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Buffaloes and Bears look to exit Pac-12 basement: Week 8 Football Preview

Colorado tries win at Cal for the first time.

Arizona v Colorado Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

The Colorado Buffaloes snapped a four-game losing streak by shutting out Arizona 34-0 last week. It was the first time CU held a conference opponent scoreless since 2005, and the largest margin of victory over the past five years. While, on paper, it looks like the Buffs took advantage of the bye week, the second win of the season didn’t come easy in the early going.

This week, Colorado (2-4, 1-2 Pac-12) packs up for the first of two trips to the west coast for a meeting with California. Like the Buffaloes, the Golden Bears (1-5, 0-3 PAC-12) have suffered through a dismal first half of the 2021 season and have yet to taste victory in Pac-12 conference play.

However, it hasn’t come from a lack of effort by Justin Wilcox’s crew, who nearly knocked off 9th-ranked Oregon last week. In fact, four of their five losses this season are by seven points or less. And despite that, Cal is off to its worst start during Wilcox’s tenure and will likely end up staying home for a second consecutive season.

The Bears are led by QB Chase Garbers, who has completed 61.7 percent of his passes for 1,492 yards and nine touchdowns to 5 interceptions. He has the second-most completions (132) of any conference passer while maintaining a seven-yard per completion average.

Five Cal receivers have broken the century mark this season with Trevon Clark, Jeremiah Hunter and Kekoa Crawford all over 300 yards each. The group also has seven receptions for 20+ yards thus far, and have caught seven of the nine touchdowns thrown by Garbers. Overall, the Bears have struggled to find the end zone consistently, ranked 104th with 23.0 points per game.

When Cal isn’t airing it out, the offense relies on a steady ground game with Damien Moore taking the majority of carries out of the backfield. The La Puente, CA sophomore leads the Bears with 360 yards and five touchdowns on 74 attempts. But, a second back has emerged into the fold with Christopher Brooks taking 14 carries for 68 yards against Oregon last week.

The combo of Moore and Brooks gets support on the ground from Garbers, who often shows off his dual-threat ability, when the pocket breaks down. He has 43 career passing TDs, tied with Aaron Rodgers for 8th most in school history, and needs just two yards to tie Joe Kapp for the most career rushing yards by a Cal QB (931).

Colorado’s defense will feel the pressure when Cal keeps them on the field for long drives. The Bears average 32 minutes of possession per game with their loss to TCU resulting in the only advantage for their opponents.

Chris Wilson’s defense continues to be the story of this year for the Buffaloes, holding opponents to 19.8 points per game (34th, FBS) and 366.3 yards per game, which are both second-best among conference teams. Linebacker Carson Wells matched his career high with 4 TFL and had the first INT return for TD by a Colorado player since 2018. He is joined by the ever-reliable Nate Landman as the core of CU’s defense. The senior captain leads the Buffs with 53 total tackles and four pass deflections.

Colorado goes into Berkeley with a 0-4 record all-time on the road against Cal. Also, the home team has come away victorious in the last five contests between the Buffs and Bears.

From the desk of Dave Plati:

Three Turnover-Free- “The Arizona game marked the third game out of six this year where the Buffs did not commit a turnover; CU has just five on the season (three lost fumbles, two interceptions, which were both tipped). This is just the third time in school history the Buffs have had three turnover-free games among the first six, the other two occasions in 2017 and 2018 (in ’17, CU extended that to four in the first seven). The Buffs have had four games in a season without a turnover (1989, 1993, 2006, 2011, 2017, 2018 and 2019), but never have had five.

2 … “As in two goal line stands in 2021. The Buffs recorded their second goal-to-go stop of the season when it held Arizona to four straight gains of 0 at its 1-yard line; the other came in the opener against Northern Colorado. But dating back to 2020, defensive line coach (and now defensive coordinator) Chris Wilson’s troops have really answered the bell – in 14 goal-to-go situations by the opponent, CU has allowed just nine scores (all touchdowns), with four drives ending on downs and another on a turnover.

“In contrast, CU has 84 scores in its last 86 goal-to-go situations dating back to 2016 (67 TDs); the two non-scores came on a turnover and one fourth down stop (note: Texas A&M stopped CU on fourth down at its 5, but that wasn’t a goal-to-go situation).”

Colorado hits the road against Cal on Saturday, Oct. 23. Kickoff is scheduled at 1:30 p.m. MT from California Memorial Stadium.

TV: Pac-12 Network

Radio: 850 KOA (Mark Johnson & Gary Barnett)

Odds: -8.5 Cal

Weather: 63°, 60% chance of rain