Arizona Wildcats vs. Colorado Buffaloes: Complete Game Preview
The Arizona Wildcats return to the road after a brief trip home, facing Colorado on Saturday in a Pac-12 South game.
Arizona (4-2, 1-2) is coming off a 35-24 win over Utah, rallying from a 21-20 deficit with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns. Colorado (3-3, 0-3) rolled to a 43-10 win over FCS opponent Charleston Southern (7-1) at home, a game the Buffaloes added midseason to replace a weather-canceled game against Fresno State.
Colorado holds a 13-2 edge in the all-time series with Arizona, but most of those meetings came prior to 1960. Since Colorado joined the Pac-12 three years ago, the teams have split, with both winning at home. Arizona beat the Buffs 56-31 in Tucson last November, while Colorado scored a 48-29 decision over the Wildcats in 2011.
When: Saturday, Oct. 26, 8 p.m.
Where: Folsom Field, Boulder, Colo.
TV: Pac-12 Network
Radio: Arizona IMG Radio Network; KOA (Colorado)
Line: Arizona is ranging from a 14-to-17-point favorite in various Las Vegas sports books, according to VegasInsider.com.
Arizona's Keys to Victory
Colorado starts each of its games at Folsom Field with a tradition that involves the unleashing of an enormous Buffalo, known as Ralphie, who runs out with the players in a very intimidating fashion.
It's kind of the way Arizona tailback Ka'Deem Carey ran all over Colorado last November in Tucson. Carey rushed for a Pac-12 record 366 yards and five touchdowns in the Wildcats' 56-31 victory, and all signs point to Carey getting another hefty load of work this weekend.
The junior, who led FBS in rushing last season and is No. 1 nationally again this season at 161 yards per game, is fresh off a 39-carry, 232-yard performance against Utah.
While Colorado is (slightly) better at defending the run than the pass, expect Arizona to hand it off to Carey as often as possible.
Diffuse the bombs
Colorado has thrown 11 touchdown passes in six games, which isn't that big a number. What is big, though, is how long most of those TDs have been.
Starting quarterback Connor Wood is averaging 43.9 yards per touchdown pass, while top receiver Paul Richardson's six TD catches are going for 55 yards a pop. Richardson even has a 75-yard TD pass of his own on a trick play, while he's also caught a 60-yard bomb by backup QB Sefo Liufau.
Bottom line: When Colorado throws, it throws deep. If Arizona can stay disciplined on deep routes it will take away a key weapon for the Buffaloes.
Give the crowd what they don't want
It's Homecoming in Boulder, and the fans will also be wearing pink to honor Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The Homecoming game is supposed to always be a win for the home team—Arizona had the Buffaloes in for its festivities in 2012, and won by 25—and there's an expectation from the crowd to have a good showing.
For Arizona, it just needs to go about its game and pretend like there's nothing extra riding on the evening, which for them is true.
Nothing hurts worse than losing on Homecoming.
Colorado's Keys to Victory
Make Arizona throw
With Ka'Deem Carey in the backfield, expecting Arizona to come out and throw on every down like many Pac-12 teams is just foolish.
Instead, Colorado has to try and make the Wildcats throw the ball, which is their weakness. Arizona quarterback B.J. Denker has had one good game, throwing for 363 yards and four touchdowns in a loss at USC, while the rest of his outings have been under 200 yards.
Denker is most dangerous when running, though, so if Colorado keys on all facets of the rush and essentially keeps its defensive backs out on an island, it might pay off.
Feed off the past
The 40-plus lettermen back from Colorado's 2012 team are well aware of how much Carey ran all over the Buffaloes last season. First-year coach Mike MacIntyre told beat reporters if he had been part of that team he'd have been "embarrassed and would want to redeem myself."
So, the motivational part of MacIntyre's game plan for Saturday is already locked in.
Revenge is one of the best motivators, and it's no secret the Buffaloes will try to feed off the bitter memories of 2012.
Get the ball to Paul
Colorado junior Paul Richardson is very likely going to finish this year having put together the most prolific receiving season in school history. With 43 catches, he's on pace to best the single-season mark of 86; his 130.3 receiving yards per game puts him in line to break the school record for receiving yards with three games remaining and if he keeps catching TDs, he'll top the Colorado record of 11 in a season.
Arizona must minimize Richardson's impact if it wants to control the game. With the junior doing almost nothing but catching deep passes, he has the ability to flip the field in a flash.
Arizona Players to Watch
While Ka'Deem Carey is the focus of Arizona's offense, B.J. Denker is the X-factor. If he doesn't have a good game, Arizona will struggle.
Carey gets his yards, no matter the result. But it's Denker, who got his first-ever start last year against Colorado, that will likely determine if Arizona wins or not. He's only averaging 162.7 passing yards per game, part of Arizona's 111th-ranked passing offense, but Denker also has a team-best eight touchdown runs, with at least one in five of the Wildcats' six games.
Shaquille Richardson is Arizona's tallest defensive back, which likely means he'll be covering Colorado deep threat Paul Richardson. That's both a good and bad thing.
Richardson's size should match up better than any of the Wildcats' other (smaller) corners, but he's also the one that seems to get burned the most in the passing game. He'll have to stick closely to Richardson and avoid letting him get behind the secondary.
Colorado Players to Watch
The true freshman "Mike" linebacker has stepped right into the middle of Colorado's defense, starting from the opening snap of the first game in August. Since then he's registered 67 tackles, including 44 unassisted takedowns.
To put that into perspective, Arizona's top tacklers (linebackers Jake Fischer and Scooby Wright) both have 40 total tackles.
If a play is going to be made on defense, expect Gillam to be involved in it.
This was not a concerted effort to mention Paul Richardson as many times as possible, he's just that central to how this game is going to go. The junior has averaged more than 30 yards on each of his touchdown passes for his career, while its 55 per TD this season.
If Richardson can get loose against an Arizona secondary that tends to get burned from time to time, Colorado will be in this game throughout.
What They're Saying
In his first season at Colorado, Mike MacIntyre is doing his best "woe is us" approach to talking about the Buffaloes following last year's 1-11 campaign. But he also knows when to inject a little humor into a tough impending situation, as was the case when asked this week about facing Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey, who rushed for a Pac-12 record 366 yards against the Buffs last November:
Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez is on letdown alert this week, hoping he can keep his players from feeling too full of themselves after knocking off Utah over the weekend. The Arizona Daily Star's Daniel Berk said Rodriguez preaches such after almost each victory:
“Confidence is OK. But there’s a difference between confidence and cockiness. We have a lot of ways to keep them humble. That’s the way we do things.”
Arizona played the spoiler last week, now has to avoid being spoiled.
The Wildcats' 35-24 win over Utah could easily be categorized as one of those letdown/trap games for visiting Utah, which was coming off an emotional upset victory over previously unbeaten Stanford the week before and looked almost uninterested at times against Arizona.
Now, Arizona must try to avoid a similar scenario, since it's coming off its first Pac-12 win of the season and hoping to get some momentum going after starting league play 0-2.
Colorado is much improved from last season, but in the Pac-12 it is still near the bottom of the pack. In three conference games the Buffaloes have been outscored 155-46, including a 57-16 home loss to Oregon three weeks ago.
This will be a high-scoring game, and the closest Colorado has played in the league this year, but the edge still goes to Arizona.
Prediction: Arizona 41, Colorado 31