After being completely shut down last weekend in Pasadena, it's a good bet that Rich Rodriguez and his Arizona Wildcats are salivating at the prospect of facing a depleted Colorado defense back at home in Tucson. How well the Buffaloes are able to disrupt and withstand 'Zona's normally rip-roaring offense will go a long way towards determining whether or not CU is in a position to win this game late.
Colorado's Secondary vs. Arizona's Passing Attack
Arizona's freshman signal caller Anu Solomon has been a revelation this season and is exactly what you'd imagine a prototypical RichRod quarterback to be. He can run effectively, both on designed reads and when flushed from the pocket, and has the arm and the vision to sling the ball to most every location on the field. Coming into the season the quarterback position was unsettled but Solomon clearly established himself as the guy after the first few games and has gone on to command the 8th ranked passing offense in the NCAA. His brand of athleticism is one of the largest reasons that the Wildcats average 27.9 first downs per game, good for 3rd best in the nation.
The stable of receivers that Solomon has to choose from doesn't hurt their cause. The Wildcats are one of 11 teams that possess 5 players with over 20 receptions on the season. They also boast 9 different players with a touchdown catch. True to RichRod's form, the ball gets spread around, but somebody has to be the go-to playmaker and that someone is rangy sophomore Cayleb Jones. He leads the Wildcat air attack with 50 receptions going for 716 yards and 8 touchdowns. He's a threat at all times and, along with fellow sophomore Samajie Grant and senior Austin Hill, possesses the ability to explode for lengthy touchdowns. The Buffs' propensity to allow one or two killer plays will certainly be a concern on Saturday when this trio lines up across the field.
They've been the strength of the defense for much of this season but of late the CU secondary has been severely hampered by injuries. Key safety Tedric Thompson is likely still out with a severe head injury while Kent Baer's unit has also lost the services of Marques Mosley for the rest of the season due to a torn ACL, the same injury that sidelined presumptive starter Jered Bell back in August. Senior dart Terrel Smith may also miss more time with a head injury of his own. Combined with the limited use of Addison Gillam, all of this has left the middle of the field vulnerable to gashing plays, and just last weekend Washington took advantage. Evan White had a solid outing stepping up as a starter at safety but he's likely to be picked upon by Solomon and Co. on Saturday. He and his teammates will have to play beyond their years and make sure tackles if the Buffs are to keep Arizona within reach.
For as well as Kenneth Crawley and Greg Henderson have played, they can only do so much on the outside and even if they shut off their two receivers the Wildcats have another big boy to throw to in David Richards and an effective slot threat in Nate Phillips. I don't expect this offense to lie dormant for a second consecutive week, especially facing a decimated CU secondary. It's going to take consistent pressure, turnovers, and outstanding individual performances to keep the 'Cats in check on Saturday. Unfortunately, at this point of the season the Buffs are just too thin on defense to slow down an offense with firepower of this magnitude on the road.