Final Score: Arizona 45, Colorado 42.
KEY MOMENT: Whenever Arizona ran a first down play. The Wildcats totaled 307 yards on 28 first-down plays - most of them runs - an average of 10.96 yards per first down play. This isn’t rocket science. Whenever the opposing team averages better than first down yardage on the first snap of every series, you’re going to have major problems. The fact the Buffs managed to stay close says a lot about their offense. How productive was Arizona on first and second down? They ran just 9 third down plays all night, converting six.
TURNING POINT: The moment Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez inserted backup quarterback Khalil Tate into the game on the first play of the Wildcats second possession (apparently replacing an injured Brandon Dawkins) with 9:10 left in the first quarter. He made the Colorado defense look silly the rest of the night. He ran for touchdowns of 58, 28, 47 and 75 yards. Tate finished with 327 rushing yards on just 14 carries, the second most rushing yards by a single player in Arizona history. Oh yeah, Tate also completed 11-of-12 passes for 142 yards and 1 TD. In summary, bad things usually happened to the CU defense when the ball was in Tate’s hands. Question of the night: Did Dawkins just get Wally Pipped by Tate?
RECAP/NUMBERS DON’T LIE:
It was an offensive shootout from start to finish. The two teams combined for 1,118 total yards of offense, 725 on the ground. Tate and Buffs RB Phillip Lindsay combined for 608 rushing yards. Lindsay was the Ultimate Warrior with 281 rushing yards on 41 carries. That’s the definition of a workhorse.
Another key stat: The Buffs were penalized 12 times for 110 yards. Arizona was flagged just twice for 10 yards. Translation: the Wildcats were more disciplined. Anytime the penalty gap is 10, you’re probably not going to win.
Good news for the Buffs: Lindsay’s performance running the football and Steven Montez’s throwing. He completed 19-of-32 passes for 251 yards and 3 TDs. The Buffs offense did their best to keep up, but fell just short. In five second half possession, the Buffs scored 4 TDs and punted once. They didn’t commit a turnover. CU was 13-of-21 on third downs and registered 29 first downs. Most games, that’s good enough to win. But not tonight.
The major storyline of the first half was the Buffs inability to tackle Arizona QB Khalil Tate, who had 125 yards rushing on just 5 carries in the first half. His first big play was a 58-yard TD run on the Wildcat’s second possession. Next possession, he ran 28 yards around left end for a TD and a 14-7 UA lead late in the first qtr. Arizona had 142 rushing yards in the first quarter.
Montez had some success throwing the football on the Buffs’ second series, completing passes for 16 yards (Lindsay) and 39 yard (MacIntyre). But as soon as they penetrated the red zone, they turned to power football. Four straight runs by Lindsay put the ball into the end zone.
Colorado’s emphasis on the run continued on the third possession as they ran the ball 4 straight times. As soon as they tried to throw the ball, Montez was sacked twice and threw an incompletion. Arizona came into the game with just six sacks in four games, but they had three in the first 16 minutes of the game.
The Buffs’ failure to protect the quarterback led to this: a 19-play, 85-yard TD drive in which they ran the ball 17 times. It was the third longest drive in Colorado history in terms of plays. The Buffs drained 9:34 off the clock. Lindsay powered in from 1-yard out for the TD.
MacIntyre’s halftime message to his defense about tackling the quarterback apparently didn’t get through as Tate ran 47 yards virtually untouched through the Colorado defense for his third rushing TD of the night on UA’s fourth snap of the third quarter. After that play, the Wildcats had 251 total rushing yards with Tate accounting for 172.
The Buffs put together another nice drive in respond to that Arizona TD. Mixing the run and pass, Colorado drove 75 yards in 15 plays with Montez throwing a 7-yard TD pass to Bryce. Play selection on the drive: 8 runs, 7 passes.
