Preview – Washington State

It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to use the transitive property of equality. Like say 40 years.

But let’s give it a try …

Washington State destroyed UNLV at home, 59-7.

Back home in Las Vegas, UNLV took out its frustrations on Hawai’i, 40-20.

This after Hawai’i opened the season on the islands with a dominating win over Colorado, 34-17.

So, it’s real easy – WSU > UNLV; UNLV > Hawai’i; Hawai’i > Colorado.  Therefore, Washington State > Colorado … and by a wide margin.

Thing is, college football doesn’t really work that way.

Which is why we have this week’s “T.I.P.S.” …

T – Talent

Senior Washington State quarterback Marshall Lobbestael didn’t have much to look forward to this fall. Junior Jeff Tuel had been tabbed as the starter for the Cougars for the 2011 season. Lobbestael, who had 19 career games under his belt (including six starts), was relegated to clipboard duty, with playing time only in mop up victories (few and far between in Pullman) and blowout losses.

That plan didn’t last long.

Jeff Tuel went out with a fractured clavical early in the opener against Idaho State, putting Lobbestael back onto the field.

All the senior has done since then is impress.

In three games, Lobbestael has thrown for 959 yards and ten touchdowns (with only two interceptions). Lobbestael has completed 62.4% of his passes, and has a passing efficiency rating of 180.2, tops in the Pac-12.

When Lobbestael drops back to pass, he has a number of options. In each of the first two games (blowout victories over Idaho State and UNLV), 11 different receivers caught passes, with no receiver grabbing more than five in a game.

Lobbestael’s favorite target, though, is sophomore wide receiver Marquess Wilson. Remember Paul Richardson’s performance against California – 11 catches for a record-setting 284 yards? Wilson is Richardson’s equal. Against San Diego State, Wilson had six catches for 236 yards and two touchdowns (including an 80-yarder on the first play of the game). “Their receiver, No. 86 (Wilson), is a real good player, he reminds me a little bit of our guy, 6 (sophomore wide receiver Paul Richardson)”, said Colorado head coach Jon Embree earlier this week.

Wilson is not Lobbestael’s only target. “They have some other guys they go to with the ball,” said Embree. “84 (senior wide receiver Jared Karstetter, who is 6’4″) another big wide receiver. He gets down the field, plays big in the red zone.” Karstetter has 119 career catches, and has had four career multi-touchdown performances, including a two touchdown game against UNLV this season.

This is not to say that the Cougars and their spread offense have abandoned the running game. Washington State is averaging over 150 yards rushing per game, with three running backs already over 100 yards rushing in three games. The totals are a bit deceiving, though, as the Cougars ran up 289 yards rushing against Idaho State, but had only 51 yards rushing against San Diego State.

With Washington State’s passing offense, perhaps it is not a surprise that the Cougar offense has been susceptible to sacks. San Diego State sacked Lobbestael six times two weeks ago, which should be good news to the Colorado defense, which is tied for fourth in the nation with 15 sacks in four games.

When Colorado has the ball, it may be time for the Buff rushing attack to make a guest appearance. Washington State is 40th in the nation in rush defense, but again that number is deceptive. The Cougars limited Idaho State to 23 yards rushing, but gave up 227 yards rushing to San Diego State. Ronnie Hillman ran for 191 yards and four touchdowns in the 42-24 Aztec victory, including a back-breaking 59 yard run midway through the fourth quarter to raise San Diego State’s lead from 28-24 to 35-24.

Washington State is also vulnerable to the pass. The Cougars are 92nd in the nation in pass defense, giving up over 250 yards per game. San Diego State amassed 273 yards passing two weeks ago, holding the ball for 35:43 while converting 11-of-19 third down opportunities.

In short, look for a high-scoring game this weekend. Washington State can score early and often, and, with the Colorado defensive backfield a patchwork of injured and inexperience players, Lobbestael will have opportunities for success. Conversely, there is no reason to believe that the Colorado offense will not be successful against the Washington State defense.

I – Intangibles

Leave it to Dave Plati.

While everyone who has a black-and-gold sweatshirt in their closest is painfully aware of the slow starts the Buffs have had this season, it took the Colorado SID to put numbers to the pain.

In the first 3/8ths of the first four games (through the first quarter and half of the second) Colorado has been out-scored 43-3, and out-gained 524-230. In the final 5/8ths of the game, however (the second half of the second quarter, and all of the second half), Colorado has out-scored the opposition 89-72, and owns a 1,246-723 advantage in total offense.

