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Behind Enemy Lines: Colorado Buffaloes vs. Arizona Wildcats

Scott Moran breaks down the newly-terrifying Wildcats.

NCAA Football: Oregon at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the Colorado Buffaloes’ best efforts last Saturday, there is still a football season to finish for CU. After the 30 minute deconstruction down to the atomic level against Oregon State, the Buffs NEED to win against Arizona to get to a bowl (one thinks). To find out more about the Wildcats, who seem to be peaking at the exact wrong time for CU, I talked to Scott Moran of AZ Desert Swarm, our sister site in the desert.

Arizona seems to have flipped the switch last week against Oregon. Was this a fluke performance, a lightbulb moment, or simply a team that finally has a healthy star QB?

I really wish I knew myself, because pretty much everyone here, me included, was absolutely floored by our performance against Oregon. I always thought Sumlin was a bit undervalued at A&M, and I’ve been of the opinion that for the last few years it has been Mazzone holding him back more than anything. I’ve also said all season that Sumlin and Mazzone have done one of the worst jobs in recent memory of matching scheme to personnel. Sumlin seemed pretty involved against the Ducks, and even got an unsportsmanlike for yelling at a referee. Of course, having Khalil Tate back obviously helped so much, and FINALLY being effectively used helped even more. This was the first week Tate looked anything like his 2017 self, so it was quite refreshing and hopeful to see. I’m gonna put on my optimist hat and say the Oregon game was a lightbulb moment, and Sumlin’s tenure will find a much higher floor than this season in the future.

The defense has had some pretty strong performances at home and some poor performances on the road. Is this due to the difference in quality of opponent or does the Desert Swarm play better in Tuscon?

I do think the defense improves in Tucson, and the ZonaZoo (who I give credit for still filling up the stands in a forgettable season) is always loud when the opponent has the ball. Nevertheless, I don’t think anyone is mistaking this for an imposing defensive unit. It’s a bit frustrating, as it feels the defense is less than the sum of its parts. There are young studs at all three levels, and Colin Schooler is our best defender since Scooby Wright and is just a sophomore. A lot of people feel the defense would be better off without coordinator Marcel Yates, but the players allegedly insisted he was retained when Sumlin came in. We’ll see if he can finally build on the Oregon performance, where they actually looked like a top-50 unit.

If you are Colorado, how do you beat Arizona?

Arizona, even if they perform like they did against Oregon, does have some weaknesses to exploit. They’re not very good at getting to the quarterback, and that problem is always exacerbated when a quarterback is mobile, and Steven Montez does fit that bill. The defense also just doesn’t have the depth to keep up with more than couple of legit threats on the offensive side. If I’m McIntyre, and I have Montez, Travon McMillian, plus two or three solid receivers (depending on Shenault’s status), I have to feel good about the offense’s chances of putting up a lot of points. On defense, the answer is pretty simple: contain Tate. He’s still not running a lot, but he’s doing it enough and has developed enough as a passer to still be a star. Don’t expect another 300-yard rushing performance from him this week, but do a more balanced attack that Tate can finally utilize.

Who is one player to watch on offense? Defense?

J.J. Taylor has been one of the most overlooked players in the conference for basically his whole career in my opinion. It was like RichRod made him in Create-a-Player on the old NCAA games: he’s small, he’s fast, and he isn’t scared of contact. He exploded against the Ducks, and I think there’s a good chance he keeps that up. On defense, Lorenzo Burns is the guy to watch. Our secondary has been hit hard by depth issues, but Burns has really picked up the slack and kept the defense from collapsing. He should be matched up with Shenault or Nixon, and I’m very excited to see that matchup (even if I give the edge to the CU receivers).

What is your prediction for the game?

If this game had taken place pretty much any other time in the season, I would’ve picked the Buffs pretty easily. I was a pretty big proponent of the Buffaloes when they were undefeated, and that offensive lineup still scares me. However, I finally feel like Arizona and Sumlin are clicking. It’s a shame it took until almost November, but progress is progress, and I really think Arizona fans are gonna have a lot of optimism about 2019 if the ‘Cats can keep this up. I say they do, and the Wildcats win 34-28. If Shenault is back, this game is pretty much a tie in my opinion, but I still give the edge to Arizona since it’s in Tucson.