While the defense for the Buffaloes may not be as talented as other defenses in the Pac-12, it has been a unit that has fought a losing battle against injuries all season long.
In head coach Jon Embree's 3-4 scheme, the team's best pass rusher is sophomore Chidera Uzo-Diribe, whose 5.5 sacks rank him fourth in the Pac-12. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound defensive end has picked up 17 tackles, and has forced three fumbles as well.
Aside from Uzo-Diribe, only one other defensive lineman, Tony Poremba, has recorded a sack. However, Poremba has been out since October 4th with a concussion suffered in practice.
In his place, 6-foot-4, 285-pound junior Will Pericak has been getting the starts. He has not been very effective in putting pressure on the quarterback, as he's picked up just 21 tackles, two of those coming for loss, without picking up a sack this season.
At nose tackle is 6-foot-1, 285-pound senior Curtis Cunningham. He may not have ideal size for the position, which may explain his lack of production, as Cunningham has just nine tackles on the year.
Due to the struggles of the defensive line, the linebackers for Colorado have a very tough time in run support; making it no surprise that the Buffaloes have the worst run defense in the Pac-12, as they give up 191.4 yards per game on the ground.
Colorado lost its best tackler in junior Douglas Rippy, who before suffering a year-ending knee injury versus Washington three weeks ago had collected 43 tackles and a team-leading 6.14 tackles per game. He finished the yea with 4.5 tackles for loss, including 2.5 sacks.
In his place, strong side inside linebacker Jon Major has stepped up as the unit's best player. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound junior, who began the year as an outside linebacker, has put up 42 tackles, good for fourth on the team, to go along with two sacks.
With the lack of pressure put forth by the defensive line, the team has really relied on weak side outside linebacker Josh Hartigan to get after the quarterback. While the 6-foot-1, 220-pound senior has collected just 26 tackles, he is second on the team and is tied for fifth in the Pac-12 with five sacks.
Sophomore inside linebacker Derrick Webb has yet to record a sack this season, but his 38 tackles rank sixth on the team. The 6-foot, 220-pound is not a huge presence in the middle of the field, but he has been able to get in the opponents backfield for 3.5 tackles for loss this year.
The fourth and final linebacker for CU is 6-foot-1, 210-pound senior Patrick Mahnke. After missing the Colorado State game earlier this season with a sprained ankle, Mahnke has rebounded nicely by recording 23 tackles and a pair of sacks in his final year with the Buffaloes
It's no surprise that with all of the rushing yards the defense allows that the defensive backs get a lot of opportunities to pick up tackles. The group has responded well, although has dealt with a number of injuries throughout the season.
Senior cornerback Travis Sandersfeld returned to action against USC after missing five games this season with a lower leg injury suffered earlier in the season. In five games this season, the 6-foot, 205-pound Colorado native has picked up 22 tackles and a sack, but has only broken up two passes on the year.
Due to all of the injuries, freshman Greg Henderson has been tossed into early action. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound cornerback has appeared in all of the team's game this year, collecting 41 tackles. He too has not broken up very many passes, as he's only managed five all season.
The standout of the entire defense is Scottsdale, AZ native Ray Polk, who is the team leader with 50 tackles. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound safety has also added an interception, but he too missed the game versus Oregon this season with injuries to his sternum and wrist as well as a concussion.
Despite being dinged up, Polk has appeared in the team's other nine games and is vital to limiting the damage as much as possible both on the ground and through the air for CU.
The final starter for the Colorado defense is senior Anthony Perkins, whose 43 tackles are tied for second on the team. Like Polk, the 5-foot-10, 200-pound safety is essential to stopping the big plays through the passing game but is required to do more than his fair share in stopping the run as well.
Keys to the game:
1. Run, run, run: Against the Pac-12's worst and nation's 93rd ranked rush defense, UA should look to pound the ball with its trio of running backs and not rely solely on Nick Foles to win the game.
2. Play action game: With how far up in the box Perkins and Polk are forced to play, an effective play action passing game would open up the middle of the field for Foles and the Arizona receivers for potential big gains.
3. No turnovers: Arizona has a great opportunity to not turn the ball over against a Colorado defense that ranks 111th in the country with just nine turnovers on the season. In a game of the conference's worst defenses, every possession will count, and UA can ill afford to give CU extra cracks at putting points on the board.
4. Block in all phases: Against a defense as poor as Colorado's, Arizona's blocking in the running game and pass protection for Foles will be an essential ingredient to the offense's success as a whole. Opening holes for the running backs and keeping their quarterbacks upright would be an invaluable contribution from the UA big men in the trenches.
5. Contribute: In a game that is likely to go back and forth, Arizona needs to do everything it can to put the team as a whole in a position to win. Whether through clock management, protecting the football, and most importantly, scoring, the UA offense has a tremendous opportunity to have a productive game and give itself a good chance to secure its third victory of the season.