“We have been awful starting games,” understated Colorado head coach Jon Embree after the Ohio State game. “We script plays and we go through it and we give them the looks and we practice it. We do everything. But, for whatever reason, when the lights go on whether it’s a drop, whether it’s a missed block, whether it’s a fumble, we continually struggle starting games.”

Will the Buffs start fast against Washington State? Or, will the Buffs go three-and-out in their first possession, with a procedure call or a dropped pass bringing out the “boo-birds” before the student section has had a chance to fill?

How the Buffs have started their games this fall brings to mind the old Mike Tyson quote. The former heavyweight champion / philosopher once said, “Everybody has a plan until they get hit in the face”.

It’s time for the Colorado Buffaloes to stand up and deliver the first punch, rather than wait to see how the game unfolds. The coaches know they have to start fast against Washington State, so do the players. Unfortunately, the Washington State coaches and players also know this – and they have been game-planning for the Buffs for two weeks (look for screens and draws early, trying to catch the Buffs in being too aggressive on defense).

Another intangible …

If – and its a big if – the Buffs can start well against the Cougars, then it may just turn out to be a pleasant fall afternoon in Boulder after all.

Here’s why.

While a great deal has been made of the school-record road losing streak the Buffs and their fans have endured, the reality is that, but for an upset of Oregon State last fall in Corvallis, Washington State is Colorado’s mirror image.

Before defeating the Beavers last fall, Washington State had not won a game on the road since – wait for it – 2007. Sound familiar? True enough, the Cougars had a 17-game road losing streak snapped late last year.

But for the Kansas Collapse last fall, Colorado and Washington State would have identical road records over the past four seasons. Nothing to brag about, but that’s exactly the point. Washington State has yet to establish that it can win on the road. The Cougars’ two victories in 2011 – matching the win total for all of the 2010, and one better than all of 2009 – were both at home. In their one venture into a hostile camp, the Cougars allowed 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to San Diego State, turning a close game into a rout for the home team.

Just a little something for the coaches to focus the players on this week …

P – Preparation / Schedule

Okay, let’s get it out there – Washington State had a bye last weekend while Colorado was on the road last weekend against Ohio State. The game against the Cougars marks the first of three games (the Washington and Arizona State games being the others) in which a Buff opponent will have an extra week to prepare.

Is a bye week a true advantage?

“I think when you get this late in the season, or at this stage in the season, you may tweak a few things (in terms of play calling), but I think it’s more about health”, said Jon Embree. “I know their center was injured, a couple of other guys were nicked up, so we’ll see if they come back. But that’s probably the biggest advantage for them, it’s just having the ability to get some guys healthy.”

Hopefully, that’s not just pre-excuse making (I won’t play golf unless I have a few pre-excuses – “I didn’t get much sleep last night”; “My hip has been bothering me”; “I haven’t played in weeks” – already lined up).

Truth be told, it may actually prove to be an advantage that Colorado played last week. Granted, it would have been helpful in terms of the injury report if the Buffs had a bye, but the Buffs taking a humbling step back may turn out to be a blessing in disguise. But for the embarrassing loss in Columbus, the Buffs would have their epic 11-minute drive against Colorado State as their most recent memory. The Buffs would have looked at the game against the Rams as being an evolutionary step forward – lousy against Hawai’i; decent at times against Cal; dominant at times against Colorado State – with continued progress against Washington State to be the presumed next step.

Now, with a humiliating loss to the Buckeyes in the books, there is zero chance that the Colorado players are taking the Washington State game for granted. Quite the contrary, the Buffs have to look at the game against the Cougars as an opportunity for redemption.

Washington State, coming off of a bye, may be a bit sluggish to start the game. Colorado needs to exploit that small advantage, and remind the Cougars that, while the Buffs may have only won five games last season, Washington State won only five games in the past three seasons combined before this fall.

There is one “preparation” story which could work against the Buffs, however. Washington State junior quarterback Jeff Tuel, injured in the opener, will not play against Colorado. He may be ready, however, for next week’s game against UCLA, or in two weeks against Stanford. Despite his heroics and impressive numbers, there is no guarantee that Marshall Lobbestael will keep his job when Tuel returns.

Lobbestael, as a result, may see the Colorado game as an audition, an opportunity to prove that he should remain the starter for the rest of his senior season. That’s quite a bit of motivation to play well this weekend … after having had two weeks to prepare for the Colorado defense.

