Buffaloes scouting report
Head coach: Karl Dorrell, 2nd season (8-9; 43-36 career)
2021 Record: 4-7, 3-5 Pac-12
Last week: Defeated Washington, 20-17, at home
5 Players to Watch
- RB Jarek Broussard: For the Buffs to have success on offense they’ve got to run the ball and it starts with Broussard, who has 302 yards in the last three games.
- ILB Quinn Perry: Now the Buffs’ leading tackler, he’s had 28 stops in the last three games and is a key to stopping the Utah run.
- CB/KR Nikko Reed: Freshman had an interception last week and has played at least 20 snaps in three straight games. Dorrell said Reed will also return kicks this week.
- WR Dimitri Stanley: The leader of a depleted receiver group, he’s caught just two passes in the last two games but could be leaned upon more this week. Typically a slot receiver, he could move around to the outside a bit this week, as well.
- OLB Carson Wells: CU’s best play-maker in the front seven, he has heated up in recent weeks. He has 24 tackles and six tackles for loss in the last three games.
CU offense: The Buffs are out of the early-season funk that saw them score just six offensive touchdowns in six weeks. But, they’re not that far out of it, as last week proved. They had just 183 yards against Washington and certainly need to do better against the Utes. CU is at its best when it can run the ball, but to be effective in the ground, it also needs Brendon Lewis to move the ball through the air. The Buffs are short-handed at receiver, but tight end Brady Russell and a group of young receivers are capable. If the offensive line has a good day, the Buffs can find success. “We still have a lot of work to go there (with the line), even though they’ve made some levels of improvement,” Dorrell said. “We need to make sure that we’re playing solid throughout the game.”
CU defense: Inside linebacker Nate Landman and outside linebacker Guy Thomas were two of the Buffs’ best defenders the first seven weeks, but both have missed four games this week and are unlikely to play against the Utes. With several young players seeing time in recent weeks, the Buffs have struggled. They’ve given up at least 426 yards to five consecutive opponents and tight ends have had enjoyed a great deal of success lately. “We’ve got to win more one-on-ones,” safety Mark Perry said of slowing down Utah’s tight ends. “Last week versus Washington, the big plays that they really had came more in zone coverage, but I know that there were a couple that hit in man coverage. When we’re in man, we just gotta win our one-on-ones. We’ve got to compete. It’s gonna be give-and-take. They’re gonna get some, we’re gonna get some, but at the end of the day, we got to get more than they get.”
CU special teams: The Buffs continue to have one of the top kicking units in the Pac-12. Punter Josh Watts ranks seventh nationally with a 47.89-yard average. Cole Becker is second in the Pac-12 with 12 field goals made (in 17 attempts). He’s made 12 of his last 14 kicks. Kick returner Brenden Rice is out, so freshman Nikko Reed is expected to get an opportunity.
CU keys to victory
Establish the run: The Buffs have been inconsistent on the ground and this is a tough opponent to get it rolling against. Since joining the Pac-12, CU has averaged just 87.0 rushing yards against the Utes, including 68.0 in the last three games.
Cover the tight ends: In the last two weeks, the Buffs have given up 14 catches for 203 yards to tight ends – often with them running free across the middle. Utah has a better tight end group than both UCLA and Washington, so the Buffs have to shore that up.
Embrace the spoiler role: CU has nothing to play for but pride. There’s not a lot on the line for Utah, either, but it is senior day for the Utes. Play inspired and maybe the Buffs can catch the Utes looking ahead to the Pac-12 championship game.
- Through 11 games, the Buffs have scored on 30 of 32 trips in the red zone (93.8 percent). That’s on pace to be the best scoring rate in CU history. CU has 20 touchdowns 10 field goals in the red zone.
- CU is seeking its first victory against a top-20 team on the road since a 31-17 win at UCLA on Sept. 21, 2002. Since then, the Buffs are 0-31 against top-20 teams outside of Boulder.
- Running back Jarek Broussard has 1,474 rushing yards in his career. He needs 26 to become just the 30th player in CU history to reach 1,500 yards.
- Outside linebacker Carson Wells needs two tackles for loss to become just the seventh player in CU history with 40 for his career (teammate Nate Landman has 40). Wells has six TFLs in the past three games.
