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Opponent Preview: Colorado Defense

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NCAA Football: Washington State at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Utah will finish the regular season on Saturday night in Boulder. One week after dropping what was a must win game against the lowly Oregon Ducks, Utah now will try and play spoiler to the Buffs Pac-12 championship hopes. This week poses a much more formidable task at hand. Not only does Utah need to go on the road, but Colorado has the most improved team in the country.

Led by defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, the Colorado defense has grown into one of the top defenses in the Pac-12. They rank 1st in the conference in yards allowed per game (322.4), passing yards allowed per game (190.4), and rushing touchdowns allowed (10). They are 3rd in rush yards allowed per carry (3.86) and 5th in rush yards allowed per game (132).

In the red zone, an area Utah’s offense has struggled with this season, Colorado’s defense is terrific. The Buffs are only allowing opponents to score on 67.74% of red zone trips and only allow a touchdown 51.61% of the time.

Defensive Line

Colorado usually runs a three man front, and has some big guys to fill those spots. The line is experienced, physical and tough to push around. Josh Tupou (6-3, 325 lbs.) is the nose tackle and has 35 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 2 sacks. On either side of Tupou is Jordan Carrell (6-3, 300 lbs.) with 35 tackles, 5 TFL, and 4 sacks, and Samson Kafovalu (6-4, 295 lbs.) with 39 tackles, 2.5 TFL and 2 sacks. This will be a battle for Utah’s offensive line.

Linebacker

Colorado has some talented linebackers behind the defensive line. Senior Kenneth Olugbode (6-1, 220 lbs.) is a team captain and leads the team with 81 tackles. Fellow senior Jimmie Gilbert (6-5, 230 lbs.) is a hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end that is a dynamic playmaker. Gilbert has 10 sacks and 6 forced fumbles. Junior Addison Gilliam (6-3, 230 lbs.) is an impact player as well, with 32 tackles, 3 sacks and 1 forced fumble.

Secondary

The secondary is athletic and physical. The Buffs are bigger than most teams in the secondary, with all starters standing over 6-0 and weighing at least 195 lbs. It is the strongest part of Leavitt’s defense. Safety Tedric Thompson (6-1 205 lbs.) leads the Pac-12 with 5 interceptions and has 10 pass breakups and 15 passes defended.

Cornerbacks Ahkello Witherspoon (6-3, 195 lbs.) and Chidobe Awuzie (6-0, 205 lbs.) lock down the edges of the field. Awuzie was the standout of the defense and an All-Pac-12 selection last year. This year he has continued his outstanding play with 1 interception and 15 passes defended. Witherspoon has stepped up this year to counter Awuzie, with 15 pass breakups and 16 passes defended, to lead the Pac-12.

Outlook

This is a tough match up for the Utah offense. The Colorado defense has talent across the board and plays intimidating, physical defense. Troy Williams will have a hard time throwing the ball against a talented Colorado secondary which will make the offense more one dimensional than it already is. Utah will need some exceptional individual performances from guys like Tim Patrick and Raelon Singleton to take some pressure off Joe Williams and running game and keep the Colorado defense honest.