S – Statistics

– This may be one for the “Why did you mention it category”? … Remember last week, when we talked about how Colorado had only turned the ball over once all season, and had gone two complete games without a turnover? Remember when we talked about how the Buffs had never, in their history, gone three straight games without a turnover? Then, of course, the Buffs fumbled in the first quarter, leading to an Ohio State touchdown … This week’s “keep it to yourself” stat involves senior quarterback Tyler Hansen, who has not thrown an interception since the fourth quarter of the Hawai’i game. Hansen has now thrown 120 consecutive passes without a pick, the second longest streak in school history. Only Joel Klatt’s run of 139 straight passes (over five games in 2005) is better … (Sorry I mentioned it, Tyler);

– Colorado is last in the nation in kickoff returns, averaging only 13.85 per return. How bad is that? Try this on: If Colorado on Saturday has three kickoff returns for 165 yards – a 55-yard average – the new average would still not be enough to pull the Buffs into the top 100 nationally;

– The Buffs rank 89th in the country in sacks allowed. Not impressive, until you consider that Colorado’s average is 2.5 per game. Recall that Tyler Hansen was sacked seven times against Hawai’i. Since then, in three games, the offensive line has only give up three additional sacks, total;

– Why is Colorado 1-3? Look no further than the “total defense” numbers compared to the “scoring defense” numbers. The Buffs rank a very acceptable 34th in the nation in total defense, surrendering less than 325 yards per game. At the same time, though, the Buffs are 85th in scoring defense, giving up just over 30 points per game. The Ohio State game, where the Buckeyes had seven scoring drives, but none which traveled over 50 yards, is indicative of how important special teams play is to the outcome of almost every game;

– At the beginning of the season, Rodney Stewart, who had over 1,300 yards rushing in 2010, needed only 1,196 yards to become the all-time leading rusher in Colorado history, surpassing his coach, Eric Bieniemy. After four games, though, Stewart has only 278 yards, or 69.5 yards per game. In order to catch Bieniemy now, Stewart, who hasn’t had a 100-yard game this fall, will need to average 102 yards rushing per game the rest of the season;

– This weekend, the Buffs face another team which has an alumnus as its head coach. There are 18 such head coaches (out of 120 schools) in the FBS. Interestingly enough, Embree will face five of those coaches, including four in a row – Steve Fairchild at CSU; Luke Fickell at Ohio State; Paul Wulff at Washington State, and David Shaw at Stanford. The fifth alumnus the Buffs will face is Rick Neuheisel at UCLA on November 19th.

– Finally, to finish where we began, with the Washington State beat UNLV who beat Hawai’i who beat CU analysis, I will leave you with two important points. First, all four of the teams mentioned are lousy on the road, and, in each contest, it was the home team which dominated. Washington State is lousy on the road, and the game this weekend is in Boulder, so you do the math. Second, for those of you worried about how the Buffs could lose to a Hawai’i team which got mauled by a terrible UNLV team, I offer you this – it was an aberration. The Rebels, fresh off of their defeat of the Warriors, fell hard last weekend, succumbing by a score of 41-16, to … the Thunderbirds of Southern Utah.

8 Replies to “Preview – Washington State”

  1. Everything points to a close win at home so I’m going with CU 31, WSU 28. We need that 13th man at Folsom – go BUFFS!

  2. I was thinking we had a great shot until you said it might come down to special teams. Now I think we have a good shot. Won’t be as high scoring as we think, Buffs do have a good D, and we still cannot score. CU 27 WSU 20

  3. At least twice this year, opposing teams, when at around the CU 5 yard line, run to the left and score, and CU had NOBODY over there! Where do the DE, the line backer and the corner from CU’s defense go? Look for this in future games. It’s quite amazing to see.

  4. As always, thanks Stuart for the great work!

    So many questions about this game that the T.I.P.S. analysis is very helpful to those of us that haven’t seen much of the Cougers. We really don’t seem to have any idea how this should turn out. Especially like the preview part. One could also point out that CU should kill WSU because CSU beat Utah State who barely lost to #23 Auburn on the road….

    These comparisons make great conversation, but no one should go to Vegas with that thinking!

  5. remembering the OSU coach (Fickel…SP?)saying how his kids were banged up after the game even though they dominated the scoreboard. If we are not too banged up ourselves, the cougs may be in for a painful surprise….hopefully at the QB position at the very least.
    which reminds me to ask this question. Is their QB as mobile as some of the others we have faced?

    1. jw –
      Lobbestael is not mobile. He had one scramble for 13 yards against San Diego State, otherwise, all of his “rushes” this season have been sacks (six by San Diego State!).

  6. After reading the preview of the Washington State game, I will be as interested in seeing how the predictions work out (Will WSU pick one or two off? Can the Buffs run a kickoff past the 20? Which great receiver will shine?)as I am in the game’s outcome (almost). Thanks for the great research and entertaining preview—especially philosopher Tyson’s quote!
    CUatthe game.
    Go Cougs!

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