Undefeated in December. It’s been a minute since the Colorado Buffaloes have been unscathed this far into the season, even if they have only played four games in 2020. The Buffs defeated the Arizona Wildcats (0-4) in a difficult game, but a win is a win, especially on the road.
It didn’t start pretty, not in the least. With the Buffs playing as 9.5-point favorites on the road, there was a huge difference in energy between the two sides. The Buffs looked content, to say the least, while the ‘Cats looked like they had upset on their minds. They were flying to the ball, blowing up plays at the line scrimmage and causing early turnovers. It didn’t help either that Darrin Chiaverini’s playcalling was not only too cute, but it seemed like Arizona knew exactly what was coming before every play.
As the Colorado offense languished, the Wildcats had no problem moving down the field to take a 13-0 lead early in the second quarter. Kevin Sumlin had the offense moving quickly so as to keep the game simple for Will Plummer in his first ever start. They moved the sticks at a solid rate, then had Michael Wiley and Gary Brightwell bust off big runs. The only positive for CU was that Arizona settled for field goals and it was just a two-score deficit.
Colorado finally got going when they realized how much of an advantage they have on inside runs. Jarek Broussard busted off a 75-yard run, thanks to his offensive line and his own elite acceleration. Ashaad Clayton followed that up with a 20-yard run, then punched in the score to cap a four-play, 95-yard drive. After an impressive defensive stop, the Buffs called four straight runs up the middle and it resulted in 78 yards and another touchdown. Broussard had another huge run, this time for 59 yards, and Clayton had his second short-yardage score.
Thanks to their dominance on the ground, as well as a strong defensive performance once they cut out the big plays, the Buffs had a 14-13 lead at halftime. They totaled 179 rushing yards in the second quarter, 155 of which from Broussard.
The Buffs started the second half with a bit more offensive ineptitude — this time a dangerous throw by Noyer resulted in a spectacular one-handed interception by Anthony Pandy. Luckily, it led in nothing, but it was a sketchy pass that demonstrated how Noyer’s accuracy issues have become an actual problem.
You can criticize Noyer’s passing ability — and that wasn’t his last mistake — but you can’t discount his fighting spirit. Colorado’s next drive was his turn to shine, as he turned a QB keeper into a 54-yard gain, then rushed for a touchdown. He had more yards rushing (58) on that drive than he had passing yards (39) up to that point. In all seriousness, the Buffs offense might be better off running the triple option than Chiv’s preferred run-and-gun.
Arizona looked like they would answer back, as they once again used chunk plays to get down the field. Even if Brightwell doesn’t have much room to operate, he’s very dangerous in the open field. It didn’t help that CU struggles tackling at times, but you have to give credit where credit is due. Fortunately, the ‘Cats never got into the end zone. They made it to the 3-yard line before Nigel Bethel intercepted a pass that was tipped at the line of scrimmage by Terrance Lang.
The CU offense struggled to put this game away. They punted on 3rd-and-1 at the Arizona 40, then Noyer threw another interception on the following drive. It ultimately worked out, however, because of a dominant second-half defensive performance. The Buffs defense forced four punts, picked off Arizona at the goal-line, then forced a turnover on downs on 4th-and-goal with six minutes left in the game.
The defensive line, led by Terrance Lang, dominated at the point of attack. They disrupted the pocket and cleared space for Nate Landman and Carson Wells to make plays in the backfield. The two combined for 27 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. They were phenomenal and deserve co-defensive player of the week honors.
Having learned lessons from drives past, Chiv didn’t bother calling a pass on the ensuing drive. Of course it was Broussard who broke off a 72-yard run, giving him 301 yards on the night and 733 yards on the season, the fourth most in a single and the most through four games in school history, respectively. The Buffs didn’t get into the end zone, but Evan Price’s chip shot field goal clinched the game.
The Buffs have themselves a 24-13 win on the road, none too pretty, but deserved nonetheless. They’re now 4-0 on the season and will face Utah next Friday with a chance to win the Pac-12 South, depending on USC’s results.