After adding a last-minute non-conference game vs. San Diego State last week the Colorado Buffaloes (3-0) secured bowl eligibility for the first time since 2016. The late addition was necessary because the last two scheduled games against Arizona State and USC were canceled due to issues with COVID-19. The Buffaloes now move forward with a Pac-12 match-up against the Arizona Wildcats (0-3) on Saturday night (5:00 p.m. MT/ TV: FOX Sports 1).
As one of the three remaining winless teams in the conference, the Willdcats are off to their worst start in Pac-12 play since 2015. However, history is not on Colorado’s side in this head-to-head matchup after Arizona won the past three meetings all by an average of five points. All three of those came at the hands of Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate, who seemed to play better against Colorado than he did any one else in the conference.
Arizona’s 35-30 win over Colorado last year was the last for the Wildcats, who are currently riding the longest losing streak in school history at 10 games after starting the 2019 season with a 4-1 record. The Buffs took a 20-14 lead into halftime of that contest before Tate came to life in the second half and lifted the Cats to finish with 404 passing yards and three touchdowns.
No Tate for CU to worry about now. Grant Gunnell has taken a majority of the snaps under center for Arizona this season, but his status for Saturday is unknown. The sophomore pro-style quarterback exited with a shoulder injury during in the first series of last week’s loss vs. UCLA. He has completed 52-of-76 passes for 547 yards and six touchdowns to one interception on the season. True freshman Will Plummer stepped in to replace Gunnell and finished going 17-of-35 for 151 yards and two interceptions against the Bruins.
It’s a much different situation for the Buffaloes at QB. Fifth-year senior Sam Noyer has been an impressive dual-threat this year, completing 52-of-84 passes for 650 yards and eight total touchdowns with two interceptions. The one-time CU safety came into the season without a touchdown pass, but has since commanded CU’s offense to three straight wins with an average of 34.3 points per game (3rd, Pac-12).
Not all of that production has fallen on Noyer shoulders. Running back Jarek Broussard leads with Buffs with 90 carries for 432 yards and three touchdowns. He’s the first Buffaloes tailback to start their debut season with three 100-yards games in over fifty years.
Overall, the Buffaloes offense has evolved as a spread-type hybrid with an equal emphasis on the passing game and getting Broussard a health amount of touches. They’ve also limited the number of errors behind an experienced offensive line, who’ve allowed just four sacks against Noyer.
They go up against a Wildcats’ defense that has suffered through this season, giving up 35 points per game as one of the worst in the Pac-12. Arizona has especially struggled at stopping the run by allowing opponents an average of 229 yards per game. Eight of the thirteen (61.5%) touchdowns allowed by UA’s defense this year have come on the ground.
On the other hand, Colorado had one of their best defensive efforts in recent memory last Saturday vs. SDSU. They held the Aztecs to 155 yards, 79 on the ground and 76 through the air, along with no offensive touchdowns. A group that was one of the worst statistically in the nation last season has improved greatly under Tyson Summers, who remained on Karl Dorrell’s staff after coming over from Georgia two years ago with Mel Tucker. As a whole, the Buffs boast one of the best defensive units in the Pac-12, allowing an average of 28 points and 343 yards per game.
A major reason for their success has been the outstanding play of Nate Landman. The pivotal leader of CU’s defense earned national player of the week honors with 11 tackles and three sacks vs. San Diego State. He was also named one of 16 semifinalists for the Butkus Award that recognizes the nation’s best linebacker.
The Buffaloes have started 3-0 for the third time in the last five seasons, and are one of 13 FBS teams undefeated heading into December.
News and Notes
“CU is looking to open 3-0 in Pac-12 league play for the first time (the Buffs were 2-0 in 2016 and 2018 but lost the next time out) and have been 4-0 just one time (2018) since opening 5-0 in 1998. The Buffaloes are 11-10 all-time in the state of Arizona, which includes a 2-2 mark in bowl games.”
“Colorado has opened with a pair of one-score games to open the year (decided by eight points or less), and now have taken part in nine such games over the last 14 the Buffs are now 6-3 in those games (and have had 31 total over the last seven seasons); the seven CU played in last year tied for the fourth-most in the nation.”
“Karl Dorrell is the sixth head coach in school history to open 3-0 in his first season, and just the second since 1905 (out of 27); he’s the 13th to start 2-0 in conference play.”
From the desk of Dave Plati:
Owning The Lead: “The Buffaloes have now led for 156:37 this season, tied for 15:08 and have trailed for just 3:15. That translates into Colorado being ahead 87 percent of the time thus far in 2020.”
Quarterly Report: “CU has now scored in all 12 quarters to open a season for the first time since 1998, when the Buffs scored in the first 16. The all-time school record for the most at the start of a season is 22 back in 1993. CU has scored in 13 in a row dating back the fourth quarter of last year’s finale at Utah, with the record for consecutive quarters scored in being 23, set over the 1970-71 seasons.”
Radio: 850 KOA (Mark Johnson, Gary Barnett)
Odds: -3 Colorado
Weather: 63° clear at kickoff