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Arizona takes on Colorado in a battle for the top spot in Pac-12 South

Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate, front, runs for a touchdown past Colorado linebacker Drew Lewis, back left, and defensive back Evan Worthington in the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017, in Boulder, Colo. Arizona won 45-42. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The Arizona Wildcats and Colorado Buffaloes will butt heads on Saturday for the chance to stay on top of the Pac-12 South.

UA has won three games in a row while CU is coming off of defeating No. 24 Arizona State on the road and a bye week. Both teams have performed well offensively so far, to go along with poor defensive starts.

This could lead to a shootout in Boulder.

A major point to look out for is the status of Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate (hamstring) and halfback J.J. Taylor (ankle). Neither played last week, but the Wildcats were still able to defeat the UCLA Bruins 20-17 in Tucson.

CU has a much better offense than UCLA, so if Tate and Taylor don’t play, then all eyes will turn to true freshman quarterback Grant Gunnell.

Essential Info

What: Arizona (3-1,1-0) @ Colorado (3-1, 1-0)

When: Saturday, @ 1:30 p.m.

TV: Pac-12 Network

About Colorado

Watch out for the Air Raid.

Through four games, CU quarterback Steven Montez has yet to throw for under 220 yards and has racked up at least 337 twice.

CU’s pass protection was incredible in its last game at ASU, as Montez was not even hurried once.

Standout wide receiver Laviska Shenault (undisclosed) left early during that game, and his status is up in the air. But Montez still has two dynamic targets in K.D. Nixon and Tony Brown. Brown pulled in three touchdowns and 150 yards in Tempe.

The run game is not incompetent, but is far less productive than the passing attack.

The gaping hole on this team is on the other side of the ball.

The Buffaloes defense allows the 31st most points per game (30.8) in the FBS (130 teams), second-most in the Pac-12. The pass coverage has been inept and the rush defense has been poor as well.

Opponents have converted on third downs 48% of the time; only 15 teams allow a higher clip. Unfortunately for Arizona, it is one of those 15.

How Arizona matches up

Gunnell performed very well last week, even earning Pac-12 Freshman of the Week honors for completing 29 of 44 throws for 352 yards.

But he has never played away from home and he would have to keep pace with the best scoring offense on Arizona’s schedule so far besides Hawaii (Week 1).

Tate would add another dynamic to the rushing attack too, plus he has a dominant history against Colorado (he broke the FBS record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 327 in 2017). He would likely do a better job of managing the clock with a combination of throws and runs, which could tire out the CU defense and keep Montez and company off of the field as much as possible.

Gunnell has played well enough to believe that he could give the CU secondary some trouble, but his lack of experience is a concern and he is not as multi-dimensional as Tate.

(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Arizona’s defense was horrific over the first two weeks, but it has settled down since then. It only allowed 31 combined points against Texas Tech and UCLA in its last two games.

Arizona’s key to keeping CU in check is to put pressure on the quarterback, something it has not done well to this point though (no sacks or quarterback hurries since Week 2).

Final thought

This game should be high-tempo and high-scoring. If Tate plays and the Wildcats control possession, that gives them the best chance to stay atop of the Pac-12 standings. But if Montez gets time in the pocket, he will punish the UA secondary.

This could come down to who does not score first. Or perhaps a tie-breaker could be penalties committed, an area where Arizona has struggled mightily.

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