Preview: CU hosts Arizona in must-win game for Buffs

Scott Hood, Staff Writer
CU Sports Nation

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CU Athletics

What: Arizona (2-2, 0-1) at Colorado (3-2, 0-2)

Where: Folsom Field (50,183), Boulder, Colo.

When: Sat., Oct. 7, 6 p.m. MT

TV/Radio: Pac-12 Network (JB Long, Yogi Roth and Jill Savage); Colorado Sports Network (Mark Johnson, Gary Barnett).

Family weekend is on tap as the Colorado Buffaloes return home this Saturday for their fifth game of six the state of Colorado as they the Arizona Wildcats in an early evening game at Folsom Field. When the game is over, CU will have reached the halfway mark of the 2017 regular season.

SERIES HISTORY: The Buffs lead the all-time series, 14-5. CU snapped a four-game overall losing streak to the Wildcats with a 49-24 win last year in Tucson. Arizona has won three of the last four games in Boulder.

SIMILAR QUARTERBACKS?: While Colorado’s Steven Montez and Arizona’s Brandon Dawkins are both capable of gaining huge chunks of yardage with their legs, they are utilized differently. Most of the time, Mike MacIntyre wants Montez to stay in the pocket and look downfield for an open receiver before taking off. Arizona, meanwhile, wants Dawkins to run and has an entire package of designed rushing plays for him.

Montez has thrown 107 passes and rushed 57 times compared to 105 pass attempts and 52 rushes for Dawkins. Biggest difference? Dawkins is Arizona’s leading rusher and best weapon in the ground game as he is averaging 6.6 yards per carry and has six of UA’s 15 rushing TDs. Montez, of course, takes a back seat to Phillip Lindsay (529 rushing yards on 105 carries) in CU’s running game.

“It's been kind of progressing each week,” Montez said of his need to stay in the pocket. “It's just more comfortable in the pocket, staying in the pocket and not bailing out early. We're still working on that and (Offensive Coordinator Brian) Lindgren has helped me out a lot with that."

Montez likes playing at Folsom Field. In six career appearances at Folsom Field, he has completed just under 69 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns against five interceptions and averages 13.2 yards per completion. CU is 5-1 in the six home games he has appeared in.

CODE RED ZONE: Based on the numbers, the most intriguing statistical battle could come when Arizona penetrates the red zone (inside 20-yard line). Entering this weekend’s games, the Buffs are third in the Pac-12 in red zone defense, allowing 10 scores (5 TD, 5 FG) in 13 trips for a 76.9 scoring percentage by opponents. However, the TD percentage is just 38.5 percent (5 of 13).

The Buffs have allowed the fewest passing TDs in the red zone (1) among Pac-12 teams. In addition, opponents have run 37 plays in the red zone for a net 64 yards (1.7 per), and are just 3-of-10 on third down. The Arizona offense has scored 13 touchdowns in 16 red zone trips for a red zone TD percentage of 81.3 percent. So, something must give in this battle of strength vs. strength.

LEWIS OPENING EYES: JACK ILB Drew Lewis leads the Buffs with 55 tackles in five games in his first year as a full-time starter. Along with fellow ILB Rick Gamboa, h will have a key role in stopping Arizona’s running game. The Wildcats rank eighth nationally in rushing, averaging 296.0 yards per game.

“Last year was a good year for him to get his feet wet,” MacIntyre said of Lewis. “He played on all the special teams and backed up Kenneth Olugbode, who had a phenomenal year. He was able to do everything and learn everything, then we kept the exact same system. We’ve seen his strengths. He's a good blitzer and he's extremely fast and athletic, so we are able to use him a little differently than we did with Kenneth. Kenneth was great at what he did. D.J.'s [Eliot] has done a great job at utilizing Drew to his strengths and he's played well."

Here are the statistical leaders for the Buffs defense going into Week 5:

Tackles: Drew Lewis (55)

Tackles For Loss: Leo Jackson (5.0)

Sacks: Leo Jackson (5.0)

Interceptions: Isaiah Oliver, Evan Worthington (2)

Pass Breakups: Isaiah Oliver (8)

QB Hurries: Jacob Callier (7)

Fumble Recoveries: Three tied with 1

Forced Fumbles: Four tied with 1

NOTES:

-- The Buffs have four active players with 100-plus career receptions: WR Shay Fields (169), WR Devin Ross (120), WR Bryce Bobo (113) and RB Phillip Lindsay (100). Colorado is the only team in the nation with four active players with at least 100 career receptions.

