLB against one of the best rushing teams in the country. Not ideal, but I really really like Falo and Watanabe, and I want to see what they can do with more snaps. Both look the part more in the middle and have the athleticism and physicality needed in the conference of champions. Anyways, I'm getting ahead of myself. David Potts of AZ Desert Swarm was nice enough to let me talk to him about a Wildcats squad that unfortunately looks to have gotten back in stride last week.
Here are our answers to their questions.
Anu Solomon returned to action last week and laid a pounding on Oregon State. Is he back to 100% and how has he looked compared to last year?
Anu is absolutely back to 100%. It was a night-and-day difference with Anu at quarterback last week. With Jerrard Randall starting, Arizona got demolished by Stanford, so Arizona is lucky to have Anu back. Anu has gotten better this year versus last year. He still has some areas to work on - notably his ability to throw the deep ball - but his decision-making has gotten much better. He's completing a higher percentage of his passes, averaging more yards per attempt, and, most importantly, protecting the ball much better than he did last year. With Scooby Wright out, Anu Solomon is quite clearly the most important player for Arizona.
Scooby Wright is about as big of a loss as you can find in college football. How has the defense looked in his absence? Has the pass rush picked up in his absence?
What a difference a week makes. If you had asked me this question last week, I would have talked about how terrible the defense looked and how it was unable to stop anything. Last week, though, Arizona's defense looked significantly better (admittedly, against an underwhelming Oregon State team). The biggest issue was that Arizona couldn't stop the run, but Arizona found a combination of linebackers - Jake Matthews, DeAndre' Miller, and Paul Magloire - that could stop the run. The pass rush still has issues (the defensive line hasn't been able to get after anyone this year), but the defense looks to have turned a corner last week.
Arizona has an impressive offense, ranking first in the conference in scoring and yards. How can the Buffs stop it?
I don't think they can. The way to beat Arizona isn't necessarily to stop the offense, but to slow it down and force them to settle for field goals. Still, the team that had the most success stopping the Arizona offense (with Anu, of course) was UCLA. UCLA did this by playing tight coverage and preventing Arizona's receivers from getting open. Nick Wilson is great, but without any ability to get open, the Arizona offense stalled and didn't have a ton of success. That's the best way to slow down the Arizona offense.
Who is the player we should watch on offense? What about on defense?
On offense, outside of the obvious choices (Nick Wilson and Anu Solomon), watch out for David Richards and Johnny Jackson. Entering the year, these two were considered lower-tier receiving options for the Wildcats, well behind Cayleb Jones, Trey Griffey, and Samajie Grant. Now, Richards and Jackson are leading the team in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns. Jones and Grant will still get a lot of attention, but don't be surprised if, by the end of the game, Jackson and Richards are the guys with all the catches. On defense, watch for Paul Magloire. Magloire is a junior college transfer who was recruited as a safety, but saw a lot of snaps last week at linebacker. He made the most of that opportunity, leading the team in tackles and tackles for loss. He's a little small as far as Pac-12 linebackers go, but watch for him to make an impact on defense.
How do you see this game playing out? Does Zona cover the 8 point spread?
I think Arizona pulls away late to cover the spread. Arizona is a completely different team with Anu Solomon at quarterback, and while I think Colorado will be able to score, I don't think they'll be able to keep up with the Arizona offense. I think the game will be close in the first half, but that Arizona scores a late touchdown to win 42-28.
Three Key Stats
1. Rushing S+P- Arizona Offense- 130.3, ranked 12th. Colorado Defense- 85.3, ranked 103rd.
2. Passing S+P- Colorado Offense- 82.9, ranked 114th. Arizona Defense- 75.1, ranked 125th.
3. Overall Offensive S+P- Colorado- 20.3, ranked 110th. Overall Defensive S+P- Arizona- 36.7, ranked 110th.
Man, the advanced stats really don't like CU. I feel like the Buffs are definitely not in the bottom 12 teams in the country, but much smarter computers than me seem to think so. This matchup actually doesn't look too bad. As bad as CU's passing game has been, Arizona's pass defense has been worse, and with Sefo Liufau's shoulder getting better by the week, there may be a breakout game in store for the much maligned quarterback. The big bugaboo is obviously the run defense, as it always seems to be with the Buffs. Nick Wilson is a fantastic running back, and it's going to take a superb effort to slow him down. This is where I actually like having Grant Watanabe in on plays. He is a thick man, and he should be able to play the run reasonably well if he can fill the right holes (keep it clean, Jack, come on).
As I mentioned on Twitter, another thing that sets up reasonably well is Jim Leavitt's track record against Rich Rod's offense while he was at West Virginia and Leavitt at South Florida. Neither of them have the players they had back then, but Leavitt's D came out on top 2 out of 3 times, so take that for what it's worth. Finally, the last stat was just interesting to me. It seems to be an even battle when the Buffs have the ball, though I'm willing to bet CU gets the better of the Arizona defense more times than not. I'm actually thinking that the offensive line could do good work for the run game. But I digress. I didn't have to get as abstract with these stat comparisons because these teams match up reasonably well. It should be a fun game regardless.