Washington at Colorado – A Preview – “T.I.P.S.” for perhaps the Buffs’ last game against an unranked opponent this season

The Washington Huskies opened their first season under former Boise State coach Chris Petersen with a 4-0 record and high hopes. Since then, however, Washington has gone 1-3, with losses to three ranked teams.

While hopes of a Pac-12 championship or even a division title have evaporated in Seattle, there is still a great deal for the Huskies to play for, including a winning record and a prestigious bowl game.

Sophomore quarterback Cyler Miles, who missed last week’s game against Arizona State, returns to the starting lineup this Saturday against Colorado.  Miles, who played for Mullen high in Denver, returns to his home state for the first time as the Huskies’ quarterback (CU was in Miles’ “Final Five” as a member of the Recruiting Class of 2012. Miles also considered Illinois, Florida, and Tennessee before choosing Washington). Meanwhile, in a small twist of irony, Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau, who played in Tacoma, Washington, in high school, will get his second crack at defeating his home state Huskies.

“Games to Remember are played in November” is the banner posted across the CU media release this week.

After an 0-3 October, Buff fans are hoping that Colorado will indeed play some memorable games this month … games which are not only memorable, but which produce some “W’s”.

Here are this week’s “T.I.P.S.” for the Colorado game against Washington (11:00 a.m., MT, Pac-12 Networks):

T – Talent

Oddly enough, this weekend Colorado will be facing off against a Pac-12 opponent which actually plays defense better than it plays offense.

Washington is averaging only 176 passing yards per game, 108th in the nation (Colorado is 20th). Quarterback Cyler Miles missed the first game of the season due to a suspension, and missed the Arizona State game last weekend due to a concussion. In the opener, Jeff Lindquist started, and managed to eek out a 17-16 win over Hawai’i on the road. Last weekend, red-shirt freshman Troy Williams got the start, going 18-for-26 for only 139 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions against Arizona State … so the return of Cyler Miles is welcome news to Husky fans.

When Miles has played, he has been efficient if not especially dangerous. He has completed 66% of his passes and has ten touchdowns with only one interception. His main weapon is sophomore John Ross, who already has four touchdown catches of 55 yards in length or longer this season, and is averaging 21.8 yards per catch. The possession receiver is junior Jaydon Mickens, who leads the team with 37 catches.

The Huskies would like to beat the Buffs with a strong rushing attack, but the “Core Four” (as they were known in August) have suffered numerous injuries this fall.  Sophomore Dwayne Washington (chest) and redshirt freshman Lavon Coleman (shoulder) were injured in the game against Oregon two weeks ago. Washington’s only healthy remaining scholarship running back (the fourth member of the “Core Four”, senior Jesse Callier, ruptured his Achilles tendon against Georgia State), senior Deontae Cooper, had 70 yards on 11 carries in his first career start last weekend.

The dearth of healthy running backs led to Washington employing star linebacker Shaq Thompson in the offensive backfield last weekend. The junior led the Huskies with 21 carries for 98 yards, and Thompson is expected to play on offense again this Saturday.

If all the above details concerning the Washington offense doesn’t sound too intimidating … well, it isn’t. Washington is 102nd in the nation in total offense, averaging 355 yards per game, 14 yards per game less than the 369 yards per game the Buffs averaged last season (The Buffs are averaging a healthy 470 yards per game so far this year).

Washington, though, is 5-3 on the season (going 5-0 against unranked teams), and the winning record is in thanks largely due to the play of its defense.

The aforementioned Shaq Thompson, who didn’t play a defensive down last weekend, has scored four defensive touchdowns this fall, including a 100-yard fumble recovery in Washington’s 31-7 win over California. Overall, Washington leads the nation with six defensive touchdowns. The Huskies are also second in the nation in sacks, with 34 (Utah, the nation’s leader, has 35; Colorado has 15).

