It's homecoming and the Colorado Buffaloes (3-3, 0-2 Pac-12) didn't go the traditional route by scheduling a lesser opponent for the easy "show-off" win (mostly because there wasn't one on the schedule). Nope, a hard fought conference battle with the Arizona Wildcats (4-2, 1-2 Pac-12) is on tap for this weekend. After snapping a two-game losing streak last week against the Oregon State Beavers, the Cats come into Boulder looking to add some momentum onto their best game thus far. On the other hand, the Buffs had a hard time keeping up in last Saturday's 48-23 loss against the Arizona State Sun Devils. The meeting has a significant impact for both team's postseason implications going past the halfway point of the season.
Arizona's last five losses dating back to 2014 have came against Top 25 ranked opponents (No. 9 UCLA Bruins & No. 18 Stanford Cardinal this season). Head coach Rich Rodriguez has settled in nicely since arriving in Tuscon in 2012 and led the Wildcats to their first Pac-12 championship game last season. In the 51-13 loss to the Oregon Ducks, then freshman phenom quarterback Anu Solomon was inconsistent and struggled. His sophomore campaign has been mistake-free football; throwing for 1121 yards, 11 touchdowns and no interceptions on 145 attempts. The Buffs defense could change Solomon's pace by playing sound against the Wildcats' offensive orchestration. His dual-threat ability has burned the Buffs in the past and repeating that can be avoided. It'll be an extremely tough task stopping Solomon considering Arizona's offense ranks in the top 10 nationally for first downs (5th- 162), rushing yards (7th- 298.5 avg pg), scoring (7th- 42.3 avg pg) and total offense (9th- 530.2 ypg).
Solomon isn't the only rushing threat for the Wildcats with running back Nick Wilson leading the team in rushing yards (638) and touchdowns with eight. Expect a fast-paced scoring contest between both teams with prolific quarterbacks like Solomon and Colorado's Sefo Lirufau. The Wildcats came away with a 38-20 home victory last season over the Buffs, behind 211 yards passing and four touchdowns from Solomon. One of the best catches of CU WR Shay Fields young career was a 75-yard touchdown from Liufau on the first play of the game. Colorado kept the game within a score heading into the fourth quarter and couldn't rally after two interceptions by Liufau.
Another year of experience has helped, but the Buffs offense continues to struggle finding a rhythm this season and the results have shown the most in the red-zone. CU's the worst conference team executing inside the 20 and will look to exploit Arizona's Pac-12 worst red-zone defense. Liufau broke the 300+ yard passing mark for the first time last week and could do it again against the Wildcats' pass defense, who give up an average of 233.5 yards per game. Liufau's success will come through the hands of Phillip Lindsay, Christian Powell and Michael Adkins II. Arizona's 92nd ranked defense will be shuffling around attempting to stop the Buffs running back committee that averages 202.3 yards per game. Establishing the run early will keep the Wildcats guessing and allow Liufau to find his receivers down field.
Colorado's offensive proficiency begins and ends with the Buffs offensive line, who can't have a repeat performance of the eight allowed sacks last week against ASU. The number of sacks allowed per throw compared to last year's total is staggering. Liufau was sacked on average every 28 attempts last season. That figure is down drastically to one in every 11 throws this season. Sefo can't depend on an inexperienced line with three sophomores that has contributed to the breakdown in protection. Head coach Mike MacIntyre announced earlier this week that Sam Kronshage would be back in the lineup at left tackle with Stephane Nembot moving back to right tackle. Switching the lineman around will improve how the group functions but it's a constant work in progress.
On the other side of the ball, the key for Colorado's defense is understanding how Arizona's offense funnels through Solomon and controlling how he operates in space. Defensive specialists Derek McCartney, Rick Gamboa, NJ Falo and Jimmie Gilbert will be tasked with keeping Solomon from scrambling around. In order for the Buffs to be in a position to win controlling the turnover battle is a must. The Buffs secondary is highly capable in forcing the issue with interceptions and could give Solomon his first turnover on the season. Arizona is a perfect 4-0 when forcing a turnover against their opponents this season.
The Colorado Buffaloes welcome the Arizona Wildcats into Folsom Field for the school's 101st homecoming game on Saturday, October 17 at 7 p.m. and will be nationally televised on Fox Sports 1. Another great edition of #Pac12AfterDark features the Buffs platinum silver uniforms.