Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Friday, November 18, 2016

2016 CU vs Washington State Football Teaser

Welp, here we are.  Anyone with half a brain has been eyeing these final two home games for at least the last month, knowing that they'd be important.  Upon arriving at the scene, however, we come to discover that these games against Washington State and Utah are not only vital to the postseason interests of the Colorado Buffaloes, but to the larger football-loving nation, as well.  Sitting at #10 in the damn country, the Buffs, with two wins over the holiday fortnight, could put themselves in position for a play-in game to the College Football Playoff.  Even if that is a notion too absurd to let swim around in your brain for a spell, the Rose Bowl is still to be decided, along with potential at-large bids to other New Year's Six games.  For Colorado, playing the Cougars this weekend is the start of the most important stretch of football since 2001.

The interesting thing is, while BuffNation will be deeply invested in the outcome, Washington State doesn't really need this game.  Like, at all.  Even with a 1,000 point loss to CU, they could turn around, beat Washington at home in next week's Apple Cup, and wind up in Santa Clara for the Pac-12 title game.  While they're a non-participant in any CFP discussion, the Rose Bowl will still be in play for them, regardless of the outcome this weekend.  I'm not saying that the Cougs will come into Boulder disinterested, or anything like that.  Just that, if there's a team that's going to play like it's life is on the line Saturday, my bet is that it'll be the one wearing Silver-Black-Silver.


Hype Music for the Week: "I Drink Alone" by George Thorogood and the Destroyers

This one goes out to my dude Mike Leach.  I don't know his views on demon liquor, but no one looks or sounds more like a wino on a week-to-week basis than the high priest of the Air Raid.  I just want to give the man a pair of sunglasses and some hair-of-the-dog each and every time I see him.

The song, of course, is by George Thorohgood and the Destroyers.  80s blues rock at its finest, Thorogood released some of the most iconic rock grooves from the decade of big hair, all without having to sample the hairspray himself.  Maybe not the best in my collection, but certainly not the least-played.  Enjoy!


Kick-off from beautiful Folsom Field is set for 1:30pm on Saturday.  The forecast is calling for clear skies and cool temperatures that are sure to dip as the sun fades behind the Flatirons.  Bundle up so you aren't running for the warmth of the field house as the 4th quarter rolls on.  Those not willing to brave the chill can catch the game on FOX's national broadcast, or via the radio call on 850 KOA.

Click below for the teaser...

Washington State has long been a puzzle for the Colorado Buffaloes.  The Cougars have won three of the last five meetings in the series, including the last two played in Boulder.  While CU can claim the distinction of beating WSU for their only win of the year in 2012, last year's affair was an ugly rout, with the Buffs barely managing to avoid a shutout in a 27-3 defeat.  Sure, there were excuses, principally that this was former QB Cade Apsay's first career start (in the wake of Sefo Liufau's Lisfranc fracture), but there's little positive to note from the 2015 meeting in Pullman.
Remember Cade Apsay?  No?  Well, OK then.  From: the Post
While that Colorado team bears little resemblance to the current model, the 2016 Cougars are eerily similar to their 2015 counterparts.  In each season they started with a loss to a FCS school (Portland State last fall, Eastern Washington this September) only to rebound and string together large runs of wins in league play.  If anything, however, Wazzou has only gotten better, year-over-year, as symbolized by their clean slate, to date, against the Pac-12.  No, this is not the team who succumbs to Big Sky opponents.  They are instead a juggernaut worthy of your concern.

What's more, they're playing their best football at just the right time.  Their early wins in conference play were, more often than not, of the heart-stopping variety.  In October, a six-point win over UCLA was followed by a five-pointer against busted Arizona State before an even tighter four-point affair against Oregon State in Corvallis.  Recently, however, they've been killing teams, as in their 62-point thumping of Arizona from two weeks ago, or their 56-21 win over Cal from last Saturday.  Already a 'good' team, the Cougars are becoming 'great' as the calendar ticks through November, and they've put themselves in position to play in their first Pac-12 title game, as a result.