Unfortunately, the Buffs defensive woes continued, though, on Arizona’s ensuing possession. But it wasn’t just Tate that did the damage as the Wildcats utilized four different ball carriers on a methodical 12-play, 75 yard TD drive. Tate had 3 rushes for 41 yards, including a 28-yard scamper the key play on the drive. Tate’s rushing stats at the end of the drive: 10 carries for 215 yards. That’s 21.5 yards per attempt.
Phillip Lindsay’s response? Whatever you do, I can do it better. He ripped off a 45-yard run late in the third quarter, a play that led to Montez’s jump pass TD to Chris Bounds early in the fourth quarter.
But the Ghosts of Recent Run Defense Past haunted the Buffs again. Tate took the first snap of UA’s ensuing possession and again ran 75 yards virtually untouched through the Buffs beleaguered defense for a back-breaking TD, giving the Wildcats a 42-28 lead. Tate’s rushing stats after the 1-play drive: 290 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns on 11 carries.
Again the Buffs struck back, making it six straight possessions by both teams resulting in a touchdown. Montez found Bounds alone on the left side for a 39-yard TD pass, his third TD throw of the night. The completion gave Montez 251 yards through the air on 19-of-30 passing.
What happens when you have enormous success running the football? Passing lanes open up. Tate completed a 60-yard pass down the middle of the field to Ellison. The explosive play set up a 24-yard field goal by the Wildcats for a 45-35 lead with 8:06 left.
Lindsay’s huge night continued on CU’s next possession when he ran through the left side for 36 yards to the UA 39. After that play, he had 246 yards rushing on 36 carries. Wildcats coach Rich Rodriguez said this week he dreaded Lindsay running the football and his worst fears were realized. Five plays later, Lindsay registered his 40th carry of the night. His 41st carry produced an 11-yard TD run through the middle, a trend all night long for both defenses. With just over 5 minutes left, the Buffs trailed 45-42.
The Buffs desperately needed a stop but couldn’t get it initially as Arizona converted a 3rd-and-4 with an 8-yard pass. Then the Buffs were flagged for offsides TWICE to give the Wildcats a first down, allowing them to drain more time off the clock.
The Buffs exhausted their final timeout with 2:15 left, meaning if Arizona made another first down, the game was over. What happened: Tate ran for 31 yards to the CU 17, shaking off several Buff defenders along the way. CU simply couldn’t get him on the ground. He broke at least 5 tackles on the run. The terrible tackling perfectly summed up the disastrous night for the Buffs defense in Boulder.
Tate’s final numbers: 327 rushing yards and 4 TDs on 14 carries. That’s an average of 23.36 yards per rushing attempt.
Lindsay’s final numbers: 281 rushing yards and 3 TDs on 41 carries in a heroic effort.
1. It’s not how many times you run the ball or how long you hold the ball, it’s how productive you are: Believe it or not, Colorado actually ran the ball 15 more times than Arizona. The difference is Arizona averaged 9.88 yards per rushing attempt, while Colorado averaged 5.17 yards. In addition, CU dominated time of possession by controlling the ball for 35:54. Arizona had the ball for just 24:06, but gained 567 yards on 56 snaps. The Buffs ran 34 more plays (90-56) than Arizona.
2. Phillip Lindsay should remain the centerpiece of the Buffs offense. As we mentioned, CU ran 90 plays. Forty-six (46) percent of those snaps were rushing attempts by Lindsay. Next week’s opponent, Oregon State, entered the weekend ranked 11th in the Pac-12 in total defense (allowing 490.2 yards per game) and 11th in rushing defense (202.2). Keep feeding Lindsay the rock until the Beavers prove they can stop him.
3. It’s going to be a long, long week for the Buffs defensive staff: Thankfully, Oregon State doesn’t appear to have a Khalil Tate on their roster. FBS coaches usually work long hours, burning the midnight oil. This week, defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot and his coaches will be burning the 3 a.m. oil trying to fix what ails the Buffs defense. Perhaps Dr. Oz has the cure.
— Colorado Football (@RunRalphieRun) October 8, 2017