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Colorado Buffaloes (3-0) at Arizona Wildcats (0-3), Saturday, 5 p.m. MST, FS1, 850 AM
Three things to watch
1. Shenault, Part Deux. Freshman receiver La’Vontae Shenault submitted his most productive game to date as a young Buff last Saturday, hauling in six passes for 64 yards against a stout San Diego State defense. Have the Buffs found another gem in Laviska’s younger brother?
2. Going South. CU finds itself in the thick of the Pac-12 South Division race with two weeks left in the regular season, with USC just a half game ahead by virtue of playing one more conference game. If the Buffs can win out (at Arizona, vs. Utah) and USC drops one of its last two, they’ll be back in the Pac-12 title game for the first time since 2016. Not exactly what prognosticators predicted for Year One of the Karl Dorrell era.
3. Hot seat burns. With speculation swirling about head coach Kevin Sumlin’s job security, Arizona has faded over the past two weeks, submitting listless performances in losses at Washington (44-27) and UCLA (27-10). Did all the fight go out of the Wildcats the moment USC rallied to beat them in Week 2? Or will a return to Tucson make a difference?
Who has the edge?
When Arizona runs
The CU Buffs defense, led by middle linebacker Nate Landman (11 tackles, 3.5 for loss), is coming off its best showing of the fall after limiting San Diego State’s ground-and-pound to 79 yards on 31 carries. Up next is an Arizona run game powered by Gary Brightwell (49-224) that has sputtered the past two weeks, averaging just 3.37 yards per carry. If Will Plummer is the man under center for Arizona, the Buffs will have a mobile QB to contend with.
When Arizona passes
With the status of first-string quarterback Grant Gunnell (right shoulder injury) unknown, the Buffs have had to prepare for two QBs this week. While Plummer was unimpressive throwing the ball in relief of Gunnell last week vs. UCLA (17-of-35, 151 yards, 2 INTs), he didn’t have the benefit of a full week of practice. After struggling in their first two games, CU’s defense shut down a meager SDSU aerial attack. Can they do so again on the road?
When the Buffs run
Workhorse running back Jarek Broussard (32-124) and the Buffs had to grind out 134 yards over 53 carries against one of the best run defenses in the country last week. Now Broussard is looking to become the first back in CU history to start a season with four consecutive 100-yard games. And he gets a welcome patsy in Arizona, which has allowed 233 and 281 rush yards, respectively, in its past two losses.
When the Buffs pass
Quarterback Sam Noyer, coming off his first so-so performance as CU’s starter, gets an opportunity to rebound against a Wildcats secondary that hasn’t generated any turnovers and is allowing teams to complete 65.2% of their passes. With K.D. Nixon healthy, and underclassmen Dimitri Stanley and La’Vontae Shenault emerging as threats, he should have plenty of weapons available.
The Buffs seem to have lost nothing with Evan Price replacing retired kicker James Stefanou. Price has missed one field goal all season, and drilled a 41-yarder to help put things away last week. Arizona kicker Lucas Havrisik has range — he has a 51-yarder on his resume this fall — and is relatively steady. Neither team has moved the needle in the return game.
Sean Keeler, columnist: CU 31, Arizona 23
Grant Gunnell is banged up, but it might not matter. The dirty little secret of the Buffs’ 3-0 start? Their strength along the line of scrimmage, on both sides of the ball. When CU runs for 175+ in Tucson, it won’t be a secret much longer.
Matt Schubert, deputy sports editor: CU 31, Arizona 20
With their QB situation in flux, and Kevin Sumlin’s job status teetering, this very well could be the last stand in a lost Wildcats season. Perfect fodder for the white-hot Buffs.
Kyle Fredrickson, beat writer: CU 24, Arizona 21
Buffs quarterback Sam Noyer touts veteran leadership qualities without actual veteran game experience. Expect the senior gunslinger to be the difference-maker in a close CU win.