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Fast Five: Keys For Buffs At Arizona

Sep 29, 2022
Deion Smith is averaging nearly 6 yards per carry this season.

TUCSON, Ariz. — Colorado coach Karl Dorrell is 2-0 against Arizona as the Buffaloes' head coach, and his CU teams have put together that streak by succeeding in all facets of the game.

In 2020, the Buffs rushed for 407 yards in a 24-13 victory in Tucson. Last season, they won with a strong passing game, good special teams and solid defense — 248 yards in the air, a blocked punt return for a touchdown and an interception return for a score in a 34-0 whitewashing of the Wildcats in Boulder.

Now, the Buffs (0-4 overall, 1-1- Pac-12) head to Tucson on Saturday to try to make it three in a row against Jedd Fisch's Wildcats (2-2, 0-1) in a 7:30 p.m. game at Arizona Stadium (Pac-12 Networks). 

If the Buffs are indeed going to keep their streak alive, they will need to shore up all three areas in order to collect a win against an improved Arizona team.

Colorado's offense has yet to find any kind of consistency, scoring two touchdowns only once in four games. Aside from the first half of the first game of the year, the Buffs' defense has yet to put together a reasonable string of consecutive stops.

And, while the special teams have been solid, the Buffs could use one of those momentum-shifting moments from that group — say a blocked kick or a big return.

The question mark is consistency. While the Buffs did have some positive moments in last week's 45-17 loss to UCLA — most notably a solid starting debut from freshman quarterback Owen McCown — the next step is turning those moments into long stretches.

What must the Buffs do in order to manufacture some of the missing consistency?

Our keys for this week's game:

1. Run the ball with authority. When Dorrell's teams have rushed for at least 175 yards, the Buffaloes are 5-2. 

The Wildcats have struggled stopping the run this season. In UA's 49-31 loss to Cal last week, the Bears nearly tripled their season average, rushing for 354 yards. That included 274 yards from Jaydn Ott, who scampered for scoring runs of 73, 72 and 18 yards.

Colorado's run game has not founds its legs this year. The Buffs haven't rushed for more than 136 yards in four games — but they have had their moments. Deion Smith has run for 175 yards on 30 carries, a healthy 5.83 yards per attempt. Charlie Offerdahl has also shown the ability to pick up some tough yards, and freshman Anthony Hankerson showed promise in his debut last weekend.

This week, the Buffs have to get a push up front early, take control of the line of scrimmage and get some legs under their run game. If they can do that, it will build confidence, quiet the home crowd and give the Buffs some much-needed momentum.

2. Get pressure on quarterback Jayden de Laura. Arizona's QB can sling it. The Washington State transfer has already thrown for 1,149 yards and eight touchdowns.

But he has also already thrown six interceptions. When he's under duress, he can be forced to make errant throws. 

Colorado has just one interception this year and only three quarterback sacks. The Buffs may have to take some chances on defense in order to increase those sack numbers, or at least get constant pressure on de Laura.

If they can do that, it will greatly increase the chances of an interception or two — and as a result, give their offense some extra opportunities and perhaps some momentum.

3. Give McCown a chance to succeed early. This doesn't mean the Buffs have to open the game heaving the ball downfield.

It does mean they have to establish some rhythm early by running the ball and mixing in a short passing game.

McCown was sacked five times last week by UCLA. Forced to play catchup, Colorado had to throw and the Bruins brought pressure from every angle imaginable.

Expect more of the same from the Wildcats. They are well aware they will be seeing a freshman quarterback, and they will no doubt do their best to rattle him early and often.

The Buffs need to do everything possible to limit those moments.

4. Get on the board early. In four games, Colorado has scored a total of three points in the first quarter. They have had their chances, but simply haven't cashed in. 

That has to change. CU can't afford to keep trying to play catchup. The Buffs have to cross the goal line in the first quarter and put some pressure on the Wildcats to respond.

CU has led only once this season, a 3-0 lead on TCU in the first quarter of the opening game. TCU scored a go-ahead touchdown early in the second quarter and the Buffs haven't managed to take the lead in any game at any point since.

5. Have a short memory. When difficult times start to snowball over the course of weeks, it's no doubt hard to remain confident.

But the Buffs have to forget September and start anew in October. Saturday presents an opportunity against an improved team — but one that still has its issues as well.

Colorado has to punch the Wildcats early and shift the confidence crisis to the UA sidelines. If the Buffs do that, they can be in the game down the stretch.