On paper, it’s easy to look at Mel Tucker’s first year as head coach with the Colorado Buffaloes as a slight regression from Mike MacIntyre’s final season in 2018. A Utah victory on Saturday night would leave the Buffaloes sitting out on bowl season for the third straight year with another 5-7 record, while the offense has taken a step back with fifth year senior quarterback, Steven Montez, throwing for fewer touchdowns and more interceptions than ever before as a full-time starter, all while junior wide receiver and future NFL draft pick, LaviskaShenault Jr. has only shown flashes of the same brilliance that was witnessed in 2018. Dig deeper, however, and you’ll see that Tucker is building the foundation for a formidable defense that could someday soon surpass even Kyle Whittingham’s highly touted unit.
It should come as no surprise that the former Wisconsin defensive back has produced a sneaky good defense in 2019. Prior to taking the reigns at Colorado, Tucker spent three season as the defensive coordinator for the Georgia Bulldogs, where is 2017 team ranked sixth in the nation for total defense, and spent significant time in the NFL before that, consistently fielding ball hawking units that ranked among the league’s best during his time in Cleveland and Jacksonville, and if his first season in Boulder is any indication, the PAC-12 should start to take note.
Highlighted by a strong secondary, the Buffaloes have managed 17 takeaways this season, ranking 43rd nationally, and fourth in the PAC-12. As impressive as the secondary is as a whole, senior safety Mikial Onu (5’11”, 205 lbs.) has been nothing short of dominant. Accounting for a team-high four interceptions, two forced fumbles and one recovery, the grad transfer out of SMU has been the breakout star of the season for the Buffaloes despite notching just 61 total tackles, a far cry from the 105 he recorded in his 2017 season with the Mustangs. Joined by junior Derrion Rakestraw (6’2”, 200 lbs.), who has accounted for three interceptions himself despite starting in just seven games, the Buffaloes secondary is capable of keepingpace with the best the conference has to offer.
Up front, defensive ends Terrance Lang (sophomore, 6’7”, 280 lbs.) and Mustafa Johnson (junior 6’2”, 290 lbs.) have combined for 9.5 sacks and ten tackles for loss, using their impressive size to bully even the strongest of offensive lines.
Utah’s lone loss to USC still looms large, as the Trojans are still poised to punch their ticket to the PAC-12 championship if Utah slips up and drops a game to the upset-minded Buffaloes, but even worse, the Utes hopes of crashing the CFP would be flushed down the drain. Simply put, Utah can’t afford to overlook this Colorado team.