On homecoming weekend in Tucson, the Arizona Wildcats will look to get bowl eligible.
After a heart breaking letdown in the Rose Bowl to UCLA, Arizona returns home to face the Colorado Buffaloes. Colorado is coming off a loss of its own, being shutout 48-0 at home against Stanford.
Colorado's defense has struggled to stop anybody so far this season, giving up a season-low 22 points in the season opener against Colorado State. The CU defense has given up at least 42 points in the last five games and in six of nine games this season.
The defense has many weaknesses, but a few bright spots. Colorado is giving up 204 yards rushing and 293 yards passing per game. While the Buffaloes have trouble stopping opposing passing attacks, they haven't shown a consistency in stopping the run either.
On the defensive front, Colorado has a pair of big bodies that have been standouts for the team. Chidera Uzo-Diribe and Will Pericak have combined for 60 tackles and eight sacks on the season. Together, they are enough to give the defensive line some push. It has been effective at times as it allows the other linemen to get to the quarterback as well.
The team's leading tackler is linebacker Derrick Webb. The junior has 58 tackles on the season and is a leader for the linebacker corp. There hasn't been much success with the linebacker position for Colorado this season, but Webb has been a bright point for the Buffs.
A main part of the defense is the secondary and Colorado's hasn't been very good this season. Terrel Smith has done what he can to hold the defense together, but the reality is that the Buffs have been beaten through the air over the course of the season and it has worn on the secondary.
By now, it is no secret that Arizona needs, and wants, to play well in this game, if nothing more than to prove to itself that the other five wins on the season weren't a fluke.
Regardless of who starts at quarterback for Arizona, the goal is simple. The Wildcats need to score points early and often, forcing Colorado to push the tempo and try to keep up. The pressure will be on the Arizona offense for most of the game, but Ka'Deem Carey should be able to find plenty of holes in order to keep the offense flowing smoothly.
Players to watch:
#1 LB, Derrick Webb – The junior has been the best defender for Colorado all season long. He has come up with big plays and keeps fighting until the final whistle. Look for his name to be called plenty of times on Saturday.
#41 DB Terrel Smith – Smith is a single bright point in the poor Buffalo secondary. He hits hard and has forced two fumbles already this season. He may be a factor if Arizona receivers are left unprotected.
#96 DL, Chidera Uzo-Diribe – The big defensive lineman is one of the few NFL prospects on the defense and leads the team with six sacks. He can be an issue for the Arizona offensive line that struggled to keep defenders from getting to the quarterback last week.
#83 DL, Will Pericak – The senior is as much a factor as Uzo-Diribe because of the balance that they bring each other. If the offensive line has to focus on stopping one, then it allows the other to get an easier path to the backfield.
Keys to the game:
1. Play within the offense: Arizona has been caught trying to play outside the offense a few times this season, with little success. The Wildcats should look to keep the play calling simple and focused against Colorado, saving some wrinkles for the final two games of the regular season.
2. Run the football: With no word on which quarterback will start until later in the week, it is clear that Arizona should be focusing on running the ball against a bad Colorado run defense. If the Wildcats give Carey 20+ carries, he should be looking at record numbers by the end of the day.
3. Protect the quarterback: Whether Matt Scott plays or not, the protection against UCLA wasn't great and it needs to be better against the Buffs. If Scott is behind center, the team will need to make sure he isn't hit. If Denker or Morrison is in the backfield, they will need some time to progress through the play.
4. Score early: The old saying goes that the longer the underdog stays in a fight, the more likely it is that it will win. Arizona needs to put up points early in the game and get Colorado on its heels. Colorado can't keep up on offense and Arizona can put the game away early with some quick scores.