Utah may not be playing for the Pac-12 South title any longer, but there is still a lot at stake for the Utes as they take on Colorado. UteZone caught up with Buffalo insider Adam Munsterteiger in a Q&A to get his perspective on the game and what to expect.
What has been the primary factor behind Colorado's success this season? Is it coaching? Talent? What caused them to finally turn the corner?
Staff upgrades the last two years -- CU bringing in Jim Leavitt as the new defensive coordinator in 2015, and the hiring of Darrin Chiaverini as co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach this past off-season have helped a lot. But the biggest factor in the Buffs' improvement this fall is the fact CU is fielding a very experienced football team.
That experience shows up on the field every week. The 412 combined starts on Colorado's roster entering the 2016 season were the most in school history.
Mike MacIntyre came in and resurrected this program the right way, and his first important task was fixing the attrition issue. For far too long, there seemed to be a revolving door with players transferring out at the first sign of adversity. MacIntyre kept the players in the program and his staff developed them over time.
Ten of the 11 starters on the defensive side of the ball are upperclassmen and, offensively, the new up-tempo pace at altitude has helped Colorado become a really tough team to play in Boulder.
Describe Sefo Liufau's development as a quarterback. What does he bring to the table this year that he hasn't in previous years? How much does the outcome of the game rest on his performance?
Liufau already owned most of Colorado's passing records entering his senior season, so it is not like he was bad in previous years. But he did need to improve his consistency, and outside of a two week stretch against Stanford and UCLA, Liufau has played really efficient football this fall. In fact, he ranks fourth in the conference in passing efficiency.
As a fourth-year starter and three-year captain, Liufau is a good field general that can read defenses and make smart checks before the snap. And while he is not going to break off 30-plus yards runs, Liufau has developed into an efficient runner. He had 40 rushing attempts in the Buffs' last two games, and carried the ball into the end zone three times last Saturday against Washington State.
When Liufau was off against the Cardinal and Bruins, the Buffaloes still found a way to win. So Colorado's defense has shown an ability to lead the team to victory even when the offense has struggled. But this Saturday, I would imagine the Buffs will need “good Sefo” in order to clinch the Pac-12 South.
Which are the other weapons on the Colorado offense that Utah's defense should be wary of?
With a 144-yard performance against the top ranked rush defense in the Pac-12 last weekend, junior tailback Phillip Lindsay became the Buffaloes' first 1,000 yard rusher since 2010. He is only 5-foot-8, 180 pounds, but Lindsay's nickname is the Tasmanian Devil because he runs with reckless abandon.
Colorado has three talented receivers in Shay Fields, Bryce Bobo and Devin Ross. They almost seem to take turns in having breakout games. All three have between 543 and 741 receiving yards through 11 contests. Bobo is expected to be a “game time” decision after he was sidelined with an ankle injury last Saturday.
What is the cause for Colorado's improvement on defense this year? What is their strength and who are the players Ute fans should look out for?
Increased experience and the return of Josh Tupou, who served a one-year suspension, have helped the Buffaloes' defense improve this year. Colorado runs a 3-4 base defense where those big bodies up front are required to take on blockers and let the linebackers be the stars. So Tupou is kind of the unsung hero, but as a space-eating 325-pound nose tackle, he has helped make inside linebacker Kenneth Olugbode look like an All-American at times season.
Another strength of Colorado's defense is its cover corners, seniors Chidobe Awuzie and Ahkello Witherspoon. Awuzie is a versatile, consistent, sure-tackling senior that will projects to be drafted by some NFL team around the third round. Witherspoon leads the conference and ranks third nationally in passes defended.
Senior safety Tedric Thompson also has the propensity to make big plays. Earlier this season he became the 13th player in program history to intercept 10 or more career passes.
What's your prediction for the game, including the score?
Utah no longer has the motivation of playing for the Pac-12 South title, but they also might play looser as a result? I don't know. I do know if Colorado limits Joe Williams on Saturday, the Buffaloes should win. But obviously that is easier said than done. Williams went for 187 against Colorado last November and he has been nothing short of spectacular since coming out of retirement this fall. I expect a competitive football game but in the end I think the home field advantage will propel the Buffaloes to a 28-20 victory.