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Colorado Buffaloes vs. Utah Utes: Week 5 Preview

The Rumble in the Rockies heads to Boulder for a nationally televised affair to close out the regular season

NCAA Football: Oregon State at Utah Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Several cancellations due to COVID-19 have altered the Pac-12 football schedule, but the 21st-ranked Colorado Buffaloes (4-0) are one of the fortunate one not to have a game canceled on their behalf. They look to stay undefeated with a possible Pac-12 Championship bid on the line. To do so they’ll have to defeat the Utah Utes (1-2) at Folsom Field on Saturday morning (10 a.m. MT, airing on FOX).

The Buffaloes are ranked for the first time since October 2018 and look to snap a three-game losing streak in the series vs. the Utes. This not only the latest regular season football game in the 117-year history between the schools, but the second-latest for CU school history by two days.

Karl Dorrell’s first season back at Colorado has been a success. And to have the Buffs on the doorstep of a conference championship is rare. He is the second Buffs head coach to start 4-0 since 1905, and sixth to win his first three conference games, but the first to so since 1941. Dorrell’s third tenure with the Buffs as he started as a receiver coach during the McCartney era, then moved into an offensive coordinator role under Rick Neuheisel.

Utah was the last team in the FBS to play their first game of the shortened 2020 Pac-12 season due to widespread COVID-19 cases. The Utes opened with a 30-24 win over Oregon State, but that is their lone win of the season. They’re a better team than their record and played USC and Washington close in those losses. They have a number of first-time starters on both offense and defense, as this is a transition season after being ranked in the top-5 in 2019.

Colorado’s offense feels different this year for obvious reasons. Sam Noyer came into the season with very little experience under center, but has since proved the naysayers wrong. The fifth-year senior has thrown for 742 yards with nine total touchdowns (4 pass, 5 rush) to four interceptions. Noyer has struggled with inaccuracy the past two weeks, but he’s still effective running the offense and moving the chains.

The guy lining up behind Noyer has been a touch more impressive this season. Jarek Broussard took his opportunity out of the Buffs and ran with it (literally). A total of 733 rushing yards, the most ever for a Buff after four games and the first ever to rush for 100+ yards in his first four career games. His 301 yards against Arizona was the fourth-most in school history. He currently leads the Pac-12 averaging 183.2 yards per game (2nd, FBS). Overall, the Buffs spread-type hybrid offense ranks 36th nationally (2nd, Pac-12) with an average of 432.0 yards and 31.8 points per game.

The Utes’ defense was one of the best in the nation last year and hasn’t skipped a beat with COVID hiccups. The dominant force is second in the Pac-12 behind Washington for yards allowed (350.7 Avg.) and are 11th in the nation for rushing yards allowed (104.7 YPG). This is a typical Utes defense that is stout up in the middle and doesn’t allow many big plays.

On the opposite side, Utah’s offense remains a middle-of-the-pack group in the nation with a near-equal split in production. A total of 1,089 yards (534 pass, 555 rush) for an average of 363 yards per game which is second-to-last among conference teams. South Carolina transfer Jake Bentley has completed 50-of-78 passes (64.1%) for 489 yards with three touchdowns and four interceptions. He has yet to throw for more than 200 yards in a game this season.

Colorado defensive coordinator Tyson Summers knows the stats on paper doesn’t truly represent the capability of Bentley and Utah’s offense. The Utes have played two top defenses in Washington and USC and kept both games close. Summers has improved CU’s defense into being one of the best against opposing passers.

According to BuffZone writer Brian Howell, Colorado’s pass efficiency defense went from 154.68 in 2019 (121st, FBS) to 104.96 (6th, FBS), and what make that even more impressive is “only three defenses in the country are seeing more pass attempts per game than Colorado (39.0 per game).” The Buffs are sixth in the nation for completion percentage (51.9%) and third in average yards per attempt allowed (5.51 yards).

News and Notes

Colorado is bowl eligible for the first time since the 2016 season. The Buffs are also one of nine undefeated teams heading into the final two weeks of the regular season in college football. Both Colorado and Utah joined the Pac-12 in 2011 and the series resumed on a permanent basis after a 49-year dormancy. The Pac-12 South has been decided three times in nine years by this game.

Karl Dorrell is 1-1 all-time vs. Utah (UCLA) and Kyle Whittingham is 7-2 against Colorado.

From the desk of Dave Plati:

“Colorado can qualify to play in the Pac-12 Championship game in a single scenario: The Buffaloes must beat Utah on Friday and USC has to lose to UCLA on Saturday. That would give CU a 4-0 record in Pac-12 games while USC would be 4-1; if CU wins and USC wins and gets to 5-0 (and ditto if both lose and wind up with one loss), the Trojans will be declared the South Division champion and would host the title game on Dec. 18 (CU would host if it wins the division, as the North will not have an undefeated team.)

CU has had two scheduled games canceled due to COVID-19 issues in opponent programs, Arizona State in Boulder and at USC (but was able to replace USC with a non-league affair with San Diego State). USC’s only canceled game the Nov. 28 home game with CU. Colorado opens the 2020 season vs. UCLA on Saturday, Nov. 7 at 5:00 p.m. MT. The ‘Pac-12 After Dusk’ affair with both teams looking to start off right.”

No. 21 Colorado welcomes Utah in Folsom Field for the Rumble in the Rockies. The Buffs hold a 32-31-3 advantage (in Boulder 16-13-1; at Salt Lake City 14-18-2; in Denver 2-0).

TV: FOX

Radio: 850 KOA (Mark Johnson, Gary Barnett)

Odds: -3 Colorado

Weather: 23° cloudy at kickoff