-- Another strength vs. strength battle: Colorado is one of nine teams in the country that has not allowed a kickoff return of over 22 yards. The Buffs are second in the Pac-12 in kickoff coverage (42.4 net yards) thanks in large part to the powerful leg of PK Davis Price, who has kicked off 29 times and booted 21 touchbacks, 10 through the end zone. Arizona is second in the Pac-12 with an average of 25.9 yards per return. Tyrell Johnson has six of the seven Wildcat returns and has averaged 28.2 yards, ranking 21st nationally. His longest return is 58 yards. When one of Davis’s kickoffs is returned, Colorado is allowing just 17.1 yards per kickoff return with an average starting position of the opponents 19.

-- RB Phillip Lindsay has two 100-yard rushing games this season, giving him eight for his career. He has now scored at least one touchdown in 16 of his last

20 games, going back to the 2015 finale at Utah. With 180 career points, he is now tied for 10th all-time at Colorado. Lindsay is seventh on CU’s all-time

rushing list with 2,762 yards and has 4,669 all-purpose yards, just 260 yards away from passing Rodney Stewart (4,828, 2008-11) for the all-time lead at Colorado.

-- In five games this season, opposing quarterbacks have targeted the receiver Isaiah Oliver has been covering 36 times. Oliver has allowed only 12 completions for a .333 completion percentage against. Oliver only allowed opponents to complete 43.1 percent of the passes his way last season, which ranked No. 2 among all Pac-12 returning cornerbacks.

-- Arizona’s defense has improved significantly over last season. The Wildcats are the second most improved team in the FBS for scoring defense (from 38.3 ppg in 2016 to 22.3 in 2017). For the first time since 2001, the Wildcats defense has forced multiple turnovers in the first four games to open a season. As always, turnover margin will be a key factor in this game. Winning the turnover battle is almost always essential to winning on the road.

-- Couple more things to watch from Arizona’s improved defense: the Wildcats defense has allowed only three points in the fourth quarter over the last three games + Arizona’s defense has 20 three-and-outs over four games. They totaled just 30 three-and-outs in 12 games a season ago. Also, the Wildcats have outscored opponents, 76-36, in the second half of games this season.

-- How important is it to contain Arizona’s running game? Under Rich Rodriguez, the Wildcats are 28-9 when reaching the 200-yard rushing mark in a game.

-- Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez on the Buffs: “There’s no question they were building toward last year, and had a really good football team. Now they know the expectations are going to stay high. You can tell by the way they play that they still have the confidence from last year. They lost a tough game to UCLA last weekend but that confidence they got from last year is helping them, and they believe in their program and their system.”

COLORADO DEPTH CHART (Arizona Game)

OFFENSE

QB – Steven Montez (Noyer)

RB – Phillip Lindsay (Adkins)

Z WR – Shay Fields (Winfree)

X WR – Bryce Bobo (Shenault)

H WR – Devin Ross (Nixon)

Y WR – Jay MacIntyre (Winfree)(Utilized when in 4 wide set)

TE/HB – George Frazier (Bounds)

LT – Jeremy Irwin (Kaiser)

LG – Gerrard Kough (Tonz)

C – Jonathan Hockings (Lynott)

RG – Aaron Haigler (Lynott)

RT – Josh Kaiser (Haigler)

DEFENSE

LDE – Leo Jackson (Franke)

NT – Javier Edwards (Franke OR Tuiloma)

RDE – Chris Mulumba (Franke OR Frazier)

OLB – Derek McCartney (Sparaco)

JACK – Drew Lewis (Landman)

MIKE – Rick Gamboa (Jones)

OLB – Terran Hasselbach (Coleman)

BUFF – Ryan Moeller (Worthington)

CB – Isaiah Oliver (Blackmon)

FS – Afolabi Laguda (Fisher)

SS – Evan Worthington (Moeller)

CB – Dante Wigley (Bergner OR Hudson)(Udoffia injured)

INJURIES:

DB Afolabi Laguda – lower back contusion (day-to-day)

DB Trey Udoffia – knee sprain (day-ty-day)

TE Dylan Keeney – back spasms (indefinite – limited in practice)

OLB Shamar Hamilton – knee (Out for season)

WR Jaylon Jackson – ankle (Out for season)

S Jaisen Sanchez – torn pec (Out for season)

PAC-12 WEEK 6 SCHEDULE (Sat. Oct. 7)

Oregon State at USC, 2 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)

Arizona at Colorado, 6 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)

Washington State at Oregon, 6 p.m. (FOX)

Stanford at Utah, 8:15 p.m. (FS1)

California at Washington, 8:45 p.m. (ESPN)

(All Times Mountain)

PAC-12 SOUTH STANDINGS:

Utah 1-0 (4-0)

USC 2-1 (4-1)

UCLA 1-1 (3-2)

Arizona State 1-1 (2-3)

Colorado 0-2 (3-2)

Arizona 0-1 (2-2

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