Utah Offensive Line vs Colorado Defensive Line
Utah Offensive Line
In the first half of last Saturday's game at Washington State it seemed the offensive line had regressed; not only because they struggled to open up running lanes for John White, but because the penalties and mistakes that were present early in the season had returned. The second half was much better than the first, though, and it was clear those issues were corrected in the locker room. Utah will line up with the same starting five they've had for the past four weeks and will look to dominate the line of scrimmage once again. None of the Colorado linemen have a significant advantage against Utah's starting five. This will be the final home game for tackles John Cullen and Tony Bergstrom so I expect a special effort from the two offensive tackles.
Colorado Defensive Line
Colorado's defensive line has seen a lot of player movement throughout the year in their 3-4 scheme; only one of the projected starters on Friday was a starter at the beginning of the season. The Buffs rotate numerous players throughout a game, however, so don't expect to see the same players for four quarters. Current starters Will Pericak, Curtis Cunningham, and David Goldberg have combined for just 1.5 sacks and three tackles for loss, so causing problems in the pass game and tackling the runner behind the line isn't their strength. Reserve defensive end Chidera Uzo-Diribe is Colorado's best down lineman; he has forced three fumbles and has tallied 5.5 sacks so far this year. Utah should be able to consistently rush into the second-level against this front.
Utah Running Backs and Tight Ends vs Colorado Linebackers
Utah Running Backs and Tight Ends
Ever since the loss of Jordan Wynn at quarterback, the running back position for the Utes has become the heart and soul of the Ute offense. John White has rushed for 1377 yards in 11 games placing him 3rd on Utah's single-season rushing list, just 131 yards short of holding the record outright. White rushed the ball 42 times last week against Washington State, the second most by any Utah back, and he continues to get better with each carry he gets. His hard running and attitude are contagious and have impacted the team in a very positive way. The tight end position, however, has been much less impactful. Kendrick Moeai had two receptions in the snow last Saturday but his overall presence in the game was minimal. For weeks Moeai and Jake Murphy have had little, if any, impression on a game.
As you would expect from a 3-4 defensive set the linebackers are the playmakers. Jon Major, Patrick Mahnke, Derrick Webb, and Josh Hartigan are all very good in their own right. Hartigan is a sack machine. He's accumulated 6 on the season and is the speedy defensive disruptor in the pass game (think Trevor Reilly). Major is the tackling specialist. He stuffs the run very well and always puts himself around the football. His 76 tackles lead the team. Outside linebackers Mahnke and Webb are a good combination of both. The two have combined for 2.5 sacks, 7 tackles for loss, 12 third down stops, and 3 forced fumbles. Expect a lot of John White runs to make it to the second level on Friday where this unit will have to make plays. It won't be the Buffalo defensive line stopping Utah's runs, it will be the linebackers.
Utah Quarterback and Wide Receivers vs Colorado Corners and Safeties
Utah Quarterback and Wide Receivers
Jon Hays' campaign to simply manage games rather than win them continued on Saturday. Utah's only touchdown pass of the game came from punter Sean Sellwood on a trick-play just before halftime. Hays did well though to play within his means and make smart decisions without turning the ball over, something that has helped keep the Utes in every ball game since his last turnover over a month ago. Expect more of the same this week at quarterback. The wide receivers once again played a limited role in the pass game, but they did an excellent job of catching the ball in the snow when they needed to and were great in run blocking throughout the game. They haven't been asked to make big plays for a couple of weeks now but there are multiple guys capable of changing a game if the opportunity is presented to them. Either way this is a very balanced unit all around.
Colorado Corners and Safeties
One month ago the Colorado secondary was dealt a heavy blow when strong safety Anthony Perkins was sidelined due to a high ankle sprain. Perkins was the leading tackler for the Buffs when he went down and his absence has been felt in the CU secondary. Free safety Ray Polk has had to step up in his absence and he's done his best to make up the difference. Perkins is listed as doubtful for the game on Friday and will likely sit out of the season finale. At corner, Greg Henderson and Travis Sandersfeld are serviceable players but they have struggled against playmaking receivers. They could be up for a challenge Saturday if Utah decides to air it out, but that will all depend on how often Norm Chow decides to use his limited Utah pass attack. Devonte Christopher, Reggie Dunn, and Dres Anderson all possess superior talent if used properly.
