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Arizona vs. Colorado: Expert breaks down the Buffaloes

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Jack Barsch of Ralphie Report previews the Buffaloes for us

Northern Colorado v Colorado Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats are set to travel to Boulder, Colorado this weekend to take on the Colorado Buffaloes in a Saturday showdown.

The Wildcats are 2-2 (0-1 Pac-12), while the Buffaloes sit at 3-2 (0-2 Pac-12).

To learn more about Arizona’s opponent, we asked our friends at Ralphie Report some questions about Colorado.

Their writer Jack Barsch answered them.

Here we go:

The Buffs won the Pac-12 South last year, but are currently 0-2 in the Pac-12. What's gone wrong?

Gone wrong is a strong term. Not many expected CU to beat Washington, though many expected it to be closer. And while the UCLA result is (always) disappointing, it also was a tossup game, even before the season.

Basically, CU has faced two of the five toughest teams on their schedule early and they aren't the same team as last year. The 2016 Buffs won their games through amazing grit, determination, and a salty, experienced defense.

Well, most of the defense graduated (and the coaches left), Sefo Liufau graduated, and the team has to find itself. CU has yet to play up to expectations in any game this year, which either means the expectations were too high or CU still has a lot of growth.

The lauded offense has yet to take off (if it will at all). Luckily, they are entering the easier part of the schedule.

Losing some key players on both sides of the ball (especially on defense), was Colorado expected to take a step back this season?

They were by the realistic members of the fanbase. Almost everyone realizes how rare a season like last year's is. From one conference win to eight will not happen again for quite a while. To maintain that would've required great recruiting (which was unattainable), staff consistency (which was unrealistic), and/or player leadership better than last year's (which is also unrealistic).

The general expectation this year was solid growth as a program. The record won't be the same as last year's, and the team will be more frustrating, but the overall talent level should be higher and if they make a bowl, the positive momentum continues. Those goals are still in place, but fans have started to sweat it a little bit.

What are CU's strengths and weaknesses?

Let's start with the weaknesses first. For some reason, an offensive line that returns 4/5 starters and has three seniors starting is not nearly as solid as the line last year. They have shuffled the line multiple times trying to spark something, but the results stay the same. Obviously, this is not good news for the offense. Everything revolves around OL play, and when you can't block, it gets harder to pass and run.

This lackluster play from the line helps explain the offensive woes from a team that was expected to explode on that side of the ball.

Defensively, I would say that the main weaknesses is the lack of size up front. CU has some big bodies there, but they are missing the elite size that USC and Washington have.

Now, let's move to strengths before I go on a rant. The entire defense as a whole is much better than anyone thought possible. This team lost a lot of talent and experience on that side, as well as three coaches, and it keeps plugging away.

The secondary remains solid, Isaiah Oliver is a top-flight corner, and the safeties are versatile and aggressive. Drew Lewis has been a revelation at MLB, and he leads the team in tackles, QB hurries, run stops, and TFLs. I would expect that he spies Brandon Dawkins all game long. The young talent has proven much more solid than expected and it gives a lot of people hope for the 2018 team.

Offensively, I'll save my poetic waxing about Steven Montez for his question. Phillip Lindsay remains the absolute man, and he can hurt a defense in multiple ways. Arizona will have to contain him to win.

What's your opinion of Steve Montez? The numbers suggest he's struggled in Pac-12.

I could go on and on about this, but I'll keep it short — Montez is a very different quarterback than the last 15-20 years of CU QBs. Under Gary Barnett in the early 2000s, the quarterbacks were smart game managers like Bobby Pesavento and Joel Klatt who could throw play-action passes (the short lived experiment with Craig Ochs did not work). Under Dan Hawkins (*shudder*), the QBs were coaches' sons and then Tyler Hansen, who may be the closest to Montez. Cody Hawkins was a pure pocket passer who threw a lot of balls and Hansen was a mobile QB who manly threw. There was no plan for the QBs under Jon Embree.

Under Mike MacIntyre, the only QB we know is Sefo Liufau, who was essentially a fullback who could throw the ball really well. He threw ducks and his arm strength wasn't great, but he was mobile and used in the running game a lot.

