BOULDER — If the old adage “the games they remember are played in November” rings true, the Colorado Buffaloes have three more chances to make it a memorable month.
No doubt, a win over the No. 23 Arizona Wildcats would give Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders’ Buffs a little something for their scrapbooks.
On paper, Saturday’s game at Folsom Field (noon kickoff, Pac-12 Networks) is a matchup of two programs at least temporarily headed in opposite directions.
The Buffs (4-5 overall, 1-5 Pac-12) have lost three in a row and five of their last six, a harsh return to earth after a sky-high 3-0 start that saw them earn a spot in the nation’s top 25.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats (6-3, 4-2) have knocked off three straight ranked opponents — Washington State, Oregon State and UCLA — after a 3-3 start and now find themselves ranked for the first time since 2017.
But they won’t play this one on paper and the Buffs believe they have more than a puncher’s chance of throwing a wrench into Arizona’s ascension.
It’s not as if the Buffs have fallen apart. The CU defense has been stellar in the last two games and the offense — while admittedly struggling to find a consistent rhythm recently — still has the potential to put points on the board in a hurry.
The question is whether Coach Prime’s crew can put those elements together for a 60-minute game.
How do they accomplish that? Our weekly Fast Five:
1. Continue their defensive takeaway string. The Buffs’ defense has been on a roll in this department. CU has forced six turnovers in the last two games and helped Colorado stay within striking range in both affairs, even when the offense was struggling.
The Buffs need to continue that hot streak against the Wildcats. Arizona’s quarterbacks have thrown nine interceptions this season — including four by freshman Noah Fifita, the current starter — and the ‘Cats have also lost three fumbles.
If Colorado can produce some of those momentum-turning plays early, that will open the door for the offense. Which brings us to:
2. Take advantage of offensive opportunities. While CU’s defense handed the offense six more chances with the ball in the last two games, the Buffaloes didn’t make the most of those opportunities. Colorado reaped just six points off those takeaways — and in both games, even a touchdown instead of a field goal off the miscues would have been big.
The Buffs simply can’t afford to let those chances slip through their fingers this week. When the defense hands them an opportunity — especially in enemy territory — Colorado’s offense needs to convert.
3. Regain their third down conversion success. Through six games this season, the Buffs were converting on 46 percent of their third-down tries. But over the last four, that number has dropped to 35 percent.
That situation has led to shorter drives, better field position for the opponent and more time on the field for the defense.
Saturday’s loss to Oregon State provided a microcosm of CU’s recent troubles in that area.
Colorado had 24 first down opportunities against the Beavers and averaged just 3.7 yards per attempt on first down. The Buffs gave up sacks on three first down plays, were called for penalties on two more and averaged just 2.1 yards on first down rushing attempts.
That means CU found itself behind the sticks for much of the night, ending up in far too many third-and-long situations. Colorado’s average distance to go on third down was 9 yards.
CU has to make those third downs more manageable. Which means…
4. Find a way to run the ball. Colorado’s rushing attack hasn’t found its legs all season. The Buffs have surpassed 100 yards on the ground just twice in nine games.
But while 3 yards and a cloud of dust isn’t sexy, third-and-4 is much more appealing than third-and-9. CU needs to establish at least the threat of a run game to keep the Wildcats defense honest.
Arizona is giving up just 102 yards per game on the ground. But if Colorado can hit the Wildcats early with a handful of positive running plays, it will give quarterback Shedeur Sanders a little more time to throw.
5. Regain the swagger. Even when the Buffs trailed USC by 27 at two different junctures this year, they never flinched. They attacked, came back and nearly scored an upset.
In last weekend’s loss to Oregon State, there were flashes of that swagger when Colorado put up two late touchdowns to throw a scare into the Beavers.
CU needs to hit the field with that swagger from the get-go. The Buffs still haven’t put together a solid 60-minute effort from both sides of the ball in Pac-12 play.
If they can manage to do that, they’ll be in the game down the stretch with a chance to end their losing streak and knock off a ranked opponent at the same time.
That would be the beginning of a November to remember.