It's no fluke, either -- this is a legitimately solid football team, and it all starts on the offensive end. Wazzou, with coach Mike Leach's famous Air Raid scheme, boasts the 10th-most effusive attack in the country, gobbling up over 515 yards per game at a scary clip of 6.4 per play.  The primary focus is on the passing game, where junior QB Luke Falk turns hyper-accuracy (74% completion rate) over 50 attempts per contest into big yardage.  In fact, the Cougars are #2 in the country in passing yardage per game, with only fellow Air Raid proselytizers Texas Tech ahead of them (though, there is a 90 yard/game gap between the two squads).  Of their 285 first downs gained this year (2nd in the country), nearly a third have come through the air, putting the onus on the vaunted Colorado secondary to calm them down.

Falk's primary target is the incomparable Gabe Marks.  The redshirt senior, and all-world talent, recently passed ForeverBuff Nelson Spruce for #1 on the Pac-12's all-time receptions list.  He is a dynamite wideout with great hands and outstanding route-running skills -- clearly deserving of the honor in that record, though it is a little sour that Nelson could claim it for so short a time.  Marks has 68 catches for 709 yards and 12 scores this season.  Past Marks, however, the remainder of the receiving corps is a little short-handed with the season-ending loss of River Cracraft.  While not the cumulative stat king that Marks is, Cracraft was a team leader and a fan favorite, and his loss is not being taken lightly in Pullman.

That said, while Falk and the passing game get all the press, it was actually the running game where the Cougars really killed CU last season -- WSU back Gerard Wicks was able to notch 123 yards on just 13 carries to continually keeping the chains moving last November.  That's the double-edged sword of this offense; sending waves of corners onto the field to try and cover the ubiquitous short routes only encourages draw runs against a front-line without support.  Colorado can't get complacent, and needs to still keep an eye in the backfield.  Wicks shares the load this year with James Williams and Jamal Morrow, and the trio have scored a combined 21 rushing touchdowns.

If their offense is scary, maybe I shouldn't also tell you about their defense.  Washington State, very quietly, is posting some of the best defensive numbers in the conference, outside of Colorado. It's highlighted by the play of their front-seven, where they're 19th nationally against the run (only allowing about 117 yards per game).  Some of this can be chalked up to opponents having to play keep-up with their high-scoring offense (8th-most ppg in the country), but Wazzou is also 3rd in the Pac-12 in tackles for loss, and have been pretty stingy on key downs (top-35 nationally in 3rd down stop percentage). To be able to pair that standout offense with a well-above-average defense is almost unfair, and much of the reason that they're leading the Pac-12 North right now.

Let me tell you, with all apologies to USC and Michigan, I think WSU might have the best front-seven CU has faced all season. Maybe not the most physically-gifted group around, but they're nasty and physical. The line is led by Hawai'ian Hercules Mata'afa.  He's recorded 11 tackles-for-loss, and is a disruptor that demands double-teams.  Hercules really keys off the play of Daniel Ekuale, and the pair are excellent up front. Oh, and they're getting back NT Robert Barber from suspension, too, who is a load in the middle.  Behind them, WSU also boasts a deep linebacking corps, highlighted by Peyton Pelluer (team leader in tackles) and Isaac Dotson.  When supported by the blitzing, havoc-wreaking play of safety Shalom Luani, who leads the team in interceptions on top of his 8.5 stops behind the line, it gets really hard for opponents to move the ball.  It'll be incumbent on the Colorado offensive line to stand the front-seven up, allowing Sefo Liufau time to look downfield and exploit a secondary that has, at times, been susceptible to breakdowns.

So, with all that in mind, let's look at the lines...

My 2016 record: 8-2. Against the spread: 5-4. Optimistic/pessimistic: CU -1.67 pts/gm.
Line as of Wednesday @ 8pm - CU -4.5, O/U 59

A few weeks ago I pledged to bet the Buffs all the way through to the end of the season, but I'm tempted this week to go in the other direction.  It'll be hard to keep the Cougars out of the endzone, and I don't really know how many yards we can expect from the Buffs.  Still, a promise is a promise, so I'll take Colorado in a close, low-scoring affair.

CU 21 - WSU 16


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