With a quarter of their season now gone, the Arizona Wildcats (3-1, 1-0) will travel north to Boulder this weekend to play the Colorado Buffaloes, in a matchup of the two teams tied for first place in the Pac-12 South.
Having won three straight games, the Wildcats will gain sole possession of first place in the division with a win over the Buffs (3-1, 1-0), but may be without the services of two of their most important offensive players for the clash, quarterback Khalil Tate and running back J.J. Taylor.
Tate (ankle, hamstring) and Taylor (ankle) both missed the UA’s narrow 20-17 win over UCLA, and in his weekly presser on Monday head coach Kevin Sumlin had no update on the duo’s availability for this weekend.
While Tate and Taylor’s backups, Grant Gunnell (352 yards and a touchdown) and Bam Smith (134 total yards) both excelled in the win over the Bruins, going on the road and doing the same is a new challenge entirely for the two freshmen.
Because of this uncertainty, the Wildcats’ defense will once again be the key to their success.
Arizona’s D has been much improved in its last two games after a rough start to the season: allowing an average of just 15.5 points against Texas Tech and UCLA, compared to 43.5 ppg against Hawaii and NAU.
Even more impressive is the fact that Marcel Yates’ unit did not allow a point in the fourth quarter against either the Red Raiders or the Bruins – both games that they were losing entering the fourth.
This improved defensive play will be need to continue this weekend, on the road against a solid Colorado team that is averaging more than 450 yards a game.
Prior to Saturday’s 1:30 p.m. MST kickoff, several Arizona players met with the media to discuss what they’ve seen from Colorado so far and what changes with the possibility of playing without two of the team’s biggest stars.
Here is the best of what they said.
Arizona wide receiver Brian Casteel on Colorado’s defense: “I know that they’re a good disciplined, defense. We’re just gonna have to go out of there and play and do our job. If everybody does their job, all 11, we should be fine.”
Casteel on if he’s noticed anything on film that he feels the Wildcats can take advantage of: “I know that they’re a little bigger in the secondary. So that usually means that they’re not as fast and I know that one of the things that we bank on is speed in the receiver room. So I think like using our speed will definitely will help a lot.”
Casteel on the differences between playing wideout with Gunnell at QB compared to Tate: “I know that Khalil likes to utilize his legs a lot. Say the pocket crashes or anything I know Khalil is gonna scramble out, so I always have to stay alive. Grant’s not afraid to use his legs as well, but I know Khalil can run better. I guess you can say that I treat them both the same, I just try to stay alive for them.”
Arizona offensive lineman Cody Creason on what he’s seen from Colorado: “I‘ve watched a little bit of film and I know they’re big and physical up front, they have been for the last couple years. I would say they’re really sound on defense. They all really do their assignment well and hold their gaps well.”
Creason on what offensive line has to do to be successful against the Buffaloes: “Just be physical so that we can run the ball effectively, and then improve on little things with all of our technique. I think that will help us in our pass protection game as well.”
Creason on the difference between protecting a running QB like Tate compared to a more traditional pocket passer like Gunnell: “There’s pros and cons to each one. I wouldn’t say one’s better than the other, but each one has their positives and negatives.”
Creason on difficulties of playing on the road: “We use a similar snap count at home and on the road, so I don’t think it will be too much of an adjustment. It’s a little harder to communicate with each other obviously if you can’t hear each other well, but other than that, there’s not too much of a difference.”
Arizona defensive tackle Finton Connolly on the biggest threat Colorado possesses on offense: “Definitely quarterback Steven Montez. He’s a good pocket quarterback, but he can also run the ball when he needs to. So the defensive line definitely needs to make sure that we contain him and keep our gap integrity as a line.”
Connolly on preparing to play a duel threat quarterback: “I think we will prepare the same way, even knowing that he can be a running quarterback at any moment. We’re just going to contain him and make sure, whatever it is, three man rush or four man rush, just make sure that he doesn’t get out of those gaps. Because he’ll take it to the house.”
Connolly on if the Wildcats have something to prove playing without Tate and Taylor: “Even if those guys are in there we’re still proving something, you know. It’s unfortunate they weren’t out there (against UCLA). We’d love to have them out there against Colorado but the guys who were in there, Grant Gunnell, he showed up. He did what he had to do, he got the win for us, he had a terrific game. So if he’s out there this week too I expect him to do the same thing.”
Connolly on playing on grass as opposed to turf: “I think there’s a big difference. If they let that grass grow, you feel like you’re slower on that grass especially if it gets wet. You start slipping on that grass. It takes a little bit of time (to adjust), but you’ve just got to deal with what you’ve got.”
Arizona defensive end JB Brown on Colorado: “They play hard. I mean, they’re Pac 12 so the guys are going to come out hard. They’ve got a great crowd, a few playmakers. Steven Montez is tough quarterback. They’re a good team and we have to come to play on Saturday.”
Brown on the biggest keys for the UA’s defense: “Create turnovers, limit the big plays and just play our brand of football.”
Arizona safety Scottie Young Jr. on what he’s seen from Colorado’s offense on film: “They have really good athletes at receiver. Obviously you know they’ve got Laviska (Shenault Jr), they’ve got K.D. (Nixon) and (Tony) Brown. So they have some pretty good receivers. They’ve got a quarterback with a really strong arm. He’s a veteran. They’ve got some veteran guys and guys who can make plays.”
Young on the keys for the UA’s defense this weekend: “We just tackle, communicate and fly to the ball like we’ve been doing.”
Young on the possibility of Gunnell making his first career road start: “I think Grant’s gonna be Mr. Prepared. He got out there against UCLA and he did his thing, I mean obviously it was at home and it’s gonna be different going to Colorado with kind of a hostile environment, but he’s gonna have his teammates and his coaches there for him and we’re going to have his back.”
Young on what Arizona needs to change to have success on the road: “There’s nothing that we need to change, I just think we need to create our own energy. Just realize it’s just like playing at home. There’s nothing different. At the end of the day, we just have to do what our coaches teach us to to, and play within our scheme and we’ll be fine.”
Defensive end Kylan Wilborn on what Arizona needs to do to play better on the road: “Energy. When you’re on the road, when you’re in a hostile environment, you don’t have that ZonaZoo behind you, the sideline is very important. Guys that aren’t in, we need to be up supporting them. We need to generate a home hype on the road and just keep that going. Once we have hype around us and we’re all positive and we’re focused, I don’t think anyone can mess with us.”