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Behind enemy lines: Colorado brings ‘most valuable personnel’ defense to Arizona Stadium

The+Colorado+Buffaloes+and+the+Arizona+Wildcats+line+up+prior+to+the+snap+of+the+first+Wildcat+possession+of+the+game+at+Folsom+Field+in+Boulder%2C+Colorado+on+Saturday%2C+Oct.+17%2C+2015.
Emily Gauci

The Colorado Buffaloes and the Arizona Wildcats line up prior to the snap of the first Wildcat possession of the game at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colorado on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015.

Colorado went from a cellar dweller to possible Pac-12 South champion quick, so how do the Wildcats stack up against an up-and-coming team? We asked Justin Guerriero, head sports editor of the CU Independent, that question and more in this week’s edition of “Behind enemy lines.”

DW: What has changed so much between Colorado between this year and last year?

JG: In terms of the roster, not much at all. Heading into this year, Colorado lost its top receiver in Nelson Spruce and solid defensive backs in Ken Crawley and Jered Bell. Other than that, the roster is largely intact from last year.

The change has really come in the maturity and experience departments. Since head coach Mike MacIntyre took over the program preceding the 2013 season, the Buffaloes have slowly been closing the gap on Pac-12 Conference opponents. After losing two games in triple overtime in 2014, the Buffs lost four games in 2015 by a touchdown or less, including a 38-31 heartbreaking loss to Arizona at Folsom Field.

Now, in 2016, the kids that were new to the program, just as MacIntyre became head coach, are now men. This team has three years of disappointing results, blowout losses to Pac-12 powerhouses and countless could-have-won games under its belt. Those failures, and the lessons that they taught this team, have molded the Buffaloes into a force to be reckoned with.

Who has been Colorado’s MVP this season?

That’s a tough one. Individually, I’m not sure I could really pin it to one guy in particular. The defense as a whole might deserve that honor. The Buffs’ defensive 11 is the top overall defense in the Pac-12 and is the only squad allowing an average of less than 300 total offensive yards to enemy teams per game within the conference. There have been many games this season where the Buffaloes’ defense has really bailed out the offense and kept the team in the game. 

So, overall, that entire defense, which has seen tough injuries and has also experienced impressive help from guys lower on the depth chart, deserves an MVP award in the realm of Most Valuable Personnel.

Are you concerned at all that this is a trap game before Washington State?

On paper, I like what I see. I think the Buffaloes should be able to put up a Washington State-esque performance this Saturday. I don’t expect to see 69 points scored on the Wildcats defense, but still, Colorado should beat Arizona soundly.

The “trap” element to this game is real though. Worst case scenario is that CU is upset and its Pac-12 Championship hopes take a solid dent, especially with the Buffs’ two remaining contests being Wazzu and Utah.

Another bad scenario would be if the Buffaloes manage to slip away from Tucson with a win, but not a convincing one. In my mind, if the final score has the Wildcats within 21 points of the Buffaloes, that’d be somewhat of a confidence drainer for a Colorado team that’s played sloppy in recent weeks and needs a unquestionable, clean win here.

What is your biggest concern going into this matchup with the Wildcats? 

My biggest concern is that Colorado’s offense will start the game flat vs. Arizona. Colorado has managed just two offensive touchdowns in the last two games vs. Stanford and UCLA. There has been a lack of execution, bad penalties and a laundry list full of shortcomings and blown assignments. But wins are wins, I guess. 

Still, I do worry about the tone this game will set for the remaining two seasons. Seeing what Washington State did to Arizona last week, if the Buffs look shaky and play mediocre, it could have lasting ramifications on this team’s psyche. 

Prediction

The Buffaloes should win this game and win big. If senior quarterback Sefo Liufau looks good and the offense is clicking like it has in earlier wins this year, Colorado will win easily. I’ll say 45-21 Buffaloes.


Follow Ivan Leonard on Twitter.


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