Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Saturday, November 21, 2015

2015 CU vs Washington State Football Preview

Not much to say here as the season winds down.  Straight to the action today.


Hype Music for the Week: "Hail to the King" by Avenged Sevenfold

I'm still lost in the mists of Tuesday's showing by the basketball team in Alabama.  George King and his 27/7 line deserve a salute.  Avenged Sevenfold will handle the honors here.  Enjoy!


Kickoff from Martin Stadium in Pullman, WA is set for 8:45pm on Saturday.  Yep, that's the seventh start of 7pm or later this season.  It's almost as if the Pac-12 doesn't care if they ruin my circadian rhythm.  For those night owls intent on watching this one live, coverage can be found on ESPN2, with the radio call on 850 KOA.

Click below for the preview...

When last we met - 

Circling back to the last time Washington State and Colorado met on the football field will take us all the way to late September of 2012.  Such a forgettable year, CU would eventually stumble home at 1-11, with a number of those losses coming in truly humiliating fashion.  But, for one odd afternoon in southeastern Washington this bunch of battered Buffs reigned supreme, overcoming a 17-point 4th quarter deficit to pull a rabbit out of their hat.  It wasn't pretty, it wasn't perfect, but the 35-34 win at least put a fleeting smile on the face of BuffNation.  A miracle, indeed.
Wait, what?
It takes two teams to forge a three-score 4th quarter comeback.  First, it takes a determined effort from the team behind on the scoreboard to cast aside their first 45 minutes of struggle to get back into the game. Then, it takes a complete implosion from the team ahead to cough up so many points in such a short span. That was exactly the case here, as the Buffs did themselves proud, scoring three touchdowns in a little under seven minutes of game time, but they still needed the Cougars to be equally as complicit in their own downfall.  That they were, only rushing for 16 yards in the second half, while collapsing in hilarious fashion on the defensive side of the ball.  How else do you explain Nick Kasa's 70-yard TD catch after a Cougar redzone interception toss, or Tony Jones' 84 yard scoring run the very next drive?  As much as the Buffs won the game, the Cougars lost it in proverbial 'Coug'd it' fashion.
The 2012 team will always have Pullman
Unfortunately, the good feelings generated by the comeback win were soon lost in the shuffle of one of the worst seasons in the history of the program.   The Buffs would go on to lose their next five games by a combined score of 261 to 51, before briefly flirting with wins against Arizona and Utah.  It was a run just damaging enough to cost then head coach Jon Embree his job after only two seasons, and the program has only recently recovered anything resembling respectability.  Rather than a symbol of hope in a season of doubt, then, I look at this game three years ago as the macabre joke told in the middle of a death spiral - gallows humor for the diehards.

The Cougars in 2015 - 

Their NCAA statistical profile can be found here.

It has been an interesting season on the Palouse.  It all started in the worst way imaginable, with a humiliating home loss to an FCS school -- Portland State.  (been there, bruh... been there) At that point, I think everyone was beginning to wonder if Washington State wasn't in for yet another mournful slog to indifferent failure.  But, the 2015 Cougars are made of sterner stuff than anyone expected, and started to slowly get back on their feet.  They rounded out non-conference play with two wins over lesser FBS competition (Rutgers and Wyoming), and played well in Berkeley before eventually succumbing to the Cal Bears in their conference opener.  Despite the rocky start, they had proven to be competent and competitive.
The Cougars have something to say in 2015. From: the Washington Post.
Then came the thunderbolt.  After 60 minutes and an overtime of even play, the Cougars managed to pull off a stunning double-OT win over the Oregon Ducks in Eugene. Sure, the Ducks aren't the frickin' Ducks of years past, but you don't just march into Autzen and push them around, either (unless you're Utah).  That was a solid win for WSU, one that proved they were not the same team that lost to the PSU Vikings.  They would follow that win up with four more in their last five ballgames, with the only loss in that stretch coming against Stanford thanks to a missed field goal in the final seconds.  At 7-3, second in the Pac-12 North, there is no doubt in my mind that they're for real -- a strong, quality football team that can beat anyone on any day.  They are not a fluke, they are in the top-25 for a reason.

Of course, with an offense built around the air raid, they're mostly creating their success though the passing game.  The Cougars are currently #1 in America with 414 pass yards off of about 57 attempts per contest; an attack that gets them about 35 points per game. They will throw, throw, throw, and throw some more, getting over 70% of their first downs through the air. Now four years into running the system (and now buying in), WSU does it well, and it's a completely different, and particularly more potent, version of the raid than the one the Buffs faced in 2012. Expect four-wide on almost every down, with a lone running back included for shits and grins.  The attack points are short routes, with the QB audibling at will to pick on whichever linebacker he feels deserves it. You know the drill, we've all seen it before.
It's all about the pitch and catch in Pullman.  From: KOMO
As good as their offense is, however, their defense is the exact opposite.  They're allowing almost as many yards as their explosive offense earns them (430 yards per, 94th in the country), and leak like a sieve in critical situations (119th in 3rd down defense, 112th in the redzone).  In Pac-12 play, they've yet to hold a team under 24 points, and can generally be counted on to make one or two dumb plays per game. Basically, if you can get the ball moving, you can score on these guys.  But, I've always operated under the impression that they almost invite the track meet, anyways.  After all, the offense only really feeling comfortable when continually pressed to put up more and more points.

