What a ride. The University of Colorado Buffaloes football team has gone from an embarrassment to a top 10 team in only a year. As a young poet once said, “Started from the bottom, now we here.”
If the Buffs can win out and get some help down the stretch, a playoff berth is possible. To get there though, they’ll first have to get past a dangerous Washington State team. The Cougars come to Boulder this week riding their own wave of sudden success. After two losses to open the season (one to FCS opponent Eastern Washington), Wazzu has won eight straight and now sits at No. 22 in the CFP poll.
So who will win the battle of jokes-turned-juggernauts? Here’s what will help determine the outcome on Saturday.
It’s hard to know what to expect with this Colorado offense. They can burn you in the air and they can torch you on the ground, but they can’t seem to do both in the same game. Most wins this season have come off a strong performance by either junior running back Phillip Lindsay or by senior quarterback Sefo Liufau.
Liufau had been iffy since his return in week seven but seemed to find his groove again against Arizona last week. In that game, he went 19-of-27 for 213 yards and three touchdowns. A rushing touchdown by Liufau in the contest contributed to one of his best outings of the season.
Running the ball will be much harder for the Buffs. Washington State brings the Pac-12’s best run defense (no. 19 overall) into Folsom. The return of nose tackle Robert Barber from suspension is sure to help a front seven that’s already performing well. Lindsay will have a tough time breaking free … or will he?
The stats here are against him, but don’t be too shocked if he manages to find some openings on Saturday. Let’s not forget the last time a team came into Boulder touting a strong run defense (Arizona State, which at the time had the fifth-best run defense in the country), Lindsay shredded them for 219 yards. He finds ways to succeed where others fail.
Still, given Liufau’s hot hand and WSU’s strength against the run, it seems logical to guess passing will be CU’s primary choice. This Cougar defense has a tendency to give up long pass plays, especially when their opponents have multiple receiving threats. Expect Liufau to take advantage of this and deliver at least a few of his signature long-bombs.
There to catch them will be whatever member of CU’s star receiving trio that gets the most favorable coverage (likely junior Devin Ross). Washington State’s defensive backs aren’t slackers, but they certainly aren’t as good as the front seven. The Cougars give up on average 271.6 yards through the air, so be looking for Liufau and the Buffs to find ways to exploit them.
The Buffs don’t have as potent of an offensive attack as WSU. That said, they have diverse talents and often one of them will find a way to put up points. Expect Colorado to put up a good fight, even if the Cougar defense is as-advertised.
Colorado’s defense is still the hallmark of the team, and since establishing themselves as such, they haven’t stopped playing at a high level. Ranked first in total defense in the Pac-12 (no. 12 in college football), CU seems to always hold when they need to. The defense is almost guaranteed to get at least one turnover every game, usually when it’s needed the most.
That’s all well and good, but Luke Falk and the air-raid offense of WSU may be the toughest challenge yet to this squad. Averaging 517.5 yards per game, the Cougar offense is scary efficient and, as of late, surprisingly balanced. Falk and his favorite target Gabe Marks are the stars of the show but what makes this offense truly threatening is its run game. Running backs Gerard Wicks and Jamal Morrow don’t often get a surplus of carries, but when they do they’ve proved they can put up 120+ yards.
Colorado’s run defense can be stout at times, but is vulnerable to rushing quarterbacks. Luckily for them, Falk isn’t much of a runner, but then again, he is a hell of a thrower. Pressure on Falk from the front seven will be key, but the secondary will have to do its part in locking down his options. WSU lost one of its top receivers, River Cracraft, to a torn ACL in last Saturday’s win over Cal. He will be missed by the Cougars, but don’t expect Luke Falk to be any less deadly.
Colorado will have its biggest test so far against this high-powered offense. Conversely, Washington State will face its own biggest test against this Buffs defense. There’s no doubt that the Cougars will put up some points, but CU is a team capable of limiting the damage.
It’s hard to predict what will end up winning this game. Both teams are successful because they defy expectations. Likely, things will come to down a handful of big plays, and it remains to be seen who has the advantage in that category. Expect a close game, but expect Colorado to have the slightest of edges being at home.
The game will kickoff at 1:30 p.m. (MST)
Contact CU Independent Sports Writer Kyle Rini at firstname.lastname@example.org.