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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

No. 23 Arizona vs. Colorado preview: Can the Wildcats achieve another milestone win?

Deric+English+%2831%29+of+the+Arizona+football+team+watches+the+action+from+the+sidelines+during+the+Homecoming+football+game+against+No.+20+UCLA+at+Arizona+Stadium+on+Saturday%2C+Nov.+4.+English+is+playing+his+first+season+as+a+freshman.%0A
Jay Corella
Deric English (31) of the Arizona football team watches the action from the sidelines during the Homecoming football game against No. 20 UCLA at Arizona Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 4. English is playing his first season as a freshman.

The Arizona football team continues to dispatch ranked foes, coming off its third consecutive ranked win of the season against then-No. 20 UCLA, defeating the Bruins 27-10 on Saturday, Nov. 4. The Wildcats have a week off from facing a ranked opponent, however, they still have a formidable adversary awaiting them. They face the University of Colorado Boulder this Saturday, Nov. 11, at noon in Boulder, Colorado

Despite Arizona‘s recent accomplishments, including an unprecedented three-game winning streak against AP Top-25 teams, there’s no time for complacency. The Wildcats have re-entered the AP Top-25 for the first time since their one-week stint in 2017. However, they are about to face an opponent known for their offensive explosiveness. If the Wildcats let their guard down and assume that not facing a ranked opponent makes it an easier matchup, they risk repeating their recent history once more.

History

The Wildcats face an uphill battle in the all-time series against Colorado, where they currently trail 9-16. This upcoming matchup marks the 26th meeting between the two teams. Last season, Arizona managed to end a two-game losing streak against the Buffaloes by securing a convincing 43-20 victory in Tucson.

In that game that occurred on Oct. 1, 2022, quarterback Jayden de Laura delivered a remarkable performance by tying a school record with six touchdown passes. His favorite targets in this game, wide receivers Dorian Singer and Jacob Cowing, reaped the benefits of his superb passing, helping Arizona secure the victory over Colorado. De Laura‘s 484-yard passing display, coupled with Cowing‘s 180 receiving yards, propelled the Wildcats to success. At halftime, they held a 26-13 lead, and despite a few missed opportunities, Arizona‘s opening 75-yard touchdown drive set the tone for its impressive win. The Wildcats continued to extend their lead, ultimately pulling away with 19 unanswered points after a game-tying Colorado touchdown.

The last time Arizona defeated Colorado on the road was on Oct. 5, 2019, with former Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate Jr. leading the charge. Tate’s impressive performance included completing 31 of 41 passes for 404 yards and three touchdowns, leading the Wildcats to a 35-30 victory

When playing in Boulder, Arizona has faced challenges, having a 4-6 record. In these away encounters, they’ve been outscored 308-235 by Colorado. Despite facing adversity in recent matchups, the Wildcats have shown resilience by winning three of the last five games and seven of the last 10 in this series.

Colorado’s Season

Colorado‘s 2023 football season began with a bang under the leadership of first-year head coach Deion Sanders. In his highly anticipated debut, the Buffaloes, led by Sanders’ son, Shedeur Sanders, secured a thrilling 45-42 victory over then-No. 17 and National Championship runner-up TCU. Shedeur Sanders, in his first game as the Buffaloes signal-caller, had a school-record-breaking performance, amassing 510 passing yards and four touchdowns. This victory marked a fresh start for Colorado, a team that had struggled in the previous season with only one win. The win against TCU established Deion Sanders as a significant college football coach with a signature victory.

As the season progressed, the Buffaloes faced both triumphs and challenges. They began with a convincing 36-14 win over historic rival University of Nebraska that got them ranked at No. 18. The following week, Colorado defeated its rival Colorado State University in a double overtime thriller that continued to solidify its rise in the rankings. 

However, the Buffaloes‘ momentum was disrupted by a 42-6 loss at the hands of then-No. 10 University of Oregon. Throughout the season, a consistent theme emerged for the Buffaloes: an inability to protect Shedeur Sanders. However, even with this issue at the forefront, the team regained positive ground with a 27-24 win against ASU after being outclassed by Oregon and falling short against then-No. 8 USC 48-41

Then the Buffaloes began to spiral after a devastating defeat to Stanford University. Colorado led 29-0 at halftime but would fall in double overtime 46-43. After a loss like this one, the storybook season many were hoping for had come to an abrupt end and Colorado is currently on a three-game losing streak.

Throughout the season, the Buffaloes aimed to make the most of their season with 86 new players in the program and they have only retained 10 players from 2022. The Buffs have leaned heavily on Shedeur Sanders‘ standout performances but they also acknowledged the importance of improving their defense which has struggled immensely throughout the season. 

While the season had its share of memorable moments and challenges, the team is facing many struggles as of late. Their running game is ranked as one of the least productive in the nation, averaging just 69.1 yards per game, and Shedeur Sanders has endured endless pressure, facing 45 sacks – the highest among all FBS quarterbacks. In response to these issues, the Buffaloes made changes in their play-calling duties by elevating analyst Pat Shurmur to co-offensive coordinator. Yet, even with that change not much is different. 

However, with these facts as they are, the Buffaloes continue to look to their talent, and one of the best on their team is Travis Hunter. He has become known as an extremely talented versatile player that is able to play both on offense and defense. Hunter‘s performances have remained as a bright spot for the team; he is only the third player in the last 25 years to catch at least 30 passes and three interceptions in a single season, joining Chris Gamble (2002) and Champ Bailey (1998).

Wildcats to Watch

Arizona‘s key player to watch is redshirt freshman quarterback Noah Fifita. His steady hand has guided the Wildcats to three straight victories, and he’s been instrumental in their recent success. Fifita‘s ability to throw for 14 touchdowns in just five starts is a testament to his talent. He currently has a 76.2 completion percentage, having thrown for 1,521 yards with only four interceptions. In his most recent outing, he put on a show by completing 25 of 32 passes for 300 yards and three touchdowns, earning his third-highest passer rating of the season (181.6).

Fifita‘s impact on the team is undeniable, as he leads in various categories, including completions (144), passing yards (1,521), passing touchdowns (14) and passer rating (164.0). Notably, the Wildcats hold a 4-2 record in games where Fifita has taken meaningful snaps this season. It’s also worth highlighting that all five of his starts this season have come against top 20 opponents, and he has garnered the title of Pac-12 Freshman of the Week four times during these outings.

The two other players fans should be watching for in this matchup are his right-hand men through the air and on the ground: running back Jonah Coleman and wide receiver Tetairoa McMillan. Coleman is the leader in yards from scrimmage for Arizona this season with 850 yards (565 rushing, 285 receiving), while also securing the top spot in rushing touchdowns with three. McMillan has the most receiving yards on the team with 753 yards and the second-highest number of receiving touchdowns with seven.


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