After facing two of the best pocket passers in the country over the past two weeks, the Colorado defense will face a much different challenge this week.
On Saturday, the Buffaloes (3-2, 0-2 Pac-12) will host Arizona (2-2, 0-1) and its talented dual-threat quarterback, Brandon Dawkins.
“That’s Pac-12 football,” defensive coordinator DJ Eliot said. “You get different offenses, they’re all explosive, they all know how to score points, so your defense has to be ready to adapt and be ready to defend different styles of offenses and execute.”
In terms of quarterback styles, the transition from the last two weeks to this week couldn’t be much more different.
Despite losing the last two games, the Buffs did a nice job against Washington’s Jake Browning and Josh Rosen. Both are among the best throwers in the country, while not offering much of a threat on the run.
This week, the Buffs are preparing for Dawkins, who might be more dangerous as a runner than as a passer.
“It’s like getting the best of both worlds,” senior safety Afolabi Laguda said of the change of styles this week. “It’s like getting peanut butter and then getting jelly. It’s very different aspects.”
A year ago in Tucson, Ariz., the Buffs did a nice job against Dawkins, holding him to 76 yards rushing and 107 passing.
The players and coaches who were on the team in 2015, however, haven’t forgotten what Arizona did two years ago in Boulder. In that game, the Buffs were leading 24-17 entering the fourth quarter. Then, Arizona put dual-threat quarterback Jerrard Randall into the lineup. He and running back Jared Baker sparked a 21-0 burst en route to Arizona’s victory.
“(Coaches) referenced that a lot in meetings actually,” inside linebacker Drew Lewis said.
While it’s different players this time around, the Buffs are well aware of the challenges Arizona can present with a zone-read offense that head coach Rich Rodriguez designed years ago.
“It’s really the Rich Rod offense,” head coach Mike MacIntyre aid. “Not a lot of people run this exact type of thing.”
When the Arizona offense is at its best, MacIntyre said, the running backs are rolling. Backs J.J. Taylor, Nick Wilson and Nathan Tilford have all had good moments this season.
“If they can get that running back going, you just can’t stop them,” MacIntyre said. “We have to somehow keep the running back from getting going, and then we’ve got a chance.”
Dawkins has been the catalyst, however.
The junior leads the Wildcats with 341 yards rushing yards and he’s got six of their 15 rushing touchdowns. He’s led the team in rushing in three of their four games.
Because Dawkins is so elusive as a runner, the Buffs said discipline on defense is vital, so that Dawkins can’t bust loose.
“You always have to account for him in the run game, you always have to account for him in your pass rush lanes, making sure that you’re not getting too far up the field and giving him a lane to tuck it and run it,” Eliot said. “Those things are always in consideration in your game plan and your techniques for that week for an athletic quarterback.”
Lewis said the Buffs need to almost treat Dawkins like a running back at times.
“You expect him to scramble,” he said. “We’re anticipating it.”
As a passer, Dawkins has completed 62.9 percent of his throws for 670 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions. All three of his interceptions came in a 30-24 loss to Utah, including a pick-six that proved to be the difference.
While Dawkins hasn’t been as efficient with his arm, the Buffs know they have to be prepared to stop him as a runner and passer. That’s a challenge, but one they are ready to embrace.
“I feel like it’s definitely a fun challenge, and it also lets you know where you are as a player and as an athlete,” Laguda said. “I think we’ll have our hands full this week.”