After three long weeks, Arizona will return home from its road trip to face Colorado on Homecoming weekend. The Wildcats will try to wash the bad taste out of their mouths left over from a sluggish 17-7 loss to UCLA a week ago, but it won’t be easy as the Buffs have constantly come close to knocking off several good teams this season.
Colorado took UCLA to double overtime two weeks ago, lost to California by a field goal, and fell to Oregon State by just six earlier this season. The Buffs are trending up, but haven’t quite gotten over the hump yet.
”Their numbers are pretty much equal to ours in a lot of respects,” Arizona coach Rich Rodrigurz said. “They are playing really hard. You have to give Mike and his staff a lot of credit because they have the attitude and environment right where he wants it. The next step for them is to pull out some close wins."
"I thought they were clearly better last year. I think they got off to a good start last year and were better, but this year they have taken another step. We’re not good enough to play poorly and win. We could play well and still not win.”
One of the reasons that Colorado has come so close to upsetting one of its Pac-12 counterparts is based on the play of quarterback Sefo Liufau and wide receiver Nelson Spruce. Arizona will have its hands full trying to contain the offensive threat put forth by those two.
"They’re going to move him around," Rodriguez said about Spruce. "You can say Sefo is going to throw to the other guys too, but he is a talented guy. It takes a talented guy to be able to play both the outside and inside and know all of the positions. I think one of his strengths is that he has a great football mind. You can tell he understands coverages and how to beat them."
Liufau is just a sophomore, but he is growing and progressing in front of the entire conference. The quarterback is throwing an average of an interception per game, but other than that, he is not making many bad decisions.
"He seems like he has a great command of their offense,"Rodriguez said about Liufau. "He’s not making mistakes, he’s putting the ball in the right spot, and they're second in the country in number of plays, which means they are getting a lot of first downs. Usually when you are getting a lot of first downs it is because your quarterback is executing.
"They have good running backs, they play really hard. They have some challenging schemes. They do a lot of stuff, so for our defense it’s a challenge to recognize formations and schemes and how to attack it."
Although Arizona will have to slow down Colorado on offense, the Buffs have their own defensive challenge trying to stop the Wildcats. Arizona’s offense has been one of the better balanced potent offenses in the Pac-12 this season, but it sputtered during the trip to Los Angeles. Nevertheless it isn’t going to be easy for Colorado to stop the Wildcats.
"They came off a tough loss to UCLA," Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre said. "They’re excellent. Their freshman quarterback is an excellent player and makes a lot of plays. They have the biggest receivers in the conference. They have one guy that’s little, but he’s fast as lightning. But, the rest of them are all 6’3 plus, which puts a bind on you in the secondary.”
"Their scheme, a lot of it has to do with the whole moving on the run type thing and throwing on the run. Solomon's very good at that. A lot of people can throw on the run, but they can’t be accurate on the run. He’s accurate on back shoulders, throwing down the field and throwing it back across.>
Both teams have such good offenses that the defenses often get overlooked when, in fact, it could be a defensive play that decides the outcome of the game on Saturday if the game is as close as many of the Buffs last few have been.
Arizona’s defense has notably stepped up the last few weeks, holding Washington State to a few late touchdowns and UCLA to just 17 points. The star of the defense, Scooby Wright III, has been garnering national attention and is on opposing coaches’ radars as well.
"Defensively, they’re flying around and Scooby, what a great name; he is a heck of a football player,” McIntyre said. “You’ve got to know where number 33 is at all times on their defense. So, it’s going to be a tough test. Rich does a great job with them. They’ve got some very good players. It will be exciting to go up there and play in Tucson.”
Even though Colorado has only won two games on the year and is winless in the Pac-12, Arizona shouldn’t take the Buffs lightly. Both teams have favorable offenses and can put up points in a hurry. The winner of the game will be which team can slow down the other team’s offense. It should make for an entertaining 100th Homecoming for the Wildcats.
Players to watch:
#95 - DL Derek McCartney: The redshirt freshman leads Colorado with four sacks and could be a major player on the defense for Colorado. Arizona's line struggled against UCLA and a big presence up front from Colorado could disrupt the offense.
#13 - QB Sefo Liufau: This one seems obvious, but Liufau is truly the Buffs keystone. The quarterback is still young and has plenty to learn and room to grow. If Liufau isn't on his game, Colorado isn't leaving Tucson with a win.
#12 - QB Anu Solomon: He had a disappointing showing against the Bruins, but this will be where Solomon earns his stripes. Can he bounce back and have a productive game or will he continue to see setbacks?
Keys to the game: