PULLMAN, WA - Washington State is set to play in their fourth conference game of the season, and are still hoping to pick up their first conference win. This weekend, the Colorado Buffaloes are in town, and are in the midst of a two game losing streak, as they fell at the hands of the Oregon Ducks last weekend 45-3. However, they also beat Arizona State earlier this season 34-31, the team WSU just lost to, the Pac-12 never ceases to amaze me. So, what can WSU fans expect from this matchup in Pullman this weekend? One word, offense; lots and lots of offense.
When Colorado has the Ball:
Colorado comes in with an impressive offensive SP+ ranking—14th nationally. Wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. is the one to keep your eyes on. He suffered an injury against Arizona State three weeks ago, but came back for the Buffs' game against the Ducks. He secured four catches for 70 yards. Colorado didn't use him in any end arounds against Oregon, but you can expect to see a few of those against a much maligned WSU defense. Buffs' senior QB Steven Montez is more of a running threat than he is through the air, but he has still improved his passing yardage output by about 30 yards per game. A four-interception night against the Ducks makes his TD to INT ratio look worse, but before that game, he had thrown 10 touchdowns against just two interceptions. Colorado also likes to spread the ball around to their other receivers in Tony Brown, K.D. Nixon, and Dimitri Stanley, all of who have the ability to take it the distance.
The passing game is the strength of the Buffs' offense, and are ranked 21st in the nation when it comes to converting on 3rd downs, so the battle will be for the Cougs defense to get the Buffs off the field on 3rd down. However, one has to doubt the Cougs' ability to perform that feat. WSU currently ranks 101st in the country for overall pass defense, and 123rd in overall yards per pass play... yikes. The only saving grace for WSU is that it is 21st in yards to go against on third down, but the passing defense has been so bad that has not mattered.
Despite Colorado's success through the air, they are in no way, shape, or form an air-raid team. Montez typically only throws between 30-35 times a game, and the Buffs run the ball about half of the time. Look for the coaching staff to split carries between running backs Alex Fontenot, and Jared Mangham. Colorado currently ranks near the bottom of the barrel in the rush yards per attempt category, (105th nationally).
When WSU has the Ball:
As good as Colorado's offense has been, there defense is a polar opposite as they rank 113th in SP+. The good news for Cougar fans is, offensively the Cougs have been humming along nicely, and consistently ranks near the top of many major categories. Colorado is succeptible to giving up the big play, and WSU ranks 35th nationally for chunk plays. The Cougs should be able to sling the ball all over the field this Saturday as a result. Colorado is about as good as defending the run as they are the pass. The Buffs are ranked 117th in rushing success rate, 96th in yards per rush, 120th in stuff rate. Sophmore running back Max Borghi is probably licking his chops with stats like that, and even with limited opportunities, he should be able to get to the second level of the Buffs defense early and often. Borghi may find himself in the mix for another 100-yard rushing performance.
Despite the rain and wind in the forecast, the Cougs should be able to move the ball regularly.
The bottom line is this:
WSU's offense is still one of the best in the country despite losing three straight games, and while Colorado certainly has a lot of talent on the offensive side of the ball, I think the Cougs are just a little bit better in that department. Both defenses are awful, so it'll come down to who can outscore the other. My money is on WSU to come out on top in a shoot out in the Palouse.
Kick off is slated for tomorrow afternoon in Pullman at 4 P.M. You can catch the game on ESPNU.