There’s no rest for the weary, or for teams coming off their biggest win of the season. For the second time this fall, the Arizona Wildcats play on a Friday after a game the previous Saturday night when the Colorado Buffaloes come to Tucson.
There’s one big difference between this short turnaround and the last one, when Arizona was blown out 42-10 at Utah. This time the Wildcats didn’t have to go anywhere between games, while Colorado is forced to travel—and change time zones—while trying to get over an embarrassing home loss to Oregon State from last week.
The Buffaloes will also, no doubt, be thinking about what happened the last time they played Arizona. That was when Khalil Tate came off the bench for an injured Brandon Dawkins and proceeded to run for an FBS quarterback-record 327 yards in the Wildcats’ 45-42 victory in Boulder.
Barring a sudden return to that version of Tate, there won’t be a repeat performance this time around. But that doesn’t mean this matchup is lacking in storyline:
Keep the heat turned up
The past two games have seen Arizona’s defense show a much greater willingness to bring extra pressure in an effort to disrupt the pocket and fluster the quarterback.
That resulted in season highs in sacks (four) and tackles for loss (12) at UCLA and then against Oregon resulted in the Wildcats’ best defensive performance of the season on third down. Ducks QB Justin Herbert, a potential high draft pick in 2019, didn’t reach 100 passing yards until the fourth quarter.
Colorado junior Steven Montez isn’t as well-known as Herbert but he’s been just as effective this season. He’s thrown for 2,053 yards and 14 touchdowns (with four interceptions) and has run for 226 yards and four TDs but he’s also been sacked 16 times.
Arizona doesn’t have to bring Montez down to be successful with its pass rush as long as it does enough to force him into bad throws.
“I love when we bring pressure,” Arizona safety Tristan Cooper said. “Going into this next game, I hope we bring more pressure just to test us again.”
Running to victory
Arizona is first in the Pac-12 in rushing, averaging 205.3 yards per game, and its 5.08 yards per carry is also tops in the conference and 29th-best in FBS. Redshirt sophomore JJ Taylor has provided the bulk of that production, gaining 1,029 yards on 6.16 yards per carry.
Three of the Wildcats’ four victories have come when they’ve rushed for 200-plus yards, while all but one loss has come when that 200-yard mark isn’t breached.
Colorado ranks fifth in the conference in rushing defense, allowing 142 yards per game. Washington’s 201 yards on the ground two weeks ago is the top tally by a Pac-12 opponent.
Since very few college football coaches are up front about injuries anymore, we can only speculate if any or all of the key players banged up on Arizona or Colorado will play. The first real indication will come during pre-game warmups, which is a lot more indicative than anything else.
Just ask Oregon fans, who probably jumped for joy last Saturday when they saw on Twitter that Khalil Tate was in a walking boot on his way to Arizona Stadium only to see Tate warming up on the field not long after. Tate ended up starting, after missing the UCLA game the week before, his left ankle looking much better after the time off.
The significant players for Arizona who may or may not play Friday include running back Gary Brightwell and offensive lineman Bryson Cain. Both were injured against Oregon.
For Colorado, leading receiver Laviska Shenault has missed the past two games with a toe injury.
All quarters matter
Arizona has been a second half team all season, outscoring opponents 178-101 after halftime with a staggering 93-52 edge in the fourth quarter. That late surge has enabled the Wildcats to rally from bad first halves in several games and make the final score much more competitive.
What’s even better is having that kind of performance from the outset, which happened last week against Oregon when the Wildcats led 10-0 after the first quarter and were up 23-8 at the half.
Arizona is 3-1 when leading at halftime and 4-0 when scoring on its first offensive possession.
About last year …
Khalil Tate is nowhere near the same player who burst onto the national scene last October against Colorado, the start of a six-game run in which he ran for 1,207 yards and 11 touchdowns. He’s not even the same guy who was limited to 118 rushing yards and a TD in Arizona’s final three games last year.
At least that guy showed a willingness to run, something we’ve rarely seen from Tate this season. Some of that has to do with the left ankle injury that has bothered him almost all year, some has been the play-calling and some is just Tate no longer wanting to be defined by his legs.
But at least the idea of him taking off should be part of the game plan against Colorado, if only to keep the Buffaloes players and coaches shaking in their boots and having flashbacks.
“When I watched the tape of No. 14, I definitely had nightmares,” Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre said on the Pac-12 coaches teleconference earlier this week.
Though he’s only run for 138 yards in eight games this fall, with never more than 40 yards in a single contest, Tate still often rolls out on pass plays and that has frozen defenders who don’t know whether to prepare for a run or stick back in coverage.