No. 21 Arizona, coming off three consecutive victories over ranked teams, will try to keep the momentum going when it plays a stalled Colorado team on Saturday in Boulder, Colo.
The Buffaloes (4-5, 1-5 Pac-12) were the darlings of the college football world through the first three weeks of the season but have won just one game since – a three-point decision at Arizona State on Oct. 7. Coach Deion Sanders’ team has lost three in a row and is second-to-last nationally in total defense, allowing 469.0 yards per game.
“There’s a tremendous amount of positives that we must lean on with these young men because they’re playing their butts off,” Sanders said. “There’s no quit in them and that’s one thing that draws me closer and closer to them and I love it. They have not shut it down.”
The Wildcats (6-3, 4-2) are one of the new darlings of college football, bowl eligible for the first time since 2017 and appearing in the College Football Playoff rankings for the first time since the initial release in 2017 (No. 22). Arizona is surging behind a much-improved defense and redshirt freshman quarterback Noah Fifita.
Fifita entered the lineup when Jayden de Laura was injured late in the fourth game against Stanford, and he’s not giving back the starting job, even though de Laura is healthy again. Fifita’s five starts have all come against ranked teams, a stretch that started with a seven-point loss to then-No. 7 Washington and a triple-overtime loss at No. 9 Southern California.
Since then, Arizona has ripped off a 44-6 win at No. 19 Washington State on Oct. 14, a 27-24 victory over No. 11 Oregon State on Oct. 28 and a 27-10 triumph over No. 19 UCLA last Saturday.
In the five starts, Fifita has completed 140 of 185 passes (75.7 percent) for 1,463 yards, with 14 touchdowns and four interceptions. He has been selected the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week after Arizona’s past four games.
“There has been a lot of dreams turning into reality,” Fifita said, before talking about his four interceptions in five starts. “It’s something I have to improve on. It’s on me. We’ve got to eliminate those to be successful.”
Colorado quarterback Shedeur Sanders has cooled after a red-hot start, although he’s getting no support from the running game (69.1 yards per game) and not much protection from the offensive line (5.11 sacks allowed per game). Both of those marks, as with total defense, rank second-to-last nationally.
The Buffaloes have shown progress, though, in the past two weeks, forcing six total turnovers and holding ranked teams UCLA and Oregon State to an average of 27 points.
“The defense is getting it; they’re understanding the scheme,” Sanders said. “They’re tough-nosed and tough-minded. And when we get everybody on the same page, it’s going to be extraordinary.”
Arizona coach Jedd Ari Fisch, in his third season, has been using the “It’s personal” slogan since he arrived. Sanders also started using that motivational tagline this season.
Arizona’s top pass-rusher, Taylor Upshaw (7.5 sacks), was part of the post-spring exodus from Colorado, spending only a semester in Boulder after five years at Michigan. Arizona starting wide receiver Montana Lemonious-Craig (20 catches, 183 yards) also transferred from the Buffaloes after spring ball.
Regarding the transfers, Fisch said it would not be personal.
“Yeah, we talked about it, and we try to not make it personal, not make it emotional,” Fisch said. “Just play football. Just go play a team.”
–Field Level Media