Star Players - 

If a team running the air raid is going to be successful, it all starts under center. Redshirt sophomore Luke Falk has been the answer here, throwing for over 4,000 yards and 35 scores on a 70% completion rate against only eight interceptions.  Those numbers are good enough to make him the national leader in passing yards and yards per game, the conference leader in TD passes (2nd nationally), and 3rd in the nation in total offense. No too bad for a kid that was originally going to go the Ivy League route (Cornell) before a coaching change, and who was completely ignored in the recruiting rankings.
Falk is one of the most effective passers in the country.  From: USA Today.
A product of man and system, Falk has been beyond excellent for the Cougars this fall, expertly guiding them throughout the process. He's been so good that Luke is even starting to get mentioned in the Heisman talks (although, not all that seriously)... something that hasn't really happened in Pullman since Ryan Leaf was running around up there.  I don't know where WSU would be today without Falk, but they wouldn't be 7-3, and angling towards their best bowl berth in years.

Of course, it helps when a good quarterback has an elite receiving target; Falk and the Cougars have just that in the form of junior wideout Gabe Marks.  While there are plenty of other capable receivers on the roster - a total of 11 players have at least 12 catches in 2015 - the 6-0, 190 lbs California product is easily target #1.  He's up to 81 catches and 13 scores this season -- numbers bright enough to earn him serious Biletnikoff consideration.  BuffNation knows his talents well, having seen Marks before when he helped the Cougs build that 17-point 4th quarter lead three years ago with a seven catch, 107 yard day as a freshman. It was his coming out party as an effective option, one that let you know exactly how good he could be. Marks took a redshirt last season with a serious illness, but has come back with vigor, and the Buffs will struggle to contain the Cougar offense, as a result.  He should be good for another high volume, 100+ yard day this evening, as the link between Falk and Marks fuels the offense.
Marks is one of the best in the conference.  From: WSU on Google+
Beyond just the Falk-to-Marks connection, also keep an eye out for senior wideout Dom Williams.  He's a longer range target, used more for explosiveness than volume, although he does have 61 grabs on the year. Also on the edge is junior safety valve River Cracraft, but he suffered a foot injury a few weeks ago against Arizona State, and could still be limited. What carries are handed out usually go to sophomore back Gerard Wicks.  Used more as a change of pace out of draws, he's probably a better runner than you would expect, but don't look to see him used too often outside of the occasional touch.

On defense, the leading tackler is Peyton Pelluer.  The 6-0, 227 lbs sophomore from the Seattle area is up to 84 wrapups this fall, including 9.5 tackles for loss.  He's joined in the linebacking corps by seniors Jeremiah Allison and Kache Palacio.  The pair have combined for a further 12 tackles for loss, with Palacio also reeling in five sacks -- a team high.
Pelluer can usually be found around the ball.  From:
Elsewhere, junior safety Shalom Luiani, a JuCo transfer originally from American Samoa, leads the team in interceptions.  A one time budding soccer star, he moved over to the other football and has been wreaking havoc in the Cougars defensive backfield this fall.  Joining him is another interesting Pacific product, senior Taylor Taliulu.  When not featuring on the gridiron, he's releasing tracks as a recording artist. Up front, keep an eye out for quick end Darryl Paulo.  The senior from Sacramento leads the team in TFLs, and comes in second with 4.5 sacks.

Coaching - 

The dread pirate himself, Mike Leach, continues to confound and befuddle his enemies.  Driven out of Texas Tech by the son of a man who totally did not kill five hookers while at SMU, he has brought his unique brand of football to eastern Washington over the last four seasons.  One of the true innovators of the sport, he helped create the Air Raid offense in the mid-90s, and has used it to churn out year after year of offensive brilliance ever since. Say what you will about him, but you can't say he's not one of football's most colorful characters.
How can you not like Mike Leach?  From: KOMO
His teachings seem to be taking, too.  He's got a young, developing team on the Palouse running wild at opponents.  They're tough, dangerous, and completely unaware that Washington State football should not be this good.  I like watching them every week, which is a testament, in and of itself.  As of now, he's got my vote for Pac-12 coach of the year, and he should have yours, as well.

Prediction - 

My 2015 record: 10-1. Against the spread: 5-5. Optimistic/pessimistic: CU -2 pts/gm
Line as of Thursday @ 7pm - CU +15, O/U 62.5

The Buffs are a road dog coming off a close home loss where they lost their starting quarterback for the year.  Yeah, I'm not buying it.  I may even like Cade Apsay's upside, but he ain't leading the team to a win tonight.  The Cougars are much better than you probably believe, and should win going away.  Not a complete blowout, mind you, just a very comfortable win for the home side.

WSU 48 - CU 30


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