Saturday’s "Rumble in the Rockies" will pit two teams who will be playing for less than what they hoped for earlier in the year. For Colorado, last week’s loss to Washington State guaranteed the Buffs would not reach the requisite six wins to be invited to a bowl game. Utah is now officially out of the running for the Pac-12 south title with their loss to UCLA. Colorado would still like to get their fifth win, as the program continues to build under Mike MacIntyre, and Utah is still in position to reach their first ten win season since 2010. Heading into Saturday’s matchup let’s look at the Colorado defense.
Colorado does not have a great defense, but it’s not terrible either. Colorado has a slightly above average secondary, ranking 4th in the Pac-12 in pass defense. They allow their opponents to complete 58.4% of passes for 227.4 yards a game. The defense has been good at getting takeaways, ranking 3rd in the conference with 13 interceptions this season. They average one forced fumble a game, with 12 on the season.
Colorado’s weakness on defense is their run defense. The Buffs rank last in the Pac-12 in yards allowed per carry, giving up a whopping 5.11 yards. They allow 197.25 yards rushing a game and have allowed 18 touchdowns on the ground. They have the ability to rush the passer, but mainly through blitzing, as they have struggled to get sacks when only rushing four lineman.
Nose Tackle Justin Solis is the veteran leader for the defensive line. The senior is the most experienced player on the line and at 6-2 325lbs. takes up a lot of space in the middle. He has 38 tackles and 3 sacks this season. 6-3 280 lb. Jordan Carrell will join Solis in the middle at defensive tackle. Carrell has 34 tackles a sack and a forced fumble this season. At the ends Derek McCartney, Leo Jackson III and Jimmie Gilbert will rotate through to rush the passer. McCartney and Gilbert are tied for first on the team with five sacks each.
Redshirt freshman middle linebacker Rick Gamboa leads the linebackers with 67 tackles this season. At outside linebacker Jaleel Awini, a former quarterback at Air Force, plays on the weakside. On the strongside, Kenneth Olugbode is third on the team in tackles with 54 and has an interception despite missing two games this season due to a leg injury. The linebacking group has talent for Colorado, but are young and inexperienced, which has contributed to their struggles against the run. This should be a pretty good group heading into next season.
Chidobe Awuzie is a bright spot for Colorado at left cornerback. Awuzie leads the team leads the team with 81 tackles, has 2 interceptions, four sacks, ten tackles for a loss, six pass breakups and two forced fumbles this season. At 6-0 195 lbs., Awuzie has good size for a cornerback and could provide problems for a Utah receiving group missing Britain Covey. At the other cornerback position is senior Kenneth Crawley with 39 tackles and interception and nine pass break ups.
Jered Bell is the free safety with 39 tackles and three interceptions this season. Tedric Thompson is the other safety and is third on the team in tackles with 60 to go with two interceptions. Both Bell and Thompson have talent, but seeing Thompson third on the team in tackles is another indication of Colorado’s poor run defense, as many opposing backs are able to consistently break through to the secondary.
Colorado’s front seven is young and vulnerable and opponents rushing statistics bear that out. Much like UCLA a week ago, the secondary is Colorado’s strength with some veteran play makers and an ability to create turnovers. This should play well into what Utah does on offense, which is run and then run some more.
The opportunity is there for Joe Williams to have another good day on the ground. Last week he gained 121 yards against a better UCLA defensive front. Against Colorado, Williams should be able to do equal if not more damage on the ground.
In the passing game, Wilson will need to be careful with the ball. Colorado has the ability to create turnovers through interceptions and with the overall talent disparity between the two teams, turnovers would be a big boost to the Buffs upset chances. Utah should still try and cobble together a passing game, but as we have seen throughout Wilson’s career, it is important he gets off to a good start and builds some confidence otherwise Utah’s offense will become one dimensional.
The games between Utah and Colorado the past few years have come down to the wire despite differences in record . With the injuries to Utah and possible hangover form last week, it would not be surprising if that is the case again this year. Fortunately Utah does have a significant talent advantage in this game and it will be at home. Colorado’s scoring defense is quite a bit worse than UCLA’s, so hopefully this week the Utes can find the endzone.