Six Picks: Colorado vs. Arizona

Junior Phillip Lindsay eyes the first-down marker while struggling for yards during the third quarter of play at Arizona Stadium. Nov. 12, 2016 (Nigel Amstock/CU Independent)

The Colorado Buffaloes Football team returns to Folsom this week for matchup with the visiting Arizona Wildcats. We gathered six of our sports staff members and asked for their thoughts on the upcoming game.

Kyle Rini, assistant sports editor: There’s a sense of dread starting to creep over this team and it’s fan base. Losing a close one to UCLA feelt like a signal for how the rest of this season will pan out, and things aren’t looking good for the Buffaloes if that’s true.

But it’s not too late to turn things around and finally get this team playing to their level of talent. A Saturday night matchup at home against the Arizona Wildcats could provide the Buffs with a much needed momentum boost. Alternatively, it could be the death blow to Colorado’s postseason aspirations.

Arizona is one of the weaker teams of the Pac-12, but that shouldn’t provide any comfort for the Buffs, who have underperformed against even their weakest opponents so far. The Wildcats have a talented dual-threat quarterback in Brandon Dawkins, who could have success running on a Colorado run defense that’s been looking weaker and weaker as the season goes on. Couple that with CU’s inability to get a pass rush going, and it could be a long night of watching Dawkins scramble for third down conversions. The secondary will likely do its job, as it has been, but expect the Wildcats to find the endzone at least a few times.

On the other side, I have to believe this Colorado offense will start playing as well as we all know they can at some point. If it’s not in this game though, I don’t know when it will be. Arizona’s defense is pretty tough, but not so tough that the Buffs can’t figure out at least one way to score. If the receivers can start getting open, or the o-line can give sophomore quarterback Steven Montez enough time, maybe we can finally see something click on this offense.

I see Colorado winning this one, but I don’t have a lot of confidence saying it. If the Wildcats come out on top, which they have a strong chance of doing, this might be the last time I have Colorado favored this season (save for Oregon State.) This pivotal game could easily go either way, but I’ll let my optimist hopes have one more win over my pessimist concerns.

Final score: Colorado 27, Arizona 21

Alex Pepper, sports staff writer: The Buffs couldn’t quite get it done last weekend, losing a hard-fought battle to UCLA at the Rose Bowl, 27-23.  Despite a deceiving 3-2 record, the Buffs have now lost two straight games to Pac-12 opponents. The Buffaloes get a chance for redemption this week, and will look to salvage their unsightly 0-2 conference record against an Arizona team that has also yet to win a Pac-12 matchup. 

The Wildcats will be no pushovers though – their quarterback Brandon Dawkins is a dual threat who actually has more carries than any of Arizona’s running backs and is averaging nearly seven yards a carry.  However, Arizona’s passing offense is seriously lacking. They average below 200 yards a game through the air.  If the Buffs can hone in on Dawkins and force him to air it out, they should be able to stop this offense in its tracks.

The offense for the Buffs looked better last week, as Steven Montez rushed for over 100 yards and Phillip Lindsay did his fair share. The key this week will be Montez’ completion percentage, as he only completed 17-of-36 against the Bruins.  

He’ll need to raise that percentage if he wants to extend drives and lead the Buffs into the end zone. While the steady foot of freshman kicker James Stefanou is certainly not a bad thing, the Buffaloes will be looking to come away with seven points more often than three. Stefanou kicked two field goals in the second half of the UCLA game that still left the Buffs trailing.

Surely, a touchdown on either of those drives would’ve swung the game in their favor and put more pressure on the Bruins. It’s worth noting that CU was able to best the Wildcats last year, winning in a landslide, 49- 24The Buffs, who have already matched their regular season loss total from last season, have a fire lit under them. I see the Buffs getting their first in conference win this week. I think the defense will hold up and the offense will be efficient.

I have CU getting it done at home.

Final score: Colorado 37, Arizona 17

Jack Stern, sports staff writer: Out of all the teams in the Pac-12, the Arizona Wildcats are perhaps the most overlooked. Despite the Cats 2-2 record, both losses came by less than a touchdown.

Their defense looks like they’ve turned over a new leaf under second year defensive coordinator Marcel Yates. Particularly, they’ve really done a great job of stopping the run, ranking 4th in the Pac-12 in rush defense. True freshman Tony Fields II has been a surprise standout at linebacker, leading the team in tackles.

On offense, quarterback Brandon Dawkins is a true run threat, and J.J. Taylor and Nick Wilson are arguably the best running back duo in the Pac-12. They should do a good job keeping the Buffs guessing. Slot guys Shun Brown and Tony Ellison need to elevate their play to make this offense multidimensional, and thus more explosive.

Last weekend, the Buffaloes lost a close game to the UCLA Bruins where they did a good job containing quarterback Josh Rosen, for the most part. Their struggles on offense —lackluster play at offensive line and wide receiver — seem to be a commonality this season. A major key to winning the game Saturday will be getting Phillip Lindsay going once and for all. Allowing the legs of Montez and Lindsay to control the game has been an effective mechanism in disguising the Buffs weak points.

Overall, I see the Buffs pulling this game out at home. The Wildcats’ struggles with turning the ball over has killed them thus far, and it will doom them against a Buffs defense that has forced a turnover in every game. If Arizona’s defense can hold their own, protect the ball on offense, and allow the run game to dominate, there’s no question that they win. Unfortunately for Wildcats fans, I don’t see this happening. I expect the Buffs to continue their turnover streak on defense, while using the play-action to consistently move the ball down the field and control the TOP.

