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Colorado Buffaloes vs. Utah Utes: Game Preview

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Can CU win it’s first Pac-12 South division title and secure a championship berth?

Getty Images/ Andy Cross

And it all comes down to this.

The No. 9 Colorado Buffaloes have played their way to first place in the Pac-12 South and are one win away from securing a division title. The team standing in way of milestone? The No. 22 Utah Utes, who come to Boulder on Senior Day looking to pull off an upset.

Both teams were in contention for the lead in the South until the Utes fell to Oregon a week ago. All the Buffs have to do is win to play next week at Levi’s Stadium and join the winner of the Apple Cup between Washington and Washington State.

It’s not how you start but how you finish

Quarterback Sefo Liufau’s story has been one to remember during his senior year. He started out the season rehabbing a broken foot along with the drama from Davis Webb. With Webb going to Cal, Sefo turned negative energy into motivation for the season opener against Colorado State. The unfortunate ankle injury at Michigan gave Steven Montez the start, but Sefo came back to lead the Buffaloes to victory in all of his remaining games.

It’s been an incredible season with, hopefully, the best yet to come for Colorado.

The Buffs tied the mark for the best turnaround in school history last week and continue to improve. According to CU athletics, here’s how this season compares to previous comebacks.

2015: 4-9, 2016: + 6

2000: 3-8, 2001: 10-3 + 6

1984: 1-10, 1985: 7-5 + 5½

1964: 2-8, 1965: 6-2-2 + 4

1922: 4-4, 1923: 9-0 + 4½

1916: 1-5-1, 1917: 6-2 + 4

1893: 2-4, 1894: 8-1 + 4½

What to expect from Colorado on offense

Liufau didn’t play against the Utes last season and has the chance to close out his last game at Folsom with a win. He’s on verge of leading CU to an undefeated home record for the first time since 1994 and as a team the Buffs have outscored their opponents at Folsom 201-63, allowing just six touchdowns through five games.

The dynamic offensive punch of Liufau and running back Phillip Lindsay along with the deep receiver pool of Shay Fields, Bryce Bobo, Jay MacIntyre, and Devin Ross continues to play well towards the end of the season. The Buffaloes hybrid "air assault" ranks 26th in the nation for total offense, 11th in first downs and 35.5 points per game.

CU can roll in this game by exploiting Utah’s weakened secondary. The Utes are ranked 103rd nationally against the pass, giving up an average of 255.6 yards per game. If the game film against Oregon is any predictor, it could be a long day for Utah against the dual-threat experience of Liufau. He averages a combined 5.7 yards per touch this season with 16 total touchdowns (10 passing, 6 rushing). The Buffs are likely to use misdirection plays and screen passes against the Utes defense, but don’t count out the possibility of a score on defense.

What to expect from Utah on offense

The Utes started off the season strong with a 7-1 record before losing two of the last three games, including a 30-28 defeat vs. Oregon last week. Utah has the "Williams’ show" with quarterback Troy and running back Joe leading the offense. The two have combined for 3,785 yards and 28 touchdowns, accounting for roughly 73.2 % of the Utes’ total offense. An equal balance in the passing game and on the ground has Utah ranked 48th in the nation for total offense and second in the Pac-12 for rushing yards.

Utah will have to find momentum against the Buffs on the road. Establishing the running game could be their best game plan, but it’s likely CU’s defense will have an have an answer. Troy Williams has a quick release and can find receivers down the field with ease, but has yet to face a higher-ranked defense than what he will see against Colorado.

What to Expect from Colorado on defense

CU’s defense has played lights out as one of the best in college football, ranked 13th in the nation and best in the Pac-12. The biggest problem on defense as of late has been self-inflicted penalties at inopportune times. The Buffs have accumulated 28 penalties for 265 yards with a majority coming on defense in the past three games. Emotions are expected to run high in this game and the Buffs need to start tying up the loose ends.

The secondary of Tedric Thompson, Chidobe Awuzie, Isaiah Oliver, Afolabi Laguda Akhello Witherspoon and Nick Fisher will have to play tight against Utah’s receivers, who spread the field at Williams’ direction. Expect Colorado’s defense to play up on the line, forcing the Utes to take deep strikes down the field. Forcing Williams into mistakes will be tough due to the Utes leading the Pac-12 with the least amount of interceptions thrown.

Over the past five games, CU has held opponents to an average of 309.2 total yards of offense and 15.8 points. They’ve held six teams to 16 points or less this season and it’s the first time that’s happened since 1998. The Buffs are looking to extend the nation’s longest forced turnover streak to 25 games, representing the past two years sincw defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt was hired.

What to expect from Utah on defense

You can’t talk about the Utes on defense without mentioning the nation’s sack leader Hunter Dimick. He’s an elusive pass rusher that spends the majority of his time in the backfield and has the ability to wreck offensive linemen. For CU’s to be successful it starts with keeping Dimick on an island with a hurry-up approach.

Utah defense’s ranks 53rd in the nation, despite being tied for the most touchdowns in the conference with three. The Utes biggest defensive contributor is the nation’s best punter, Mitch Wishnowsky, who’s one of three finalist for the Ray Guy Award. Wishnowsky dominates starting field position with an average of 48.6 yards per punt and hasn’t had a touchback since the first game of the season.

Odd and ends

According to all major Las Vegas sports books, the Buffs are favored by 10 points over Utes.

Colorado wraps up the regular season at home against Utah with kickoff scheduled for 5:35 p.m. MT. A sellout crowd is expected for Senior Day in Boulder. The weather forecast for Saturday will be 51° with clear skies.

FOX has national television coverage with Joe Davis (play-by-play) and Brady Quinn (color) in the booth with Jenny Taft on the sidelines. Mark Johnson and Gary Barnett will call the game for 850 KOA.

100 and 300

Colorado’s a perfect 16-0 under coach Mike MacIntyre when holding a team to less than 100 yards rushing or 300 yards passing since 2013.

Record watch

Sefo Liufau needs 120 passing yards to tie Kordell Stewart and Joel Klatt with the most 2,000 yard seasons (3) and two touchdown passes to become CU’s all-time leader with 61 TD’s.