Four rivalry games highlight the last weekend of the Pac-12 regular season, but the real drama will…
Game Preview: Utah at Colorado
Utah's offense was very inconsistent last week against an Arizona defense who has struggled all year and ranks 117th in the nation in total defense. Though Utah was able to gain 449 yards against the Wildcats, dropped balls and poor blocking was what hurt this offense throughout the game.
Travis Wilson threw for over 300 yards for the first time in his young career last week, finishing 28-40 with 311 yards and 2 touchdowns. On paper Wilson had an exceptional game, but in reality he missed a few big throws that could have changed the game for the Utes. As we have seen in the past, Wilson has had trouble holding onto the ball. The ball security issues must be corrected by Wilson as they have led to easy touchdowns for the opponents.
John White ran for 112 yards against the Wildcats and will need 127 yards this week to reach 1000 yards on the season for the second season in a row. For this to happen, the offensive line will need to forget about their performance last week and open up some holes for White to run through. This should not be a problem for the O-line as Colorado has one of the worst rushing defenses in the nation ranking 119th out of 124. The buffaloes allow nearly 6 yards per attempt and over 220 yards rushing per game. The ground attack should be very successful against the buffaloes and White should have some big holes to run through all day. With the status of Kelvin York unknown, Karl Williams is a powerful back who is more than capable of backing up White.
Defensively Colorado has struggled all season to stop opponents from moving the ball against them without much difficulty. The buffaloes rank last in the nation in scoring defense allowing 46.4 points per game and rank 122nd in total defense allowing over 500 yards a game. When opponents have entered the redzone the buffs have had a real difficult time allowing a 92.5% success rate for opponents. The buffs rank 109th in the nation in passing defense allowing 275 yards per game and have allowed 38 touchdowns through the air while only recording 3 interceptions.
Linebacker Derrick Webb and defensive back Terrell Smith lead the buffaloes in tackles with 65 and 61 respectively. Junior defensive end Chidera Uzo-Diribe leads the team with 7 sacks and is the player the Utes will need to look out for while on offense. Uzo-Diribe does a good job at getting in the backfield, and along with 7 sacks has also recorded 10.5 tackles for loss.
In this game, Utah should be able to attack this defense both through the air and on the ground without much difficulty. Travis Wilson should be able to pick apart the secondary and could very well have his second career 300 yard game. Utah's receivers shouldn't have too much difficulty shaking Colorado's defensive backs and getting Wilson some open looks. If the Utes limit their mistakes and take care of the football they should have a very successful outing, and undoubtedly put up more points than the 12.6 points they are currently averaging this year on the road.
When Colorado has the ball
What can I say that you don't already know (or assume)? This is a bad CU team. Bad.
Colorado is 1-10 on the season, one loss short of an all-time low for the program. In the Buffs only win (35-34 over Washington State) they had to overcome a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit. Since then they've lost 7 games and have given up an average of over 50 points per game.
You don't have to know a lot about football to know you won't win many games like that.
Colorado's offense is abysmal. They average just 110.1 yards per game on the ground, good for 109th in the NCAA. They aren't much better through the air, either. Their pass offense is 99th in the nation producing 182.2 yards per game. Overall they average a putrid 292.3 yards of offense per game which places the team 118th (out of 121 FBS teams) in the country.
Colorado will start sophomore Nick Hirschman at quarterback on Friday. Hirschman's only other start came week 10 against Arizona and he actually played pretty well. The Buffs moved the ball throughout the game and scored points before Hirschman went down with a concussion in the third quarter. He was 12 of 13 passing for 123 yards and led the Buffs on 3 scoring drives before the injury. This week they'll go back to Hirschman in the hopes that he'll be able to recreate some of that offensive efficiency that he showed two weeks ago.
The running back position has been the lone bright spot for CU all season, but as luck would have it the starting tailback – and the best offensive weapon on the team – will miss the game due to injury. Christian Powell, a Freshman All-American and Freshman All-Pac12 candidate, has been dynamite this season. He has started 8 of 11 games and has rushed for 691 yards and 7 TD's throughout the year. His absence will be felt as the Buffs will be forced to start another freshman in backup Donta Abron. Abron is 3rd on the team in rushing having picked up 172 yards and 1 touchdown this season.
Colorado's passing attack isn't very dynamic but the Buffs do a good job of spreading the ball around. 16 different players have caught at least 1 pass this season and 7 receivers have over 100 yards. Receivers Nelson Spruce and Tyler McCulloch are the leading receivers on the team; both have 348 yards on the year.
The CU offensive line is a good unit with at least one future NFL player currently playing. Junior tackle David Bakhtiari is an all-conference type player despite the performance of the rest of his offense. He'll keep Joe Kruger out of the backfield most of the game so the Utes are going to have to find a way to get pressure on Hirschman from other positions on their defensive line.
Utah's recent move from a 4-3 defense to a 3-3-5 scheme has put more athletic playmakers in the defensive secondary but has come with mixed results. Against Washington State the Utes were able to pressure the quarterback rushing just three players. The slow-developing pass plays of the Wazzu offense allowed the Ute D-line time to collapse the pocket which ruined a large number of plays. Against Arizona we saw the opposite; Utah struggled to contain the run game which opened up the passing game and eventually the Wildcat offense rolled.
If Utah's defense is going to be successful this week they'll have to get pressure in a hurry. The lack of a potent run threat for CU will help the Utes in this aspect, but they'll need to make sure they don't have a letdown and allow the inexperienced Buff runner get his offense going. If Utah can contain the run game and force the Buffs to throw they should have a very good shot of winning this game and could win this one with ease.
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