Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Friday, November 25, 2016

2016 CU vs Utah Football Teaser

Back in the summer, as I was planning my Thanksgiving week trip to New York and Chicago, I made a fortuitous decision: I would make getting back to Colorado for the CU/Utah game a priority.  At the time it didn't seem like much, cutting my trip short to return for a football game that probably wouldn't mean anything.  Now, however, having that plane flight to Denver scheduled for Friday afternoon, rather than Saturday afternoon, is like a golden ticket.  The 2016 Rumble in the Rockies, as it turns out, does mean something -- for the Colorado Buffaloes, it's a play-in to the Pac-12 Championship Game.

Who would've guessed it, but the University of Colorado, who were for a decade the definition of irrelevant in two separate conferences, are now on the cusp of appearing in a league title game.  It's a story that stretches the credibility of reality; something a Hollywood screenwriter would trash as being too fantastic.  Yet the greatest fiction ever written is that we experience every day, and we now have a football program to match.  The Buffs are our spoonful of sugar, and they're a win away from the big stage.

Of course, that win will not come easy.  Standing in their way are the Utah Utes; while Utah has fallen off the championship pace, they're still a nasty, tough entity, more than capable of marching into Folsom and stealing the glory.  Sure, they are not playing for anything themselves, per se, but they will be looking to return the favor for 2011, when CU traveled to Salt Lake City, and spoiled the Utes own South Division hopes. Don't expect our western neighbors to come over a lay down for the Buffs.

So, without further adieu, let's get this party started...


Hype Music for the Week: "Crazy Train" by Ozzy Osbourne

Time for a classic Marching Band stands tune.  The Prince of Darkness himself penned this metal anthem, a ubiquitous crash of sound that has stood the test of time.  If you're a CU tuba, and you don't live to crank out the bass on this one, you're missing the script.  Bang your head, and enjoy! 


Kickoff from beautiful Folsom Field is set for 5:30 pm on Saturday. It's going to be a chilly evening, so be sure to bundle up; luckily, no precipitation in the forecast, though.  Why you, a die-hard Buff fan, wouldn't want to be here for this one is beyond me, but, should you be unable to attend, national broadcast coverage can be found on FOX.  The radio call, as always, is on 850 KOA.

Click below for the teaser...

We mock this 'rivalry' as being a poor replacement for the post-Thanksgiving intensity of Colorado/Nebraska, but the annual tussles with the Utes have, routinely, been played to chaotic, exciting conclusions.  There was, of course, the aforementioned 2011 game, where the Buffs dashed Ute dreams and claimed the program's first road win in four seasons.  That affair was decided by a three-point margin, setting a tone for competitiveness that defied the relative positions of the two entrants over the years.  Starting with that '11 final, every game in the modern iteration of the series has been decided by a maximum of seven points.  With the yearly spice of good competition, that this hasn't blossomed into a full-blown rivalry is really only a product of Colorado having been a dumpster fire, and only one team having any stakes in the affair.
Sad Utah Fan should stay sad.  From: the BDC
Well, the Buffs are good now, so it's incumbent upon us to take this seriously. Let me renew my annual plea: make Utah a rival in your heart, as well as the Wikipedia page.  Learn to hate them with the fury we once held for the Corn (... and still do, in some cases).  Cast aside the petty vitriol for the plebes up north; they don't matter.  Beating the Utes does matter, now more than ever.  Recognize, and bring the anger on Saturday.

Stepping off my soapbox, the 2016 Utes are a legitimately good football team.  Coming into Boulder at 8-3, they may not have a chance to claim the South Division crown, with all of those losses having come in conference play, but they do have a shot at a nine-win season and a decent bowl.  So, that's what they're playing for tomorrow: the opportunity to avoid the indignity of the Foster Farms Bowl.
Thank you to the Utes for this opportunity at glory.  From: Bleacher report.
Their best win to-date is the 31-27 triumph over Southern Cal that also stands as the Trojans' last loss. If not for that result, the Buffs would have no shot at the Pac-12 title game next week, so thank you, Utes!  While that scoreline is from a different time in the life of both teams, it is instructive in telling you that Utah has the talent required to beat anybody.  But, as nice as that win over USC looks now, their record book also contains ugly lines against Cal and Oregon.  In each, Utah struggled to find the endzone against some of the worst defenses in the league, indeed allowing the Golden Bears to build a goal line stand to end that game.  What we can learn from these results is a penchant to play down to the level of the opponent, and an inability to move the ball when it absolutely needs to move.

