Colorado at No. 15 Washington State: “T.I.P.S.” for CU’s trip to the Palouse

 

For the second week in a row, I’ll open with …

He couldn’t have waited one more week?

Last week, the Buffs had to deal with a fired up Oregon State team, playing Colorado five days after their head coach, Gary Andersen, quit on them.

This week, the Buffs have to deal with a fired up Luke Falk. The Washington State quarterback had one of the worst games of his career last weekend against Cal. In a 37-3 upset, Falk went 28-for-43 for 286 yards … not bad. Falk, however, also threw five interceptions as the Cougars had seven turnovers overall, with the Bears recording nine sacks.

Can the Colorado defense replicate the effort of the Cal defense? If recent history is to be used as a guide, the answer is “no”.

On the other hand, the Buffs have a history of playing well against Mike Leach coached teams …

 

This week’s “T.I.P.S.” for CU at Washington State … Saturday, 8:45 p.m., MT, ESPN

 

T – Talent 

Even with the five interception debacle last weekend against Cal, Luke Falk is putting up ridiculous numbers again this year. Falk has passed for 2,286 yards (Steven Montez has thrown for 1,691 yards), completing 70.8% of his passes (Montez, 63.6%) with 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions (Montez, 12 touchdowns; six interceptions).

So, yes, in case you missed it… before last Saturday, Falk had, in six games, posted only two interceptions.

Under Mike Leach, Falk has put up some mind-boggling statistics. He is the NCAA active career leader in passing yards (13,179) and touchdowns (108). With another 422 passing yards, Falk will surpass Oregon State’s Sean Mannion’s career passing mark of 13,600, taking over as the Pac-12’s all-time leading passer. (For comparison’s sake, Sefo Liufau holds CU’s record for passing yards, with 9,568, and is tied with Cody Hawkins for the most career touchdown passes, with 60).

Washington State lost some significant receiving talent from last year’s team, but there are plenty of talented wide outs for Falk to utilize. The Cougars’ leading receiver this fall has been Tavares Martin, Jr., who has 37 receptions for 502 yards and seven touchdowns … but … Martin has been suspended for the game for “violation of team rules”. The loss of Martin to the Cougs is not as great a loss as say, CU losing Phillip Lindsay, but it could have an effect on the production of the Washington State offense.

Keep an eye on running back Jamal Morrow. The senior not only leads the team in rushing, with 339 yards and two scores, but also has the second-highest number of receiving touchdowns, with five. Washington State can kill you with long passes, but is equally content nickel-and-diming a defense down the field.

When Washington State was racing to a 6-0 start (and a No. 8 national ranking), much was made on the Cougars having a more balanced offense this fall. Last year, the Cougars were third in the nation in passing, but were 114th in the country in rushing.

This year? Washington State is again third in the nation in passing, and they are … 129th in the nation in rushing. The Cougars are dead last in the country in rushing, averaging only 74.1 yards rushing per game. Last weekend, Washington State had only 23 yards rushing. Of course, nine sacks played a role, but Jamal Morrow’s eight carries for 51 yards was not awe inspiring.

Where the Cougars have made enormous strides is on defense. Last season, in posting an 8-5 record, Washington State was 62nd in total defense, and 50th in scoring defense.

This fall, Washington State is tenth in the nation in total defense, giving up 288.3 yards per game, while giving up 21.1 points per game (42nd nationally).

One player to watch on defense? Check out WSU’s nose tackle, Hercules Mata’afa. “I don’t know how Mike Leach does it, but when you get the son of Zeus to play D-line for you it really helps you,” said Mike MacIntyre. “Hercules [Mata’afa] is an amazing player. He’s so active. They do a great job with how they use him.”

 

I – Intangibles

Last Monday, Oregon State head coach Gary Andersen left his program.

This Monday, Washington State athletic director Bill Moos left his program … to become the new athletic director at Nebraska.

