After surrendering one of the worst losses in school history to Oregon State, the Colorado Buffaloes (5-3, 2-3 Pac-12) try to shake off the dust in the desert against the Arizona Wildcats (4-5, 3-3 Pac-12). With the final two home games against No. 8 Washington State and No. 15 Utah— along with the season finale at Cal— Colorado’s best opportunity to secure a postseason bid comes Friday night.
The Wildcats ran away from the Buffs behind Khalil Tate’s record-setting 327 rushing yards last year. The 45-42 victory for Arizona was their first Pac-12 road win in two years. Phillip Lindsay’s breakout game was outdone by Tate, even though the duo combined for 801 yards of total offense and eight touchdowns on the night. Traditionally, both schools have put up high-scoring affairs, with a combined 515 points since 2011 (73.6 point per contest). The winner has scored 38 or more points in the past seven games with Arizona holding a 5-2 edge during that time. Although, Colorado has won eight of the last ten in Tucson including a 49-24 win two years ago.
Arizona is still within striking distance of a bowl game, but will need to overcome two non-conference losses by winning two out of the next three. The Wildcats are hoping to pick up momentum from their first win over a ranked team last Saturday when they defeated No. 19 Oregon 44-15. It was their third straight win over the Ducks going back to 2013, and continued the streak of having at least one win over a Top 25 team in 13 of the past 15 season.
Tate returns alongside running back J.J. Taylor to fuel Arizona’s 14th ranked offense, that averages 441.7 yards per game and 29.6 points per game. Taylor leads all FBS players with 1,579 all-purpose yards this season. His average of 175.4 yards per game is the most for an UA player since Trung Canidate in 1999.
First-year head offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone switched Tate’s primary role with scheme changes at the beginning of the season. The dual-threat is no longer a run-first option in many cases, but rather used as a primary passer. Mazzone not using Tate to his full potential opens up Taylor’s explosiveness, which we saw when he thrashed Oregon for 212 yards.
For Colorado, the biggest task going into Friday night is finding a way to slow down Taylor. The Buffs are one of the better Pac-12 teams against the run, allowing 142.0 yards per game and nine total touchdowns. CU needs a solid night from Nate Landman as he’ll go head-to-head against Taylor many times throughout the game. Also, Tate may not be 100-percent with a lingering ankle injury, but is still dangerous with breakaway speed if given the option. Mike MacIntyre’s has to hope the Buffs don’t have a repeat defensive performance from last season.
Standout CU wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr.’s status for this week remains questionable, and it’s likely he’ll miss a third straight week due to a foot injury. Not having Shenault available puts K.D. Nixon in a situation once again to replace Shenault’s production. Nixon’s bittersweet breakout game last week against OSU ended with 13 receptions for 198 yards and two touchdowns. However, consistency has been the uphill battle for the Buffs offense, especially on third down conversion going 7-of-26 (26.9%) in the past two games.
With Shenault out, Colorado’s other go-to option is running back Travon McMillian. The Virginia Tech transfer has yet to approach the 200-yard mark in a game this season, but sees another good opportunity this week against defensive coordinator Marcel Yates’ group that allowed the Buffs 300 rushing yards on 58 carries last year. McMillian needs 222 yards to give CU their third straight 1,000-yard rusher in a season. If so, he’ll join Phillip Lindsay as the only other Buff to reach that plateau since Rodney Stewart in 2010
News and Notes
Colorado is 4-5 in the modern era (post-World War II) with five days in-between games (1-2 with four days rest). Colorado leads 14-6 in the all-time series with Arizona going back to 1931. A majority the games came in the 1950s, when the two schools met 10 times in an 11-year span between 1950 and 1960; a deal presented by CU athletic director Harry Carlson.
CU coach Mike MacIntyre is 1-4 against Arizona, while UA coach Kevin Sumlin has never faced the Buffaloes (3-3 as an assistant with Texas A&M and Oklahoma).
From the desk of Dave Plati:
“Junior PK Davis Price was asked to fill in for P Alex Kinney when he was injured making a tackle on punt coverage at Nebraska. While Price’s average is 38.7, looking inside-his-numbers, he’s been better than many might think. He has 15 punts inside-the-20 (nine of those inside-the-15), and he has seven kicks inside opponent territory when the Buff offense stalled—and he’s put all seven inside-the-20 (his average jumps up to 40,0 when allowing for those seven punts). He doesn’t have any touchbacks and he’s had just 12 returns for 74 yards (6.2 average), with 32 of those yards on one runback.”
Obscure stat of the week: “DE Mustafa Johnson has enjoyed quite the “rookie” season as a Buffalo; the 6-2, 290-pound transfer from Modesto (Calif.) Junior College leads the team in quarterback sacks with 7½ (he’s second in the Pac-12, but with 6½; CU has always counted “sacks for zero” historically per the NFL, but the NCAA did not adopt the same criteria. We keep those for CU records only). With a third of the season still remaining, the 7½ sacks are the third-most in school history by an underclassman, behind only OLB Ron Woolfork (13 in 1991) and OLB Dave Alderson (8 in 1981) – both were sophomores. It is the fourth-most sacks by a Buff over the last 22 seasons, trailing DE Abraham Wright (11½ in 2006), DE Josh Hartigan (8 in 2011) and OLB Jimmie Gilbert (10½ in 2016).”
Colorado hit the road to Arizona on Friday, Nov. 2 at 8:45 p.m. MT. The ‘Pac-12 After Dark’ is scheduled to be one of the Buffs latest games this season.
TV: Fox Sports 1 & Fox Sport Go app
Brian Custer (play-by-play), Ben Leber (analyst), Jen Hale (sidelines)
Radio: 850 KOA (Mark Johnson, Gary Barnett)
Odds: -3 Arizona
Weather: 71 ° Clear