In fact, the biggest thing I've noticed about the Utes is a penchant for getting into a close game with whomever lines up against them.  If it's a good team, like, say the Trojans or the Washington Huskies, they'll play them to within a score.  If it's a bad team, like BYU, Cal, Oregon State, etc, they'll also play them to within a score.  It's kind of weird, Utah seems to do exactly what's required to stay within a touchdown of their opponent, regardless of circumstance. Their only blowout wins of the year have come against FCS Southern Utah, 3-8 San Jose State, and the train-wreck that are the two Arizona schools; everything else has been within a single score.
Williams has done well against the Buffs before. From: the Deseret News
Offensively, they're led by running back Joe Williams, who has one of the more interesting stories in the entire sport.  Earlier this year, the senior out of Allentown, PA retired from football, citing injuries and 'a loss of desire.'  I'm sure it had also had a lot to do with being embroiled in a three-way competition for the starting spot that wasn't going his way at the time (just 22 carries in two games, for 75 yards to start the season), but that's besides the point.  After sitting out just four games, and with the Utes hurting for healthy, eligible running backs, Williams suddenly unretired, sprinting back to the program he had turned away from.  It was like he was shot out of a cannon.  Since returning, Joe has run for 1,013 yards in just five games, highlighted by an insane 29 carry, 332 yard, four score performance in the Rose Bowl against UCLA.  It's a pace that has him cranking out a per-carry average of 7.4 yards per attempt.  He is, by far, the best back in the Pac-12 right now, a true home run hitter capable of turning any touch into a massive gain.  The teams that have had success against Utah have kept him in the park, and to singles and doubles; Colorado will need to limit his big play ability on Saturday.

Handing Joe the ball is junior QB Troy Williams (no relation) from Carson, CA.  A developing, if unspectacular, dual-threat, Troy delivers the paper cuts that really set in the pain from Joe's body blows.  His primary targets on the outside are receivers Tim Patrick and Raelon Singleton.  Patrick is probably the most worrisome, considering his size (6-5, 210 lbs), but it's nothing the Colorado secondary hasn't seen before.  I'm much more worried about how the Buffaloes' front-seven deals with Williams and the excellent Utah offensive line, than about how the defensive backs will end up covering the only above-average passing attack.
Lotulelei doesn't screw around.  From: the SL Trib
Defensively, it's all about the line.  Utah is top-30 nationally in stopping the run, and it has a lot to do with the beefy presence of stars like Lowell Lotulelei, Pita Taumoepenu, and Filipo Mokofisi.  They eat up blocks and destroy pockets like no other defensive line Colorado has seen to-date.  It's what allows senior end Hunter Dimick to put up gaudy sack totals (14, so far); he's usually left one-on-one against an offensive tackle. While USC's line is explosive, and WSU's boasted great technique, the Utes' is the best of both worlds, and one to be feared.  Colorado only ever succeeds when they give Sefo time to explore his options, and they need to find a way to do so against this bunch.  If CU can leverage the read-option, as they did last week against the Cougars, it might help, but it'll be a struggle all day.

Besides the normal unit analysis, one thing that really separates the Utes from the flotsam of both the conference and the subdivision is their play in the margins.  Top-15 in turnover margin, and top-10 in special teams S&P+, they make winning plays when you least expect them to.  It's the sign of good coaching and a good line of talent coming up in the program.  While the Buffs can match them in the turnover department, they won't be able to on special teams.  I anticipate the Utes being able to steal at least one score or field-flipping play on Saturday with the specialists on the field.  Key here are Australian punter Mitch Wishnowsky, who's a Ray Guy candidate, and sophomore kicker Andy Phillips, who is likewise a Lou Groza target.

So, with all that said, let's look at the lines...

My 2016 record: 9-2. Against the spread: 6-4. Optimistic/pessimistic: CU -2.4 pts/gm.
Line as of Thursday @ 8pm - CU -10, O/U 53.5

This line originally opened at 12 points, which seemed really high to me. Even the ten it is now seems high, but, as I said last week, I'm sticking with my promise to pick the Buffs the rest of the way.  Colorado reins in Joe Williams, mutes the inconsistent Ute passing attack, and cruises to victory.  The students, waiting their required 60 seconds, then pour onto the field, and carry off Sefo Liufau.  I proceed to purchase my plane flight to San Francisco, and beg my boss for next Friday off. Darkness then descends, as the apocalypse comes upon us: the Buffs are going to a 'ship.

CU 31 - UU 20


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