The end of the season suddenly approaches. The last game of the year is already here, and soon, as always, CU fans will look to the greener pastures of next year. For now, the Buffs will focus on the Utes, who come into town fresh off a big loss against Arizona. I hope you're ready, CU fans, because this is about to get ridiculous.
This is bound to be the shortest recap all year. Not much happened worth mentioning on either side of the ball for the Buffs, though this was the best showing against Oregon to date. Jordan Gerkhe showed why he is the backup, as he had trouble moving the offense during the 1st half and anything past the line of scrimmage was an almost sure incompletion. The running game certainly missed Michael Adkins, as Tony Jones had no success going laterally. The bright spot on the ground, however, was Phillip Lindsay. He played like a man on fire against a high level of competition, and he and Adkins represent a bright future for the ground game. Defensively, there wasn't a high expectation, and the result, depending on who you ask, exceeded expectations. They kept Oregon below 50 points, so that's a plus. The main takeaway from this beatdown is that Sefo deserves to be the starter, turnovers be damned. He moves the ball well and plays with the heart this team needs. I also found an interesting stat after this game. CU lost to Oregon by 34 points on Saturday. In previous conference games, CU has lost a combined four games by 25 points. In my opinion, this shows how close the Buffs are to the rest of the conference, and how much Oregon owns the PAC-12. Anyways, on to Utah!
This offense lives and dies by the run game. Travis Wilson is not an exceptional passer, and coach Kyle Whittingham has done an exceptional job scheming around his deficiencies. Wilson isn't the most accurate QB, and as such many short throws will be in order against the Buffs on Sunday. He can run the read option, but most of his damage with his legs will be done by scrambling out of a bad situation. Wilson will pretty much limit his deep passing attempts and downfield throws to the play action because the run game is deadly enough for the safeties to move up. This is largely due to Devonta Booker. A juco recruit, he has burst onto the scene for the Utes and is the engine that drives their offense. Booker is a throwback runner, and his strength is getting those four yards every play. Defenses can't match his physicality when he runs, and he has been making a storm during conference play. It's a good thing that Booker is so consistently good, because not much else on this team is. They have a mediocre unit up front, who gets the job done but isn't so special, they have an erratic quarterback that plays like he's trying to injure himself, and they have a receiving corps that is missing its star, Dres Anderson. After Anderson went down, the only really consistent threat in the passing game has been Kenneth Scott, a junior with good athleticism and size. CU will be glad to know that Jake Murphy graduated, and the tight end position has not had the same impact this year. Kaelin Clay, star returner, is less of a star on offense, though he has the potential. The offensive line has a good mix of size, talent, and experience. I know CU fans are tired of the constant parallels to Utah, but they look like the Buffs in a year from now. A solid, non-explosive offense, an upperclassman quarterback that manages the game, and bright futures at most of the position groups.
This unit is a lot more exciting for Utah. Their front seven is up there with Washington and USC for tops in the country, and the unheralded secondary is doing some quiet work. For this Utes defense, it all starts up front, and for the men up front, it all starts with Nate Orchard. The one-man wrecking crew leads the nation with 17.5 sacks (!!!) and he will be an absolute handful for Jeromey Irwin and company. Hopefully they help him out with a tight end who chips Orchard before his blocks or a running back who stays in to pick up a blitzer. Simply put, he can destroy offensive gameplans and the future draft pick has to be accounted for at all times. On the inside of the D-line, Utah has paired freshman Lowell Lotulelei, already at an enviable 310 pounds, with senior Sese Ianu, who is also above 300. The whole defensive line knows their assignments, fills their gaps, and makes it hard to run. Behind them is a battered linebacker unit. Losing instant impact transfer Gionni Paul for the year hurts, as he was third on the team in tackles and 1st in interceptions when he went down. Flanking Paul's replacement, Marcus-Sanders Williams, are Jason Fanaika and Jared Norris, though Norris plays a rover position similar to Washington's Kikaha. Utah's linebacking corps has experience and size, and they prove to be a good pairing with the defensive line. The secondary is a no-name group compared to the front seven. The biggest name is probably Dominique Hatfield, a converted wide receiver that has done well in conference play. He'll probably cover Spruce for the Utes, which is no easy task, even though he has been largely ineffective in conference play. Colorado should attack Utah by getting the defensive line to think about their actions. Move them laterally with runs and read option, sprinkle in some screens. This should stop Orchard and company from pinning their ears back and give CU a chance.
CU's Oline vs. UU's Dline - Advantage: Slightly UU. This offensive line has earned the benefit of the doubt so far, but they are facing a great defensive line. I expect Kaiwi Crabb and Daniel Munyer to have a great last game and they better, facing such a big challenge.
UU's Oline vs. CU's Dline - Advantage: Push. Both of these units are extremely average. Derek McCartney has leveled off his growth throughout the year, but I'm still hoping for an explosive game. This match up could determine the outcome of this game. If the defensive line can get some push in the run game, Utah could get in trouble real quick.
CU's QB vs. UU's DB's - Advantage: Slightly (hopefully) CU. Sefo Liufau is back in action for Utah, and he looks to move the offense like he did against California. Utah has some athletes back there, but Sefo should be trying to prove his worth for the next two years.
UU's QB vs. CU's DB's - Advantage: CU. This hinges on injuries as much as anything. Kenneth Crawley and Greg Henderson (we'll miss you, Hendo) should handle the outside threats pretty easily and no one should challenge them vertically. The Buffs simply need safeties back. Ryan Moeller and Evan White would make a hell of a Colorado pairing back there for the Utah game.
CU's Skill Players (WR, TE, RB) vs. UU's Back 7 (LB's and DB's) - Advantage: Slightly CU. Just like the above, this hinges on injuries. Michael Adkins should hopefully be back, and he will provide a big boost to this offense. Phillip Lindsay did well last week, and Tony Jones will play inspired. Of course, the leader of this unit is Nelson Spruce. If he can put together his mid-season form, he could swing the game.
UU's Skill Players vs. CU's Back 7 - Advantage: Slightly Utah. Devonta Booker makes this match up for Utah. Kenneth Olugbode has been picking up some slack, but Addison Gillam is still disappointing and neither of them is a match for Booker.
Special Teams - Advantage: Utah. This will be an advantage for Utah against pretty much everybody in the country. CU has to control Kaelin Clay and kick it into the back of the endzone every time.
I couldn't tell you why, but I feel good about this game. They don't have any explosive weapons, and if Wilson makes a mistake, that could spell the end of the game for the Utes. It's the last game of the year. While this has diminished in relevance due to CU's ineptitude and lack of a rival, they are trying to push Utah as a new archenemy, and I'm ok with that. The Buffs could do worse, and while the Utes have said they don't think of us as a worthy opponent, that does nothing but stoke the fires. I now want nothing more than to shove it down their throats that CU is a force to be reckoned with. If there's one group of seniors who deserves a win, it's this one. Three coaching regimes, years of bad teams, and little to no support, and they stuck through it all to stay black-and-gold. These fans need a conference win, a home win other than Hawaii, and they need a convincing one. Bring it home, boys. Send these Utes packing as CU pillages their lands for recruits and wins. It's time. CU wins 31-17. It has been a pleasure writing these weekly, and I'll see you all on Saturday. Go Buffs!