Neill Woelk, Contributing Editor
ROCK — The Colorado Buffaloes have another chance Saturday to write another win in a long and difficult 2022 season.
But the task for the 1-10 Buffs (1-7 Pac-12), who have each faced a top-15 opponent for the past three weeks, doesn’t get any easier in the season finale. The No. 14 Utah Utes (8-3, 6-2) visit Folsom Field for their annual end-of-season matchup and still have low hopes of earning a berth in the Pac-12 championship game and they need a win against Colorado to turn around to keep those hopes alive.
Saturday’s game marks the first time since 1973 that Colorado has faced a ranked team in four consecutive weeks. It will also be the last appearance at Folsom Field for up to 19 seniors from Colorado.
The Buffs are heavy underdogs against a Utah team that didn’t quite live up to preseason expectations but still offer strong attack on both sides of the ball. The Utes are No. 16 in the nation in offense (37.3 points per game) and No. 24 in defense (20 points per game) — and they’re the only team so far this year which has defeated the No. 5 in Southern California.
How do the buffs create the excitement?
1. Force some errors from Utah quarterback Cameron Rising. Rising has been a solid performer for the Utes all year – but he’s also shown a tendency to make erroneous shots under pressure.
He threw three interceptions — and no touchdown passes — in last weekend’s crucial 20-17 loss to Oregon and also had one interception and no touchdowns in a midseason loss to UCLA.
But getting to Rising isn’t easy. Utah has given up just eight quarterback sacks all year. The buffs need to put pressure on him, but more importantly, obfuscate their covers and make Rising see openings where they don’t exist.
2. Build momentum early. If the Buffs are to be there, they’ll need to produce some game-changing moments early on, get the crowd behind them and put the Utes on their heels.
Colorado has big-play ability on offense. The buffs need to craft some of these longgainers early on. If Colorado can build some confidence early on, it will go a long way in keeping the buffs in play.
3. Don’t give the Utes freebies. The buffs this year have had way too many self-inflicted wounds that have given momentum to opponents.
Utah’s defense is excellent at forcing errors. The Utes have recorded 30 quarterback sacks and 22 takeaways. Colorado needs to limit those opportunities for Utah on Saturday.
4. Shorten the game. Letting the ball run against Utah isn’t easy. The Utes allow just 115 yards per game on the ground, 23rd best in the nation.
But Colorado can put together long drives by mixing in a short passing play. Saturday is a close end Brady Russells last game as a buff. It would be fitting if he had a big day in his final.
5. Play with passion. Quite simply, the buffs have nothing to lose. They must play when the opportunity arises, do the unexpected, and force the Utes to adapt.
This is one last chance for the 2022 Buffs to make a positive impression. A win over the Utes would be a hell of a way to do just that.