While perhaps not a huge distraction for the players, it has been a distraction for Washington State head coach Mike Leach, who has been peppered with questions about his leaving Pullman for Lincoln, following Moos, the AD who hired him to be the head coach at Washington State (Leach would replace, if/when he gets fired, current Cornhusker coach Mike Riley … who, ironically enough, came to Nebraska from Oregon State).

“I don’t have any plan to do that,” said Leach of a potential move to Nebraska. “They already have a HC there, he’s a pretty good one. Mike Riley”.

Then there is this … The forecast for Saturday in Pullman is not pretty, calling for showers in the morning, followed by winds from 20 to 30 mph and a steady rain by the afternoon. The high temperature is predicted to hit just 46 degrees, with that number no doubt dropping significantly by kickoff.

The Buffs, though, don’t profess to be bothered by the forecast.

“I feel like I play better in the cold anyway,” Buffs running back Phillip Lindsay said. “Cold doesn’t bother me at all.”

For his part, Mike MacIntye also had little concern about the dismal weather forecast. “”No. It’s football,” MacIntyre said. “It’s one of the beauties of football. I just wish it was grass with mud. It’d be even more fun.”

 

P – Preparation / Schedule

With the Buffs struggling this year, there has been little national attention paid to the goings on in Boulder.

There was some national intrigue in CU’s game last week, but that was because the Buffs were the first opponent for Oregon State under interim head coach Cory Hall.

That was supposed to change this week, as the Buffs were put on the ESPN schedule (albeit late at night).

When the kickoff time for the game between CU and Washington State was announced a week ago Monday, the game was chosen to give viewers a chance to showcase the – presumably still-in-the-top-ten – Cougars.

With CU barely getting past Oregon State (though Neill Woelk reminds us that CU was the only Pac-12 road team to post a win last weekend), and Washington State laying an egg against Cal, there is not as much attention being paid to this game as there might otherwise have been.

In the eyes of ESPN, WSU was an interesting pick to put on the main national network, what with the Cougars looking at at once in a generation opportunity to crash the big boy party and play for a national title. Meanwhile, Luke Falk was going to make his case as a legitimate Heisman trophy candidate.

All that came to end (in all likelihood) at Berkeley last weekend.

If Washington State wins out, it still has shot at the College Football playoffs (though a New Year’s Six bowl berth would be a nice consolation prize if the Cougars don’t make the final four), and Falk has a decent chance of at least being invited to the Downtown Athletic Club in December. Still, after losing 37-3 to Cal, the Cougars have fallen off of the national radar faster than you can say, “Was it seven turnovers and nine sacks allowed? Or nine turnovers and seven sacks allowed?”.

Will the fall from national attention be a negative for the Washington State players … or will it be motivation for them to show that the Cal game was an anomaly?

“We played sorry and got what we deserved,” coach Mike Leach said of the loss to the Golden Bears. “The team is pretty determined to improve, pretty determined to focus in.”

My guess is that the Cougar players will come out looking to take out some frustration on the Buffs … but I don’t try and make a living getting into the psyches of 19- and 20-year olds.

One other scheduling note of note … A relatively minor point, but Washington State’s road game against Cal was played on Friday night. The Cougars were home resting last Saturday afternoon as the Buffs took on the Beavers in Corvallis. An extra day off is not a huge advantage for the home team … but it certainly doesn’t hurt, especially this time of year.

 

S – Statistics

— While most observers focus on Washington State’s offense, the true key to the Cougars’ recent success is the improvement of the defense. Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch is in his third season in Pullman, and the numbers show his influence. In 2014, the Cougars gave up an average of 38.6 points per game. That dropped to 27.7 in 2015, to 26.4 last season, and 21.1 this fall;

— If you want a factoid to cling to as you cheer for your 10.5-point underdog Buffs, know this … Mike Leach teams are 2-5 against Colorado. Leach was 1-3 against the Buffs as the head coach at Texas Tech, and is 1-2 as the head coach at Washington State. In 2012, with arguably the worst team in the history of Colorado football, the Buffs under Jon Embree scored 21 points in the final seven minutes to post a 35-34 win over Washington State in the first-game played between the two schools in Pullman (the Buffs would go on to post a 1-11 record that fall);

Nota Bene … Especially with the game likely to be played in wet and windy conditions … Washington State is 11th in the nation in turnovers gained, with 15 (seven fumble recoveries and eight interceptions);

 

Bottom Line … Washington State is not an aberration. Over the past three seasons, the Cougars have posted 16 Pac-12 victories. Only Stanford (18) and USC (17) have more in that time frame.

