Buffaloes buckle up for primetime in Arizona
Colorado hits the road for the final time in the regular season, holding on to control of the Pac-12 Conference South Division.
The 15th-ranked Buffaloes (7-2, 5-1) are a half-game ahead of 5-2 USC. Utah, at 4-2 in the league, is the only other team that can catch the Colorado in the division.
The Buffs, coming off a 20-10 victory over UCLA, visit struggling Arizona (2-7, 0-6) on Saturday night, beginning at 10 p.m. ET in Tucson, Ariz. The Wildcats are the last winless Pac-12 team in conference play and they have lost six in a row for the first time since 2004.
“We have to try to get that good feeling back. Now we have to try to make someone else's season bad, or at least put a dent in their season,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said, talking about what motivates his team for the final three games.
“That's all you have to do. And if you're a competitor, you'll play.”
Colorado is looking to complete a worst-to-first finish in the South after placing last in each of Mike MacIntyre's first three seasons. Colorado won only two Pac-12 games in the coach's first three seasons.
The Buffaloes have already clinched a spot in a bowl game for the first time since 2007.
“We're always thinking Pac-12 champions,” wide receiver Bryce Bobo said. “That's what we were thinking even before the season started.”
After playing last Thursday, CU had a couple extra days to prepare for Arizona, which lost 69-7 at Washington State on Saturday.
The Wildcats allowed the Cougars to complete 47 of 52 passes, but Colorado takes a more balanced approach to offense and can attack on the ground or through the air.
When the Buffs run for 100 or more yards in a game, they win. Colorado has rushed for 247, 260, 260, 263, 315, 224 and 144 yards in its victories, while being held to 64 and 96 in its two losses. Arizona, with a small front line and injuries at linebacker, are 97th nationally against the run, allowing 202.8 yards per game.
Colorado running back Phillip Lindsay has 818 rushing yards, averaging 5.7 per carry. His 10 rushing touchdowns are the most in a season for the Buffs since 2010.
Colorado senior quarterback Sefo Liufau is ready to make his 36th career start, which would set a school record. He had thrown a school-record of 152 consecutive passes without an interception before having two passes picked off against UCLA.
Wide receiver Shay Fields leads the Buffaloes with 602 receiving yards, while Devin Ross has a team-high 45 catches.
“They're very explosive at wideout,” Rodriguez said. “They probably have some of the fastest wideouts in the league.
“Their quarterback is an experienced guy, and they do a good job up front. They've changed it a little bit over the last couple of years. They're more spread and they'll get them out wide more times, and they're more up tempo.”
Arizona, which has scored just 31 points in the past three games, might be headed toward a return of Anu Solomon as the starting quarterback.
Solomon missed six games because of a knee injury after the season-opener, but he played a couple of series two weeks ago in a loss to Stanford and played about half the game in relief of Brandon Dawkins on Saturday.
Solomon, the starter in 2014 and 2015, completed 9 of 13 passes for 122 yards and a touchdown last week. He is the better passer; Dawkins the superior runner. Rodriguez said Monday he'll play both against Colorado.
Arizona's quarterbacks will be going against a Colorado defense that is 10th nationally in passing yards allowed (179.3) and features standouts such as cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie and Ahkello Witherspoon, and safety Tedric Thompson.
Arizona also will continue with converted wide receiver Samajie Grant at running back. He has started the past two games there because of attrition at the position. He has rushed 27 times for 141 yards in the past two weeks.
The Buffs finish with home games against Washington State and Utah, two ranked teams who remain in the hunt for the conference title. Colorado's November is off to a good start with a 1-0 record.
“We call these the gold games because this gets you gold,” MacIntyre said. “We want to keep moving in that direction. We're 1-0 in our gold games and we want to make it 2-0 if we can.”