BOULDER - The Colorado Buffaloes head into their third Pac-12 bout of the season on Saturday, as they host the Arizona Wildcats at Folsom Field. The Buffs are looking for their first conference matchup and to get their offense on track after back-to-back losses to Washington and UCLA.
In what amounts to a must-win game if CU wants a shot at punching another ticket to a Pac-12 championship, the Buffs will need to focus on a handful of key matchups to come away with a win.
Pressure the quarterback
The Buffs have struggled with their pass rush the last two weeks, managing only a single sack against UCLA after being shutout against Washington. It's hard to beat a team whose quarterback has that much freedom to make plays, so getting to Arizona's signal-caller will be important for CU.
The Buffs have plenty of talent along their defensive line, with Leo Jackson and Drew Lewis both having impressive seasons. If they can put it all together and keep Brandon Dawkins from making too many big plays, CU could win this game on defense. With an offense that continues to struggle, the Buffs' defensive prowess needs to begin up front.
The Buffs can't keep negating their own big plays
Quarterback Steven Montez said it after the loss to UCLA: the Buffs are beating themselves with their own mistakes. Penalties, drops, and turnovers have proved incredibly costly, particularly in conference play. Every team is going to get flagged or throw an interception occasionally, but the Buffs have to find a way to keep it from negating their big plays.
Last week, the Buffs saw a Montez touchdown called back on a holding call and several other big plays dropped or negated by penalties. CU easily could have had an additional one or two touchdowns last week, and potentially a win, if they hadn't gotten in their own way. Focusing on minimizing the mistakes will be huge for CU, now and in the weeks to come.
The offense has to get going - it' s now or never
We've been saying this since week one: the CU offense doesn't look as explosive as everyone expected it to. Montez has had some issues as he adjusts to being 'the guy,' the offensive line has struggled to get on the same page and the wide receivers have continually failed to find separation.
If the offense can't get going this week against Arizona's young, inexperienced defense, they may not get it together at all this season. And if they do, it could be too late for the Buffs to still have a chance in the Pac-12. Outside of their starting four, the Buffs have a ton of receiver talent waiting in the wings, with Juwann Winfree and Laviska Shenault among the wideouts who should probably see a little more playing time. This offense is capable of so much and they need to show it this week or risk falling into a pattern of problems for the remainder of 2017.
As both Arizona and CU fight for their first conference win of the season, the Buffs are at the make-or-break point of their season. A home loss to the Wildcats would say a lot about this CU team that had such high offensive expectations in the offseason and perhaps relegate them back to the 'not-quite-ready' category of college football programs. That being said, the Buffs are more than capable of a win this weekend and should be fully aware of the impact this tilt will have on the rest of their season.