Here’s a name you don’t want to hear over the PA system too many times on Saturday … Hau’oli Kikaha. The senior defensive lineman already owns the Washington career sack record, and, through eight games, has already set a new single season record for sacks by a Husky. Kikaha has 14.5 sacks this season (as mentioned, CU as a team has 15), with no other player in the country having more than 11 sacks. Kikaha also leads the nation in tackles for loss, with 19.5 (5.5 more than anyone else in the nation).

Think stopping Kikaha is the key? It is … but don’t sleep on linemate Danny Shelton, as Shelton is tied for ninth in the nation in sacks (7.5) and is tied for fifth nationally in tackles for loss (12.5).

If it will be tough sledding for the Buff offense, perhaps Colorado will be able to overcome Washington with turnovers and special teams play?

Probably not.

While Colorado is minus-four in turnovers on the year (eight gained; 12 lost) on the year, Washington is a plus-ten (16 gained; six lost), the seventh-best ratio in the nation.

Meanwhile, Washington has allowed a grand total of eight yards on punt returns all season … third-best in the country.

Without star quarterback Keith Price – who scorched the Buffs for 13 touchdowns over the past three seasons – Washington is not as dynamic on offense as in year’s past.

As a result, a repeat of the 59-7 debacle in Seattle last November is not likely …

… but the Buffs will certainly have play a full four quarters to beat the Huskies.

I – Intangibles

Buff fans will need to get up bright an early Saturday, as Colorado will kickoff against Washington at 11:07 a.m. It’s the earliest kickoff for the Buffs in seven years, dating back to the 2007 Nebraska game (which turned out to be a 65-51 Colorado victory, so maybe an early kickoff is a good idea).

By high noon this Saturday, Colorado fans will have a much better idea of how the game against the Huskies will turn out. The first quarter, as everyone knows, has been a problem for the Buffs. Colorado has been out-scored 93-45 in the first stanza this season, with an ugly 83-28 disadvantage in Pac-12 games.

Quarterback Sefo Liufau is keenly aware of the Buffs’ need to start games better. “I think it’s kind of funny that you say ‘finish games’ “, said Liufau when asked about finishing close games. “I think it’s more of a starting fast (thing). Against UCLA, they had a 17-0 lead. I think USC was 28-0. We have to go in thinking that we can play with each team in the Pac-12 because after we spot the points to those teams, we either match their level as far as execution or we play above them. Against UCLA, we started slow and we fought our way back, but if we don’t have that mistake on me at the end of the half and if we get something going offensively at the end of the game, then we’re put in a better position not to fight back and fight for a tie to go into overtime but to try and sustain a lead. So, I think obviously you want to finish the game well, but it’s also a matter of starting fast for us.”

The Washington players are surely aware of CU’s problem in the first quarter, and will look to exploit it. If Colorado struggles on offense against the Washington defense early on (not unimaginable, considering how well the Washington defense plays), it could well do damage to the the Buffs’ psyche.

On the other hand, if Colorado plays well on offense against early on against the Washington defense, the Buffs could play the rest of the game with renewed confidence and determination to “finish” the game with a victory.

The score at the end of the first quarter, therefore, will likely tell us a great deal about how the game will end.

P – Preparation / Schedule

For the Buffs, the game against the Huskies represents the second early start in succession. Last weekend, Colorado kicked off against UCLA at noon. That meant an 11:00 a.m. kickoff for the UCLA players, who didn’t seem affected, as the Bruins raced out to a 17-0 first quarter lead.

Saturday’s game will represent a 10:00 a.m. kickoff for the Huskies, with the Buff Nation hoping that this week the early start will catch a Pacific Time Zone team napping.

Washington, at 5-3, seems to be well positioned for a bowl game invitation. The Huskies, though, cannot be satisfied with six victories. Washington opened at Hawai’i, and, as a result, will play 13 games this fall (as CU will do in 2015). This being the case, Washington will need seven victories in order to earn a bowl berth.

