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Battle of the Pac-12 winless: Colorado vs. Arizona Week Seven Preview

The Buffaloes look to get back in the win column while the Wildcats hope to pull off an upset.

NCAA Football: Colorado at Arizona Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Colorado Buffaloes head coach Karl Dorrell has been searching for answers to stop the slide this season. Frustration from fans continues to boil over into speculation if real changes are on the horizon? Also, will any of that matter this far into the season? There are a number of questions plaguing CU’s 2021 football campaign as they look for their first conference win on Saturday.

Dorrell remains confident the second half of the season will be different than the first. Every aspect of his game day preparation and plan will be under the microscope, but none more than the Buffs offense. With a bye week past them, CU hopes to get out of the basement as the second-worst offense in FBS (239.6 yards per game avg.)— a low point over the past forty years. The Buffaloes need to get the offense moving and put some real points on the board to have any chance of getting back into the win column.

The Arizona Wildcats (0-5) are in a bad position and come into Boulder riding a 17-game losing streak going back to 2019. It represents the nation’s longest current skid, and is half of Northwestern’s FBS record of 34 games from 1979-82.

A lack of consistency and available talent has left Arizona head coach Jedd Fisch and his staff scouring campus for new blood by holding open tryouts last week. They hope to find diamonds in the rough to try and avoid any further losses. Ironically, UA’s last win prior to the streak came over CU— a 35-30 Khalil Tate thriller in Boulder on Oct 5, 2019. Since then they’ve been outscored by over a two-to-one margin including a winless COVID-shortened 2020 season.

As for the Buffs (1-4, 0-2 Pac-12), they’re itching to get back into the win column this season. We'll be evaluating if QB Brendon Lewis and the offense have made some strides after the extra week off, or if offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini will be digging deep for a answers going forward.

One of the better opportunities for CU’s offense against Arizona will be a consistent rushing attack. The Wildcats defense ranks 122nd in FBS against the run, which is second-worst in the conference to Stanford, who has given up an average of 0.6 yards more than Arizona at 219.9 yards per game.

That presents great news for Colorado’s rushers, who’re in need of a breakout game, especially after failing to break the century mark two weeks ago against Southern Cal. Jarek Broussard leads the Buffs with 60 carries for 256 yards and two touchdowns, but hasn’t found his way into the end zone in three straight games.

If Lewis can’t spark the offense he can try to use his legs to earn yards against the heavily-tested Wildcats defensive front. On the flip side, Arizona is one of the best in the nation against the pass, giving up an average of 154.0 yards per game (5th, FBS). A huge amount of credit goes to the secondary of Christian Roland-Wallace, Isaiah Rutherford, Gunner Maldonado, and Treydan Stukes. Overall, the Wildcat unit has combined for 18 pass deflections and three interceptions while mostly having to play from behind.

Although, that match up might not be the biggest story of how this game could play out on Saturday. Arizona quarterback Jordan McCloud was ruled out with a knee and ankle injury suffered last week in Tucson against UCLA. He’ll be replaced by freshman Gunner Cruz who has comparable stats to McCloud with 48-of-71 passing (67.6%) for 454 yards, 2 TDs, and 2 INTs.

Even though McCloud and Cruz are neck-and-neck statically, they’re much different QB’s for CU’s defense to prepare for ahead of Saturday. At 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, Cruz is less likely of a factor to roll out of the pocket and take off. But, he’s significantly quicker in his throwing motion and seems to get rattled easier than McCloud. Will Plummer could also be a factor in a supplemental role.

Nate Landman and Carson Wells are two of the most experienced defenders in the Pac-12 and look to give UA’s offensive line fits, along with applying pressure on Cruz throughout the afternoon. The Wildcats have allowed over two sacks per contest this season with a majority of those (eight) against Cruz on a total of 87 snaps.

From the desk of Dave Plati:

Stat of the week- 5 “That is the number of turnovers that CU has committed in five games—two on tipped interceptions, one on a strip-sack and one on a muffed punt return recovered by the opponent. Otherwise, Colorado has done a pretty good job of protecting the football, with the five miscues tied for the 15th fewest in the nation. That ties for the fewest turnovers in the first five games of the year going back to 2011, when CU joined the Pac-12; the 2018 and 2019 teams had only four turnovers through five games, with 2011 and 2016 also having five through five games.”

Youth over experience- “With the NCAA granting all student-athletes an extra year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the 2018 rule where if you played four games or less, you don’t lose a year, the number of underclassmen nationally have skyrocketed—and it’s no exception at Colorado. Of the 120 players on the roster, 68 are freshmen (42 first-year, 16 second-year, 10 third-year); when adding in 21 sophomores (three first-time, 15 second-time and three third-time), that’s 90 underclassmen on the Buff roster.

“There are 23 juniors (20 classified as Jr.-2, or super juniors, with three Jr.-3), and just 4 seniors in their final year of eligibility (once DL Mustafa Johnson is reinstated later this season. The other 3 are graduate transfers (two of whom have two years of eligibility remaining). The Buffaloes are tied for the second-fewest”

Colorado hosts Arizona at Folsom Field on Saturday, Oct. 16. Kickoff is scheduled at 1:30 p.m. MT. The featured event of Family Weekend in Boulder.

TV: Pac-12 Network

Radio: 850 KOA (Mark Johnson & Gary Barnett)

Odds: -6.5 Colorado

Weather: 61°, Sunny