Game at a Glance
Matchup: San Diego State Aztecs (3-2, 3-2 Mountain West) at Colorado Buffaloes (2-0, 2-0 Pac-12)
Kickoff: 3 p.m. MST
Where: Folsom Field in Boulder. Playing surface: Grass
TV: Pac-12 Network
Radio: KOA (850 AM & 94.1 FM)
Odds: Colorado by 3
Series: CU leads 1-0; defeated SDSU, 34-14, on Sept. 7, 2002, in Boulder
Knowing it was a possibility of playing San Diego State this week, Colorado head coach Karl Dorrell spent a few moments looking at the Aztecs early this week.
It wasn’t until the turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes were on the table Thursday that he knew for sure where to focus his attention.
On Thursday evening, Colorado (2-0) found out that its scheduled game at No. 19 Southern Cal (3-0) for Saturday was canceled because of COVID-19 cases at USC.
It was quickly announced that the Buffs would instead host San Diego State (3-2) in a nonconference game. The two teams will meet at 3 p.m. Saturday at Folsom Field (TV: Pac-12 Networks).
“(Preparation for SDSU) didn’t really kick into full gear until after I got the call at about 6:20 p.m. yesterday,” Dorrell said in a Zoom press conference Friday afternoon. “We quickly had our Thanksgiving dinner and went back to the offices and did what we needed to do to get ourselves ready.”
In a year that’s been anything but normal, the Buffs will play under very unique circumstances against an opponent they haven’t met in 18 years.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused games to be postponed all over the country this season, including the Buffs’ Nov. 21 home date with Arizona State.
At the start of this week, the Buffs felt confident they’d be playing the USC Trojans in a battle for first place in the Pac-12 South. Both teams had avoided coronavirus outbreaks this season.
When USC announced Tuesday that two players had tested positive and five others were in quarantine, CU put a backup plan in place, coordinating a game with San Diego State.
“It was a possibility and I did a peek at a couple (SDSU) games earlier in the week, but honestly, after peeking at those games, we felt like USC was going to be fine from the information we heard,” Dorrell said. “It did help for me to have a peek at them earlier in the week.”
CU coaches met Thursday night and Friday morning and then held a walkthrough with players on Friday afternoon.
In studying the Aztecs, Dorrell sees a team that is tough on defense and that runs the ball well.
“They’ve always been very good defensively,” he said. “They’ve always had really good offenses that ran the ball well and had really good backs. (In past years), they’ve played hard and done great jobs and all their phases and this team is definitely reminiscent of all the teams that I’ve seen recently, at least the last four or five years.”
At quarterback, the Buffs have to prepare for two players. Carson Baker started the first four games, but SDSU turned to Lucas Johnson last week in a 26-21 loss to Nevada. Johnson is more of a dual threat than Baker, but he injured his hamstring in the game. He finished the game, however, and is expected to start at CU.
“(Johnson) is definitely a guy that we have to make sure we do a good job containing him because he has ability to run and he’s thrown the ball well,” Dorrell said. “(Baker) is just as productive. We might see both of them. … I’m not sure, but it’s just a short period of time and we’re just putting together a great plan to be able to defend, regardless of who the quarterback is. It’s definitely a challenge for us and I know our players are working hard to be ready to go and play tomorrow.”
Dorrell said the Buffs will try to use some of the game plan they worked on all week for USC. They will also focus on what they do well. In-game adjustments by coaches will be as important as ever.
“It’s one of those games we’re going to have to make some adjustments along the way, given the shortness of the matchup,” Dorrell said. “We’ll have to do some great in-game adjustments and move forward, but we have to go into this type of contest having a good foundation of what we want to do from a scheme standpoint, from a preparation and game planning standpoint, but I know that we’ll probably have to do some adjustments with what we see.”
CU has been making big adjustments all year. This is a different challenge, but the Buffs are happy to be playing and they’re ready to face the Aztecs.
“We ended up putting together a really good plan, we think,” Dorrell said. “Our players did a great job of staying focused and had a good practice today. So we’re right where we need to be. Now we’ve got to go out there and execute.”