While the Buffs have seemingly found a ground game over the past few weeks, that plays right into the teeth of the Washington State defense. The Cougars have 58 tackles-for-loss this fall, tied for the national lead with Ohio State. Washington State also owns 23 sacks, fourth most in the country.

The Colorado defense has been susceptible to offenses who are patient enough to take what is given them … which just happens to be the hallmark of Mike Leach’s offenses.

This game has the makings of a frustrating night for the Buff Nation. The way Colorado has played so far this season doesn’t give much reason to believe the Buffs will be able to put it together on the road this weekend.

The weather may play a role. With rain and wind in the forecast, both teams may be more conservative on offense, which might keep the score down, giving the underdog Buffs a better chance at an upset.

It could also lead to more turnovers. Washington State suffered seven last weekend against Cal, a number which, if repeated, would be hard to overcome, even for the Cougars. Colorado, meanwhile, has gone three straight games without a turnover – a school record (just mentioning the lack of turnovers, of course, dooms the Buffs to have a bad night hanging on to the ball in Pullman).

Here’s guessing that the elements help keep the score down, but ultimately won’t change the expected outcome.

No. 15 Washington State 30, Colorado 17

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10 Replies to “CU at Wash. St. – A Preview”

  1. I am just hoping for 6 wins. Don’t care where they
    come from. Gotta have 2 more. Once the be had

    Then let’s roll

    Buffs

  2. I agree that the loss of Sefo and the majority of the starting Defense has been key to this years down turn. I would add the one other major problem this year is the lack of hunger and ensuing focus this team has compared to last years team. Last years team had a group of players that had suffered through several losings seasons and once they got things rolling they played their guts out right up until the final two games. I think they let up a little at the end.

    I hope they can get themselves motivated enough to win 2 of these final 5 games. How they finish this year will tell me a lot about this current coaching staff. I am still hoping for a minor bowl game this year. My heart says we win but, my head says Wazzu wins in a route. Wazzu 45, CU 20

  3. I’ve been thinking the same thing as you guys the past 3 weeks: Senior Sefo + Senior D made a huge difference last year. This team is a lot like 2015. (let’s hope it doesn’t become the 2014 team). I think the Buffs can pound the running game if they use their FBs and TEs, but it won’t be enough. And I don’t think the Cougars will play sorry football two weeks in a row — they are just to good at home.

    Sorry but I think the Buffs end up 2-3 touchdowns short. I’ll stay up late and hope for the upset though!

  4. Three things
    Leavitt
    Sefo
    Senior leadership

    Those seem to be the reasons we are the length of a hand away from a sack or catching a long pass downfield. Or coming out of the gate slow and having to play catch up in the 3rd QTR. So having reiterated what everyone has been saying this year then I will have to say — WSU 35 CU 21 —

    GO BUFFS

  5. The tide has got to turn for the BUFFS. Defense must play better or there is no shot.

    COLORADO 25 WASHINGTON STATE 19

    GO BUFFS !!!!!

  6. The Buffs may surprise here. With our defensive backfield the strongest part of our defense, we may be able to contain the passing of Falk. We had good success holding Josh Rosen in check in the Rose Bowl.
    I don’t think that the Cougars running attack will defeat us. I do wish that this game were being played in Boulder. I’m somewhat optimistic and hopeful for the upset.