After playing the Buffs, Washington returns home to face UCLA, a team which has beaten the Huskies nine of the last 11 times the two teams have played. A tough road trip to Tucson to play Arizona follows, with a home finale against Oregon State and a road trip to Pullman and a battle for the Apple Cup to follow.

It’s not inconceivable that the Huskies, even if they lose to Colorado, could find a way to win two of those final four games and still earn a bowl invitation.

But heading into those four games with a loss to Colorado – and a 1-4 run overall – might be too tough to overcome.

Not much to go on, but, in a close game at the end, Washington might tighten up, playing not to lose instead of trying to win.

Meanwhile Colorado, with road trips to Arizona and Oregon up next on the calendar, have every reason to put all of its focus on this game. Coach MacIntyre preaches consistently about trying to go 1-0 each week, and this game perhaps represent the Buffs’ best chance in November to go 1-0. Arizona and Oregon both put up 59 points last weekend – with both games on the road. Both of those offensive powerhouses will get Colorado at home.

If there was ever a reason for a team to go “all in” in a game, it would be Colorado this weekend.

S – Statistics

Well, what do you know? … For a change, Colorado is playing a team which actually scores fewer points than the Buffs. Washington is averaging 29.9 points per game (65th nationally), while Colorado is averaging 31.9 (47th).

Cut loose the Spruce! … Since racing to the top of the national rankings in the first five games of the season, Nelson Spruce has largely been held in check. Spruce had 56 catches for 697 yards and ten touchdowns in the first five games this fall, but only 21 catches for 167 yards and one touchdown in the last three. CU’s 20th ranked pass offense (302.5 yds/game) will be taking on the nation’s 107th-ranked pass defense (270.5 yds/game) this Saturday. If Spruce is going to again be a factor in the national races, this would be the weekend to post some numbers.

Don’t Look, Ethel! … Until further notice, this will be a stat which will have to give Buff fans pause … Washington is 9th in the nation in red zone offense (scoring 92.6% of the time), while Colorado is 121st in red zone defense (94.4%). In 35 trips into the red zone this season, CU opponents have scored 34 times … this ridiculous success rate has got to change if the Buffs are going to pick up any November victories.

Time management … Colorado received an “F” in time management in the final minute of the first half against UCLA, but, overall this season, Colorado has done a good job sustaining drives. The Buffs are 10th in the nation in time of possession, at 33:18 per game. Now, there are times when this statistic is irrelevant (Oregon normally is last in the nation in time of possession, but simply doesn’t care), but against Washington, time of possession could make a difference. Washington does not score in waves (as noted, they have scored fewer points than Colorado this season, and that 29.9 scoring average includes six defensive touchdowns), so keeping the ball away from the Washington offense could have a direct impact on the number of points the Huskies are able put on the scoreboard.

“You’re a senior and our captain. Act like it!” (Rudy reference) … Senior Terrel Smith was elected as one of CU’s six captains this spring. Expected to earn the starting job at strong safety, Smith has been on the field for only 102 of CU’s 552 defensive plays. Rather than sulk, however, about his playing time, Smith has gone out and played when asked. In addition to his time on the field with the defense, Smith leads the team this fall in special team points. Smith has posted nine tackles (four unassisted), with three of those tackles coming inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. Leadership, as it turns out, can come in many forms.

Colorado will have three more opportunities to post victories this season. The next two games – on the road against No. 12 Arizona and No. 5, with the Wildcats and Ducks looking to impress the College Football Playoff Committee – could get ugly. The season finale is against No. 17 Utah, and while the Utes have a tough row to hoe the next few weeks (at Arizona State, Oregon, at Stanford, Arizona), the 6-1 Utes will be no pushover.

The Buffs will not want to have to face the Utes needing a a victory in order to avoid the first winless conference season since 1915, and to avoid taking an eight game losing streak into the 2015 season.

The future is now, Buffs. Time to take out the Huskies!



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