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Colorado Buffaloes vs. Arizona Wildcats: Keys to the Game

Three things that will make the difference between having another shot at victory or getting demolished down in the desert.

Sefo Liufau and the offense absolutely have to protect the ball on Saturday.
Sefo Liufau and the offense absolutely have to protect the ball on Saturday.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

I think it's fair to say that of the recent close losses, last week's was the most deflating. The Buffs finally got off to a fast start, had the Huskies on the ropes in the 2nd quarter, and then promptly and without much of a fuss gave their best chance at a conference win away on three consecutive turnovers in the 3rd quarter. Now they're left to face an extreme two-game road gauntlet before welcoming a steeled Utah team to Folsom the weekend after Thanksgiving. How can Colorado keep this weekend's matchup close and somehow miraculously finish off the game should they have a chance to win?

Colorado_mediumBall Security

Don't fumble the ball away and don't throw it to the other team. It's pretty simple. It gets said every week but this squad's razor thin margin for error cannot become any smaller. CU's turnover issues are largely a symptom of a young team pressing to make something happen. Fumbles occur, I don't expect Phillip Lindsay to continue coughing up the ball and the other Buffalo ball carriers have been holding on to the rock well lately. The more concerning aspect is Sefo Liufau's decision making. He has yet to put a full game together and it's pretty much a guarantee that, at least once a game, he's going to lock onto a receiver in coverage, wait a beat or two, and then fire the ball into a hopeless situation. Good teams will capitalize on mistakes like that every time and the Buffs simply can't afford it. If Sefo protects the ball for four quarters and commands a steady offensive march, CU can score with the Wildcats. The defense is going to have enough problems trying to slow down RichRod's spread attack, the offense will need to cover for them by playing near flawless ball and striking on every opportunity they get.

Colorado_mediumMoving the Ball

Arizona employs an atypical 3-3-5 scheme that Jack Barsch did a great job of describing in his preview. Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel's unit has shut down Oregon's offense two years in a row and is one of the biggest reasons that this year's Arizona team has had so much success. Colorado's passing attack will be challenged as more guys will be back deep in coverage and the Wildcat linebackers are athletic enough to track receivers over the middle and force mistakes. The running game will be as crucial as ever in this one. If Michael Adkins can continue his run of exceptional play the Wildcats will be forced to commit more defenders to the box which will open up some avenues through the air for Liufau and his receivers. Running the ball effectively also keeps Arizona's offense off the field which may be the most crucial benefit. The Buffalo line will need to handle Arizona's three down linemen and whichever linebackers are coming on the blitz in order to give Sefo time to make his reads which will be trickier than usual. Should the Buffs be able to amass steady yardage and finish drives with touchdowns rather than field goals they can stay in this one late.

Colorado_mediumStopping the Ball

Colorado's defense is going to be pushed to its limit on Saturday. The Buffalo secondary is a shell of itself and will be featuring at least two non-regular starters with limited live-game experience. Making matters worse, Colorado's undersized linebackers will likely again be without the services of Addison Gillam. The defensive line is going to have to pick up the slack and play its most aggressive game yet in order to give the guys behind them chances to make plays. Pressuring Anu Solomon will help, even though he's adept at making plays on the move enough of a presence in the backfield can throw any offense off its rhythm. If Solomon is given any amount of time one of his receivers will inevitably find open space in the Colorado coverage. The linebackers and defensive backs will have to do their jobs as best they can in attempting to slow down this RichRod attack. A few lucky turnovers along the way certainly wouldn't hurt either. Ultimately, this game will come down to whether CU is able to slow down the Wildcats' offense enough, and that prospect looks rather bleak. But, stranger things have happened so here's to the Buffs somehow pulling off a shocker in the desert.