  7. Most of the logic tells me that Wazzu should win big. But, as I mentioned in a comment earlier this week, Leach has some “head thing” related to the Buffs. Someone previously mentioned the match ups favor CU and I agree with that. In addition, Leach going 2-5 overall (thanks Stuart for that stat, I just knew it was significantly in CU’s favor) with two schools against the Buffs may count as an advantage for CU. I agree that after a bad performance, teams are usually fired up and want to atone for their previous embarrassment but IF, a big IF, the Buffs can come out fast and click in the first half, create some turnovers, and score off of them, last week’s bad performance could compound itself for the Cougs. Also, lousy weather can equalize a game and will somewhat mute the crowd which will be cold and miserable, late at night. And perhaps, the weather will affect the Air Raid offense more than it will a ball control offense which may (?) be CU’s emerging identity if for no other reason than the long ball is not there and Lindsay is a monster. Lots of unlikely IFs, Buts, and Maybes, but hey, my pick is not going to be logical this week anyway:

    CU 28 WSU 27

    Go Buffs!!!

  8. CU 100, Wazzu 0.

    Now who’s the delusional optimist?!

    Ok, man, going to the Palouse w/ a fired up Martin Stadium won’t be easy. But, I do think Fill Up Lindsay can do the trick. Bisharat et al, too. Open up the passing game, and maybe they finally put up a bunch of points, while keeping Falk and Co on the sidelines, too.

    I’ll say CU 40, Wazzu 35. Second guess, CU 27, Wazzu 20… Lots of rain and slippery balls. No comment about VK on that one…

    Go Buffs.

  9. So I see so much of this team being the same as the team 2 years ago. Defensive line woes. Close games against good opponents but only just squeezing by bad opponents. Etc. so I went back and looked at your tips for the wsu game 2 years ago. You had a lot of hope expressed in the tips and your review of the teams propects was a lot more negative. Basically saying we would have to play the game and f our life and they would have to stumble for us to have a chance. I actually commented on the thread (man I was a hopeless optimist!).

    Well now I am just an optimist……

    So here goes:

    CUs offensive coordinators have finally figured out that you have to adapt your offense to what is working not what should work. They push and prod versus the defense in the beginning to figure out what they have game planned for that will work and then once they identify it they start pounding it. For now that means the run. Montez is struggling with the offense just like Sefo used to. He is holding the ball too long, making bad reads, and not getting us into the best play all the time. Unfortunately that is what we have at qb. i think we have proven we can run against teams. We even had some success versus washington and we were not really trying then.

    So I suspect it will come down to our d just like everyone else. On paper we match up well. We can defend the pass pretty well. Rosen wasn’t really able t establish much against us and I think we might be able to do the same to fall. You can’t completely shut players like them down but you can mitigate the da,age and because leach will refuse to adapt his offense to run on us we have a legit chance. Here is my recommendation to the d coordinator: drop 7. Zone blitz with altering which line backer is blitzing and from where. See if we can effectively show man and then drop into zone. I think cal got 2 more f their interceptions because of that. Make sure that your line backer that is rushing the passer is non stop. Talk holds the ball even longer than Montez. I literally saw a defender hit the turf, get up and get a sack versus cal.

    Cu scores 27. The question is can they keep wsu below that?

  10. Injuries and dismissals on the already-weak defensive line have torpedoed this season. You can’t beat Mike Leach’s teams without a pass rush. Yes this is a better match-up for the buffs than Arizona’s horizontal running attack or Oregon State’s Wrecking Nall, but I still can’t imagine CU forcing more than 1 or 2 punts and 1 or 2 field goals.

    On the other hand, I’ve been very impressed with the offensive adjustments of the Lindgren and Co., and I’m not a big believer in the WSU “speed D”. I’m not sure how much they’ll be able to stop Lindsey and (hopefully more of) Bisharat.

    Take the over. Wazzu 44 CU 38, but Wazzu controls the game and is up at least two touchdowns in the third quarter before a CU comeback falls short.

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