BOULDER, Colo. – With 2:29 remaining, and Arizona clinging to a five-point lead, almost the entire Wildcats team huddled near the west sideline at Folsom Field.
A similar scene had played out before the game. Defensive coordinator Marcel Yates brought the defense together. Every defensive assistant said a few words. Even strength coach Brian Johnson jumped in.
It was all part of a pregame routine that helped Arizona slip past Colorado.
The Wildcats defeated the Buffaloes 35-30 on Saturday. Yates’ defense made just enough stops — especially in the fourth quarter — to preserve the victory.
“While we were at the hotel this morning, he told us he wanted us to walk the field and visualize,” junior linebacker Tony Fields II said. “The whole team, we walked the field, visualizing ourselves making plays. We brought it up in the huddle. Each coach individually gave us words of knowledge, words of advice for the game.”
Arizona held Colorado to a field goal early in the fourth quarter after the Buffs had first-and-goal from the 2. CU’s final offensive play would come after that in-game huddle. The Wildcats harassed quarterback Steven Montez into an incomplete pass, all but ending the game.
UA coach Kevin Sumlin didn’t expect the offense to join the defense in the huddle. But he liked what it represented.
“You look around, and the offense is up there, the offensive line, the receivers, running backs. Everybody’s there at that moment. I think that’s a big deal about this team right now,” Sumlin said.
“It’s been like this ever since we left Hawaii — guys cheering for each other.”
Arizona has won four in a row since losing to the Rainbow Warriors in the season opener.
The Wildcats entered Saturday among the most penalized teams in the country. Arizona was averaging nine flags per game and had hit double figures in three of its first four contests.
One team committed eight penalties for 85 yards Saturday — and it wasn’t the UA. Arizona was flagged just one time for 5 yards, its lowest total in 17 games under Sumlin.
“We’ve been on both sides of it now,” Sumlin said. “What did we have, one today? And that wasn’t on the kids. That’s on the coaching staff. We’re trying to substitute when they didn’t substitute in no-huddle. That’s on us.
“Does it have a factor? You bet it does. You get behind the chains or off schedule anytime that happens; it puts pressure on your offense and your defense.”
Colorado committed six penalties for 65 yards in the first half, many of them derailing promising drives.
“Those are self-inflicted type of deals,” CU coach Mel Tucker said. “Maybe it was some of what they were doing, but in our minds it is more execution, technique and fundamentals. When you are behind the sticks like that, those are drive killers. We all know that. That was really the story of our first half.”
The Buffaloes had 297 yards at halftime but led by only six points.
Arizona tailback J.J. Taylor, who missed last week’s game against UCLA because of an ankle injury, started and carried the ball on the Wildcats’ first offensive play.
That was his lone touch, and he did not play after the first series.
“He wanted to get going, but we didn’t want to risk it a bunch,” Sumlin said. “He’s gonna be fine. We’re going to need him down the stretch.”
Sumlin said tailback Bam Smith also “got nicked up” during the game. The other running backs helped fill the void. Nathan Tilford scored a pair of touchdowns, and Michael Wiley caught six passes for 48 yards.
• Arizona won its third straight over Colorado. All three were decided by eight or fewer points.
• The Wildcats are 9-8 under Sumlin. It’s the first time they’ve been over .500 overall during his tenure.
• Wiley, a freshman, made his first career start, as did classmate Boobie Curry. The receiver was targeted three times and caught his first pass, for 19 yards.
• Tate moved into third place on UA’s all-time list with 52 touchdown passes.
• Colorado receiver Laviska Shenault warmed up but sat out because of a core-muscle injury. CU also announced that cornerback Chris Miller underwent season-ending surgery for a torn ACL.
• UA senior Malcolm Holland switched from cornerback to receiver and changed his number from 10 to 12.