With as bad as things have gotten for the Arizona Wildcats, the one constant in recent years has been being able to beat the Colorado Buffaloes. The UA has won three in a row in the series, taking seven of the last matchups with the only setback coming in 2016 when the Buffs won the Pac-12 South Division.
History might be repeating itself this year as Colorado sits at 3-0, winning both of its conference games as well as a non-league matchup with San Diego State despite having its third head coach in as many seasons.
To help us better understand what Colorado is doing right, we reached out to Jack Barsch of SB Nation sister site Ralphie Report. Below are his focused answers to our scattered questions.
To say Karl Dorrell has exceeded expectations is a major understatement. How has the former UCLA head coach, who had been in the NFL for 11 of the previous 12 years, managed to make such an immediate impact at Colorado?
You know, that’s a great question. Karl Dorrell has struck a great balance between changing things to fit himself and letting good things lie. Colorado only had a few weeks with its new coach before the world shut down due to COVID-19. We are just as surprised as you, or we were three weeks ago. Karl has found a great QB that everyone wrote off, a great RB that was buried on the depth chart one year ago and success with an offensive coordinator that was demoted just two years ago. Really, what I think we’re seeing is a baseline competence that hasn’t been in Boulder in a good long while. Or maybe we aren’t because I have no idea what that looks like!
Sam Noyer was playing safety a year ago, now he’s 3-0 as a starting quarterback. What does he bring to Colorado’s offense?
Sam Noyer is a completely unexpected success story. As a quarterback, his balanced approach to the game allows for CU to stay alive in any situation. He doesn’t have the best arm strength, but his timing has thrown guys open this year and he uses the middle of the field very well. He is a threat to run and has some of the toughness that Sefo Liufau brought to the position. Overall, he minimizes mistakes, makes tight throws over the middle of the field and can run when asked. He just does a good job keeping the engine running.
The Buffaloes lead the Pac-12 in time of possession, have only two turnovers in three games and have allowed just four sacks. Is the secret to their success just avoiding mistakes?
That is a large part of it. Frankly, that is a large part of Dorrell’s coaching philosophy, from what we’ve seen. I think Colorado has taken advantage of the opportunities that other teams give them, and their red zone scoring percentage is pretty important.
Which guys have been key to Colorado’s play on the defensive side of the ball?
Nate Landman is the obvious star. The Butkus Award semifinalist is a stud of a middle linebacker who always seems to make big plays. He has improved in coverage, but his happy place is still thumping RBs at the line of scrimmage. Mustafa Johnson at DE is another great player who can make plays when needed. Finally, in the secondary, Isaiah Lewis is another Dorrell success story. An unheralded recruit that had been passed over by two previous staffs is now thriving this year at safety. He shows when needed.
Prediction time. Can Colorado improve to 4-0 and stay in the hunt for the Pac-12 South title, or will Arizona end its program-record 10-game losing streak by beating the Buffs for the fourth straight time?
I think CU can win this game. The bad man Khalil Tate isn’t here to hurt CU anymore. Arizona could put Tom Brady at QB and he would do less damage to the Buffs than Tate did. Tate leaving, and CU’s sudden improvement, makes this a winnable game for the Buffs, and they take advantage.