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Opponent Preview: Colorado Defense

Utah v Colorado Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Colorado has been the PAC-12 South’s punching bag since the Buffaloes joined the conference in 2011. Seven of their ten seasons ended in dead last place with a miraculous division title in 2016, a fifth-place finish in 2019, and a second-place finish last year during the abbreviated COVID season. Thankfully for the Buff’s, Arizona’s historically bad season will keep them out of the basement this year, but they’re far from one of the division’s best with a 3-5 conference record that includes wins over lowly Arizona and Washington as well as a surprise overtime victory over the spotty Beavers at home. Despite a better than usual season (by Colorado standards), some things never change and the Buffaloes will once again field one of the worst defenses in the conference when they take on South division champs, Utah on Black Friday.

Statistically speaking, only Stanford’s defense fare’s worse than Colorado’s, who have allowed an average of 6.01 yards per play and 418.8 yards per game. Worse yet, their 94th ranked rush defense is surrendering 4.87 yards per and a total of 21 rushing touchdowns in 2021, a statistic that should bode well for Utah’s deep running back pool.

Senior middle linebacker, Nate Landman (6’3”, 235 lbs) has been out for a month after suffering a soft tissue injury against Cal, and despite missing four games, he still leads the team with 63 total tackles. As a projected mid-round draft pick, his potential return could provide the jolt the Buffs need to sneak in one last win before their season ends, but it's entirely possible the injury-prone defensive leader could opt to sit out to protect his draft stock since his team is mathematically eliminated from bowl season.

With or without Landman, Utah’s offensive line will need to contend against junior outside linebacker, Carson Wells (6’4”, 250 lbs), Colorado’s sack leader with 5.5 takedowns, a stat that accounts for a whopping 42% of all Buffalo sacks in 2021. Wells’ breakout season also includes a 50-yard pick-six against Arizona, one forced fumble, and four pass deflections. Arguably one of the more underrated all-around defenders in the PAC-12, Wells gets lost in the shuffle when compared to the likes of Kayvon Thibodeaux and Devin Lloyd, whose winning records automatically breed greater praise.

Utah’s 7-1 conference record allowed them to clinch the South after last weekend’s win over Oregon, meaning even if Colorado stuns the Utes with an upset, nothing changes for Utah outside of their final CFP ranking. If Kyle Whittingham decides to rest his starters early, there’s a real possibility this game will be closer than the -23.5 spread Vegas is currently giving.