Utah Defensive Line vs Colorado Offensive Line
Utah Defensive Line
Joe Kruger has made a big impact over the past three weeks and has gone from nearly-invisible defensive end to play-wrecking pass rusher. Kruger sudden development, along with the always strong Star Lotulelei and Derrick Shelby, has increased the play of the defensive line throughout Utah's four-game win streak. Utah's ‘weakest' position on the line is the second defensive tackle position shared by Dave Kruger, Tevita Finau, and James Aiono, but is by no means a weakness for this unit. Utah has been getting good production from the rotating players at this spot and has been able to dominate the line against every foe it's faced for a month. They will face a stiff test against a very good Colorado line on Friday.
Colorado Offensive Line
This is one of the strengths of this Buffalo team. The Buffaloes have multiple players under consideration for all-conference honors and have guys that should give Utah's defensive line trouble. Right guard Ryan Miller is the best on the CU line and arguably the best guard in the Pac-12. Miller has allowed just one sack this season and has been called for only two penalties all year even though he's lined up in 785 of Colorado's 786 plays from scrimmage. Also keep an eye on left guard Ethan Adkins as well who has also allowed just one sack and is grading out as the top linemen for the Buffs. Miller and Adkins should do a good job of protecting the middle against Utah's big defensive tackles, but on the outside the Buffaloes may struggle. Right tackle Ryan Dannewitz will have the toughest matchup trying to contain Derrick Shelby, while Joe Kruger's improved play will cause problems as well.
Utah Linebackers vs Colorado Running Backs and Tight Ends
It's the final home game for two of Utah's starting linebackers, seniors Chaz Walker and Matt Martinez. These two have been huge contributors this year and will be sorely missed next season. The strength of the Utah linebacker unit is its play against the run, which is exactly what Colorado is going to try and throw at Utah. On passing downs Martinez has proven he can be very good in coverage and he's helped out by the wildcard linebacker Trevor Reilly. Reilly continues to be a favorite for Kilane Sitake in his aggressive defense. He loves to blitz Reilly on passing downs because he's athletic enough to get to the quarterback when given the opportunity. His ability to rush helps Martinez in coverage and allows Walker to patrol the middle of the field against dump-off passes and draw plays.
Colorado Running Backs and Tight Ends
Colorado running back Rodney Stewart is as multi-dimensional as they come and without question the best player on this Colorado offense. He is extremely quick and possesses a great ability to change direction on a dime. Stewart was the first player in the country this season to accumulate over 500 yards in both rushing and receiving despite missing nearly three games due to injury. Watch for Stewart to come out of the backfield early and often and make an impact in the Buffalo passing game, something that could cause problems for Utah's less-athletic linebackers. Stewart currently leads the Buffs in both rushing and receiving, so his ability to catch the ball can't be underplayed. At tight end Ryan Deehan is a talented but underutilized receiver. He averages over 13 yards per catch but ranks fifth on the team in total receptions. Depending on how often CU throws, Deehan could spend a lot of time occupying Matt Martinez in coverage which could open up the field for Rodney Stewart.
Utah Corners and Safeties vs Colorado Quarterback and Wide Receivers
Utah Corners and Safeties
Enough can't be said about the play of this group throughout the season for Utah. Conroy Black went from underachiever last year to breakout star this year, while younger players like Ryan Lacy and Mo Lee went from relatively unknowns to legitimate Pac-12 corners. Black is a senior and will be lost at the end of the year, but the return of Lacy and Lee means Utah is set up for success in the secondary next season. The coaches may feel like Blechen belongs at linebacker, but I believe his field vision and smarts allow him to do more damage at safety. Either way, the combination of Eric Rowe and Blechen along with Black, Lacy, and Lee has made this an extremely formidable defensive secondary for Utah.
Colorado Quarterback and Wide Receivers
Tyler Hansen suffered through the Dan Hawkins era at Colorado forced to sit behind Hawkins' son despite being the best quarterback on the team. Hansen won the job in 2010 and although the win/loss record didn't reflect it he played very well. This year Hansen lost his favorite target Scotty McKnight to the NFL and his play hasn't dropped much. He has three different receivers with over 500 yards this year, a phenomenal statistic, and he's thrown 19 touchdown passes to 7 different players. His 55% completion percentage and 10 interceptions are his black-eyes but he's a capable passer that can hurt defenses who aren't prepared. Receivers Toney Clemons and Paul Richardson will see the most action through the air for Colorado. Clemons will match up with Conroy Black and Richardson will see Mo Lee; both receivers are capable of beating their defender for an occasional big gain but won't be open consistently throughout the game.
Unit Matchups - Colorado at Utah
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