- CU is 32-32-3 all-time against Utah, a series that began in 1903 with a 22-0 CU win. Not only is the series tied, but each team has almost the same record at home. Utah is 18-14-2 against the Buffs in Salt Lake City and the Buffs are 18-14-1 in Colorado (including 1-0 in Denver).
Utes scouting report
Head coach: Kyle Whittingham, 17th season (142-69)
2021 Record: 8-3, 7-1 Pac-12
Last week: Defeated Oregon at home, 38-7
5 Players to Watch
- WR Britain Covey: Four-time All-Pac-12 selection is first among active Pac-12 players in catches (171) and has 3,730 career all-purpose yards. He has 1,611 career return yards with four punt returns for touchdowns (two this season).
- TE Brant Kuithe: Leads the Utes in catches (41), yards (487) and TDs (5). He has 120 catches for 1,546 yards in his career. Against CU in 2019, he scored three touchdowns (two receiving, one rushing).
- LB Devin Lloyd: Butkus Award finalist is second nationally with 21 tackles for loss and he has 7.0 sacks and three interceptions.
- QB Cameron Rising: Took over as the starter in Week 4 and has thrown for 1,9320 yards and 14 TDs with only two interceptions. He’s also rushed for 329 yards and five touchdowns.
- DL Mika Tafua: Leader of an exceptional defensive line, he had 12 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks.
Utah offense: The Utes’ attack is paced by its run game, which ranks among the best in the country with 213.9 yards per game. They have three exceptional running backs and a powerful offensive line. Utah also has a trio of talented tight ends and playmakers at receiver. What makes this unit pop, however, is quarterback Cameron Rising, who has taken the Utes’ to a 7-1 record since becoming the starter. “We know what they want to do,” CU safety Mark Perry said. “They want to run the ball. They want to use 13 personnel, 12 personnel, use their tight ends. Their tight ends are a staple of their offense and so is their slot receiver, Britain Covey. We know who they are, we know what they are. We’ve just got to go out and execute.”
Utah defense: As the season has gone along, the Utes have improved on defense. Led by All-American linebacker Devin Lloyd, they’ve been dominant at times. A key to that is an improved defensive line. The trio of Mika Tafua, Junior Tafuna and Van Fillinger have combined for 24.5 TFLs and 17 sacks. “Relative to some of the struggles we had earlier in the season, we’re playing much, much better football right now up front,” Whittingham said. Linebacker Nephi Sewell and safety Brandon McKinney have also been leaders for the Utes.
Utah special teams: For years, the Utes had one of the best special teams units in the Pac-12, if not the country. They’ve struggled a bit more than usual this season, however. They have made just 10-of-15 field goals overall, and they rank last in the Pac-12 with a 38.24 average on punts, while using three different punters – including Rising twice on quick kicks. Covey is an explosive returner, however, as he’s already returned two punts for touchdowns.
Utah keys to victory
Crowd energy: Rice-Eccles Stadium added about 5,600 seats – to a capacity of 51,444 – with a recent expansion and this should be the 70th consecutive sell-out, dating back to 2010. It’ll be important to ride that energy on senior day.
Don’t slip: They’ve already got the Pac-12 South title wrapped up, so the big game for the Utes is next week. But two weeks ago they let Arizona hang around until the final minutes and have to avoid that on Friday
Harass Lewis: CU has already allowed 28 sacks and 73 tackles for loss and Utah is the most relentless defense the Buffs have seen. The Utes’ front-seven could have a big day.
- Utah was the last Pac-12 South team to reach the conference title game, in 2018, but it has now won the South in three of the last four seasons. The Utes are 18-3 in their last 21 conference games.
- Utah is seeking the 700th win in program history. Currently, the Utes are 699-472-31 all-time. They could become the 32nd FBS program to reach 700. CU hit that mark in 2017 and has a record of 718-524-36.
- The Utes have three running backs with at least 400 yards, led by Tavion Thomas (836, 17 TD) and T.J. Pledger (548, 5 TD). Micah Bernard has 454 and 2 TD.
- Utah’s defense ranks 10th nationally in tackles for loss (85) and 15th in sacks (34). Offensively, the Utes are 13th nationally in giving up just 42 TFLs and eighth in allowing only 11 sacks.
- This season, the Utes are 8-0 when they outgain their opponent in rushing yards and 0-3 when they don’t. In their three losses, they gave up 224, 204 and 260 rushing yards.