Now we get to Montez. Somehow, CU was his only Power Five offer until he camped with Oklahoma State. He is the most physically gifted CU quarterback since Kordell Stewart (which half-sad and half-exciting). He's 6'5, has a rocket attached to his torso on the right side, and can run like a deer. He's brash, confident, and doesn't mind taking hits. Fans were understandably excited. Through five games, he has shown his absolute potential and also shown how much he has to grow.

The good news is that he's gotten better every game. In the non-conference schedule, his timing was off with receivers and he was trying to force too many throws downfield. In the game against UNC, he finally found the middle of the field and started zinging his bullets in the intermediate game.

Then Washington came to town.

He started out just fine, with one interception hitting his receiver on the numbers before bouncing off his pads and another in the back of the end zone near the end of the half. But he started forcing it. Looking long before looking short a little too often. His pick-6 was a classic young QB mistake. The coverage changed right before the snap and he locked onto his receiver the whole time.

Now, in the UCLA game, he was mostly magic. Darts on the run, fantastic QB keepers, and finally hitting some deep balls. That's the Steven Montez that was expected. If CU receivers don't drop two ABSOLUTE DIMES in the end zone, that game is CU's.

Now, I say all of this to say that, in my opinion, Montez is maddeningly full of potential. He is different that anything CU fans have seen in this decade. But because of what he can be, sometimes his bonehead mistakes are excruciating. I expect that he will improve dramatically as the season goes on, and while his numbers aren't great, they will improve as he faces secondaries that aren't UW.

Is Montez healthy?

As healthy as a QB in this offense can be. I'm sure Arizona fans can attest, but when you do power runs with a QB, he gets beat up.

Who are some other players to watch?

On defense, Isaiah Oliver is must-see TV once again, as he is a legitimate first-round NFL Draft prospect. He is athletic, smart, tough, and glue to receivers. Watch Drew Lewis (No. 20) in the middle of the field if you want to see a freak athlete who plays downhill, and if you're a huge football nerd, watch Rick Gamboa next to him (No. 32). He will diagnose a play correctly 90 percent of the time, it really is fun to watch him fill the correct hole every time.

Finally, Evan Worthington (No. 6) is a unique player. He is a freak athlete at 6'3 and 210, and he's one of the fastest players on the field.

On offense, Steven Montez (No. 12) is fun to watch, and Phillip Lindsay (No. 23) should be familiar to Wildcat fans. There are not many new players on that side of the ball. Look for receivers Juwann Winfree (No. 9) and Laviska Shenault (No. 8) to get some run this week, as they have played well and are brimming with talent.

Finally, if you like watching throwback players, watch George Frazier (No. 5). He plays both sides of the ball at FB and DE, and he does both pretty well. He is invaluable as an extra blocker.

How are Colorado fans feeling about facing Arizona? What are the keys to the game for Colorado?

This is a must-win game, no doubt about it. From the outside looking in, Arizona should be a win, especially because the secondary should not be challenged much this game. CU CANNOT start 0-3 in conference, and this team will be pissed off. Basically, CU fans think this is a game that should be won comfortably.

The number one key to this game is scoring every time they have the ball. CU has to get the offense going, not just for this game, but for the whole year. I expect them to come out faster pace-wise than they have throughout the year. They will be looking to score early and often.

Defensively, they will more than likely leave the CBs in one-on-one coverage and stack the box. I'm sure Arizona is used to this, but they will dare Dawkins to throw, and throw deep. Stopping Dawkins on outside runs will be key. I'm still terrified of Nick Wilson.

Prediction?

Colorado comes out angry and wins this one early. They then hang on to the end. 31-24.


Bonus question: Was the ball out of Sabatino Chen’s hand?

I cannot stress enough that this should not be a question. THERE IS DEFINITIVE PROOF THAT THE BALL WAS OUT OF SABATINO’S HAND. The refs just didn't want their tires slashed at the arena. It's ridiculous that people think otherwise. Ugh. Now I'm all worked up again. Thanks.


Thanks again to Jack for answering our questions about Colorado. Check out RalphieReport.com for Colorado-based coverage on this week’s game, and you can follow Jack on Twitter at @JackBarsch