Final score: Colorado 28, Arizona 21

Zoe Rath, sports staff writer: Arizona’s is 2-2 on the season coming into this weekend, while the Buffs are 3-2 after a hard loss to UCLA.

Montez played well, having rushed over 100 yards. However, his completion rate was below 50 percent. He was a little squirly because the offensive line didn’t protect him, and when he got out of the pocket there were some drops and senseless incompletions.  

Lindsay sparked the offense and had the team’s only touchdowns. But he only had 83 yards on the night, which is the third time out of the five games he hasn’t cracked 100. But what is so interesting about these two performances is that UCLA’s defense isn’t as good as the scores show. Neither is Arizona’s, so there should be no reason why Montez and Lindsay don’t have a great game on Saturday night.

But Arizona has a weapon in Brandon Dawkins. The Wildcats had a tough loss to Utah last week, but Dawkins led the charge on offense. The junior leads Arizona in rushing yards, at 341, and has the most touchdowns so far this season, at six. He can do it all on offense and the only way the Buffs will handily win is if the defense contains him. More importantly, if Dawkins sees an open hole, the Buffs have to make sure he doesn’t take it, because if he does he will take full advantage.

Let’s see what the Buffs can do in a crucial game for their postseason hopes.

Final Score: Colorado 38, Arizona 28.

Drew Sharek, sports staff writer: The Buffaloes are heading back to Folsom as 6.5 point favorites against Arizona, but have yet to win a conference game at this point. This Colorado defense was outplayed by Josh Rosen and the UCLA offense, and now have a different test against this Arizona team, which is also looking for its first conference win.

A big key for Colorado will be to win the battle in the trenches, something that they’ve had a hard time accomplishing. The Wildcats have a great offensive line consisting of three seniors, and they’ve allowed the least amount of sacks in the Pac-12 to this point. Considering Colorado’s pass rush hasn’t been effective, for the most part, Arizona has the leg up on the Buffs in this department.

This Arizona team however, isn’t like what the Buffs faced last week in Pasadena. Unlike the Bruins, the Wildcats rely heavily on their ground game. Junior quarterback Brandon Dawkins is a dual-threat quarterback who averages more on the ground than he does in the air. Because of Dawkins’ talents, Arizona frequently runw the spread option offense alongside his two threats at tailback, J.J. Taylor and Nick Wilson.

It’s a unique test for Colorado, and they’ll need to be able to stop the run if they want a chance to get their first Pac-12 win of the season. The Linebackers, particularly juniors Drew Lewis and Rick Gamboa, are going to be the key components defensively this Saturday.

At the end of the day, I think Colorado will prove too much for Arizona. Phillip Lindsay is due for a breakout game and he’ll likely carry the Buffaloes to a much needed victory. But don’t underestimate the Wildcat — they have the potential to cover themselves. I would suggest that you simply take Colorado to only win outright.

Colorado 27, Arizona 21

Yama Radtke, sports staff writer: This next game for the Colorado Buffaloes against the Arizona Wildcats is going to be a critical one. If the Buffs ever needed a conference win, right now would be the time. The Buffaloes opened up the 2017 season with three straight wins over non-conference teams, and then lost to conference rivals Washington and UCLA. If the Buffaloes fall to 0-3 in conference play, then it will be an uphill climb from here on out.

The Buffaloes and the Wildcats are in the same boat right now. The wins that both teams have accumulated have not been particularly impressive, and against conference opponents they have struggled.

I even see some similarities between the quarterbacks of the teams when facing quality opponents from the Pac-12. Buffs quarterback Steven Montez threw three interceptions against the Washington Huskies, including a pick six. Against Utah, Brandon Dawkins, the quarterback for the Wildcats, threw three interceptions a well.

Considering this, I really can see this game going either way. Both teams are not playing their best football, are looking for a conference win and are in a desperate battle to stay relevant. I’m looking forward to this game, mainly because both of these teams are just trying to stay afloat and save their seasons.

I am going to pick Colorado to win this one simply because of their defense. Everyone agrees that the offense is struggling mightily, but the Buffaloes defense has shown me that they still have the ability to produce turnovers. In the last two games, the Buffs have picked off both Josh Rosen and Jake Browning — two outstanding quarterbacks that will definitely be taken in the NFL draft.

So I am confident that the Buffaloes will be able to force Dawkins to make errant throws, and put the offense in a position to capitalize off those mistakes.

I have the Buffs winning this one.

Final score: Colorado 31, Arizona 24

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Kyle Rini at kyle.rini@colorado.edu

Contact sports writer Jack Stern at jack.stern@colorado.edu

Contact sports writer Zoe Rath at zoe.rath@colorado.edu

Contact sports writer Alex Pepper at alex.pepper@colorado.edu

Contact sports writer Drew Sharek at drew.sharek@colorado.edu

Contact sports writer Yama Radtke at yama.radtke@colorado.edu

CU Independent

The CU Independent, or CUI for short, is the student news outlet for the University of Colorado at Boulder. We cover news, sports, politics, opinion, arts and entertainment and more. Our mission is to provide news and commentary that's for students and by students — about the things we care about.

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