Here are three things to watch in the Arizona Wildcats’ game against Colorado at Folsom Field in Boulder (Saturday, 12:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks), plus a score prediction and some pertinent preview links:
1. CRUZ (IN) CONTROL?
Which version of Gunner Cruz is Arizona going to get? It’s impossible to predict. Ideally, it’s the BYU version. Cruz wasn’t perfect in that game. But after a slow start, he got into a groove and helped the Wildcats move the ball. The San Diego State version? No one wants to see that. Cruz looked lost. In his defense, the Aztecs defense is among the best in the nation (sixth in total defense, third in yards allowed per play entering this week). After a string of three-and-outs, one touchdown (which was all YAC by Stanley Berryhill III) and an interception, Jedd Fisch had no choice but to sit Cruz down. The question is to what extent he benefited from his time on the sideline. His brief appearance at the end of the UCLA game wasn’t promising, although it was a small sample size and a difficult set of circumstances. (Cruz also didn’t get much help from his friends.) As Fisch has emphasized, Cruz doesn’t need to be a hero. He just needs to execute the plays that are called and manage the game smartly.
2. EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED
That expression never has made sense. When asked this week how to game-plan against any surprises that Colorado might spring coming off a bye, Arizona defensive coordinator Don Brown said: “You don't.” He’s right. It’s just guesswork. But it isn’t unreasonable to assume the Buffaloes will try something different, and it’s up to Brown and his staff to adjust once the wrinkles are revealed. The Wildcats might try some new stuff on offense too. We’re fairly certain of it, in fact. We aren’t allowed to say what it will be. But it’s something that makes a lot of sense given Arizona’s current circumstances. The most unexpected outcome Saturday would be a shootout. Arizona and Colorado average a combined 30.6 points. How absurdly low is that figure? Consider: The last three times the Wildcats and Buffaloes squared off in Boulder, the lowest output by either team was 30 points. Before last year’s 24-13 CU victory, the lowest combined total in any of their previous meetings as members of the Pac-12 was 58 points.
3. SOMETHING SPECIAL
In a game between scuffling offenses, special teams easily could be the deciding factor. How do Arizona and Colorado match up in that area? Let’s take a quick look. Both teams have punted and covered punts well; the Wildcats’ net average is 40.6 yards, while the Buffs’ is 41.4. Kyle Ostendorp has been one of Arizona’s top performers, averaging 46.1 gross yards. His ratio of punts inside the 20 (seven) to touchbacks (five) is just OK, and the Wildcats’ punt-protection unit has been leaky at times. Colorado’s Josh Watts has a 48.8 gross average with seven punts landed inside the 20 and three touchbacks. Arizona is utilizing two placekickers, Tyler Loop and Lucas Havrisik, depending on the distance of the try. That plan worked well against UCLA, as they combined to go 3 for 3 on field goals. It wouldn’t be a stretch to project Havrisik’s range to 60 yards at altitude. Colorado’s Cole Becker has made just 2 of 5 field-goal attempts, including 1 of 4 from 40-plus yards.
FINAL SCORE: Arizona 20, Colorado 19