Here's what we learned in our Q&A:
UWDP: Quarterback Sefo Liufau has been outstanding this season and has really put the team on his back in the last quarter of the season. He has run the ball nearly 20 times per game during that stretch. What has necessitated Liufau as a runner and do you expect him to have that many carries on Friday night?
Jack: I don’t know if anything necessitated the heavy use of QB power runs, but the coaches recognized that Sefo could be a big weapon in that area and they used him accordingly. Particularly against Washington State, who has a small, aggressive defensive front. Sefo is a good natural runner and his ability to power through arm tackles is somewhat unique for a quarterback, as is his toughness. His number of carries on Friday depends entirely on what Sefo Liufau sees staring back at him. He checks a lot of plays at the line, often calling his own number or Phillip Lindsay’s number. If Washington focuses on stopping the QB run by loading the box and pushing the edges, CU will try to punish with quick RB passes or WR slants.
UWDP: Shay Fields, Devin Ross and Bryce Bobo lead a strong Buffs’ receiving corps, each with over 40 catches and 500 yards on the season. Tell us how each are utilized in the CU offense and about any other receiving weapons in the Colorado arsenal. Please give us your analysis of the pass protection as well.
Jack: I mean, they aren’t quite what UW’s receiving corps is, but the #BlackOutBoyz, as they are self-titled, do some damage to opposing defenses. Bryce Bobo suffered an ankle sprain against Washington State, and his status for Friday is a game-time decision. Bobo is the most possession like receiver, with sure hands, a large catch radius, and some nifty moves in the open field. He is hard to bring down one-on-one and has a penchant for the highlight reel. He is also the tallest starting receiver at 6’2. Shay Fields is one of the most complete receivers in the conference and perhaps the most well-known on the team. He has great hands, runs great routes, and uses his great speed to get behind defenses. He can hit the short, intermediate, and long passes. Finally, Devin Ross is a speedster in the slot. He has really improved his catching this year, and he will be targeted deep more often than the other two starters. He is also a huge weapon in the short passing game, as his speed helps him get open early on slants and out routes. Elsewhere in the passing game, Jay MacIntyre is a reliable fourth option, and Kabion Ento started for Bryce Bobo last week. Ento is a big receiver like Bobo and runs angry, also like Bobo. He is also supremely athletic and a little raw. Phillip Lindsay is also used often out of the backfield. The pass protection has been solid, but not spectacular. All five offensive linemen are experienced and large, so there aren’t many breakdowns.
UWDP: Phillip Lindsay has been the “bell cow” for Colorado this season with 211 carries, a 5.2 yard average and 15 rushing TDs. What makes him so good? Who else (besides Liufau) can we expect to have an impact rushing the football? How has the offensive line performed in the running game?
Jack: Well, the only running back that will play a lot of snaps will likely be Lindsay, with a little bit of Kyle Evans mixed in there. Phillip Lindsay, like Sefo Liufau, is just so damn tough. He has plus agility and quickness, that is true, but there is no physical reason for someone his size (5’8, 190) to run over people like he runs over people and block defensive linemen like he blocks defensive linemen. He just plays with heart and effort on every single snap. It’s hard to describe his game without using every cliché in the book. The offensive line has performed admirably in the running game. Lining up and punching another team in the mouth is probably their strength. They are extremely well-conditioned, so they run the hurry up offense very well. Watch out for the trap runs that CU is fond of. When CU pulls their guard and has #81 (Sean Irwin) blocking out front, it’s usually a good gain.
UWDP: Colorado and Washington are clearly the top two defensive teams in the Pac 12, despite both teams losing their top pass rushers to season-ending injuries. UW leads in scoring defense by a single point per game, while CU yields five LESS yards per game than UW. What is the key to the Buffs’ defense and who are some defenders to watch?
Jack: The key is the defensive coordinator, Jim Leavitt. He has performed a masterclass with this unit. Seriously, a perfect coaching job. The amount that this unit has improved under his watch is just incredible. Very few mistakes, aggressive play, and turnovers on turnovers. He is a magician. But, if you’re looking for some players to watch, I’d be happy to oblige. It starts up front with NT Josh Tupou. He clogs lanes, takes up blockers, and allows everyone else to do their job. Some NFL team will be very happy with him next year. On the edge, you have Jimmie Gilbert, somehow the only first team all-conference selection on offense or defense for the Buffs. He brings consistent pressure of the edge and is surprisingly stout in run support for how svelte his frame is. Kenneth Olugbode, the MLB, quarterbacks the defense and fills holes consistently and with force. He has great sideline pursuit and has really improved shedding blocks. Finally, we get to the Money Gang. This secondary is an absolute terror to deal with, something that UW fans should be familiar with. Chidobe Awuzie, who will play early and often on Sundays, switches between boundary and nickel corner and does both jobs extremely well. He is athletic, physical, and smart. Ahkello Witherspoon is a lanky, lockdown corner that has shut down almost everyone put in front of him this year. Tedric Thompson is the best safety in the conference, or close to it. His 7 interceptions are 2nd in the country, and he has 6 pass break ups. He can also lay the wood and come up in run support. Just a fantastic football player. There are others but those are the important ones.
UWDP: No one outside of Boulder expected a 10-win regular season from Colorado. How surprised are you with the team’s success? Is Mike MacIntyre a shoe-in for national coach of the year? How has he turned the program around so dramatically?
Jack: No one outside of this coaching staff expected this year, and even then, I don’t know if they expected to be ranked 8th in the CFP. I am very surprised. My season prediction before the year said that the Utah game would determine the season’s success. Of course, I said they would be 5-6 going into that game and beating Utah would guarantee Mike MacIntyre’s job. Now, he’s coach of the year in the Pac-12 and should be a shoe-in nationally. As for the dramatics of the turnaround, it came down to the players. This senior class will go down in the annals as one of the best of all time at CU. They stuck it and are now reaping the rewards, immediately and bountifully. Last year, the 4-9 season, was wrought with close calls and almost-wins. The team has made a concerted effort to finish games and start fast, so these close losses have turned into close wins, and sometimes blowouts.
UWDP: What is your prediction for the Pac-12 Championship Game?
Jack: I think Washington wins, but due to the nature of these defenses, not by much. Udub is one of the most complete teams in the nation, and their athletes scare me. It should be a great test for both teams. For CU to win, Sefo Liufau would have to have a career game and the defense would need to force some turnovers.
UWDP: Thanks, Jack. For more on the game from the Colorado perspective, be sure to check out The Ralphie Report.