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Behind Enemy Lines: Washington State

This is your reminder that Mike Leach was on Friday Night Lights

NCAA Football: California at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffs will face their toughest task this season on Saturday. The 8th ranked Washington State Cougars come into Boulder looking to hold on to CFP Playoff hopes, while the Buffs are coming home on a four game losing streak.

But it’s college football, where the only thing out of the ordinary is a stress-free weekend. We talked to Jeff Nusser of CougCenter to find out about this surprising Cougar team.

  1. Gardner Minshew has been a complete revelation. Did you know that he was this good going in or his performance a pleasant surprise?

We had no earthly idea that he’d be this good. When he decided to transfer to WSU, I think most of us just figured Mike Leach was adding another arm to the pile in the hopes that someone could give them competent quarterbacking following Tyler Hilinski’s death by suicide. Minshew was coming to his fourth school, and when you can’t keep the QB job at a school as pitiful as East Carolina, that doesn’t really inspire confidence. As fall camp wore on, and it seemed like Minshew was probably going to win the job, some cautious optimism ensued -- he seemed like a natural leader, and he looked real good in the handful of highlights we were able to see. But ... still. Nobody could have envisioned a scenario where he’s a dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate and the main reason why the Cougars are in the top 10. This is straight out of Hollywood.

2. Just as important for WSU is the defense, one of Mike Leach’s best in his career. Is this a continuation of Alex Grinch’s work or is Tracy Claeys pushing the right buttons?

It’s both. Grinch laid the foundation, but Claeys has done some incredible things with a group that has some limitations -- particularly on the defensive line. Claeys has maintained the aggressive style of Grinch, using stunting and slanting up front to disrupt what the opposing offense wants to do, particularly in terms of running the ball. They’ve had to rely a bit on blitzing to get pressure on opposing passers, which has opened them up to some issues on the back end, where the corners are a bit shaky. But when you pair a serviceable defense with an excellent offense, as the Cougars have, you get really nice results.

3. How are Cougar fans enjoying Denver product Max Borghi?

Borghi is fantastic, and we’re very happy to have him. He’s an incredibly tough runner who has tremendous balance and rarely goes down on the first hit -- if the first defender gets a hit on him at all. He gets compared to Christian McCaffrey a lot, but I think that’s mostly because they’re both white -- I don’t think Borghi has the same kind of speed. I think a better comparison, stylistically, is Washington Huskies running back Myles Gaskin. Borghi really is a perfect fit for the Air Raid.

4. Other than Minshew and Borghi, who are the players to watch on offense?

Everyone? That’s probably not the answer you’re looking for, but what makes this version of the Air Raid so lethal is that every player can make you look silly. If I had to hone in on one thing, I’d point your eyes to the right outside receiver -- “Z.” Easop Winston Jr. and Dezmon Patmon trade series there, and each one has taken turns annihilating opponents. They’re different kinds of receivers; Winston is 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, while Patmon is 6-4 and 220. Winston is shifty and has all kinds of moves to beat all manner of coverage, while Patmon expertly uses his physicality. They’re the top two receivers on the team despite each only playing 50 percent of the snaps, which should tell you how much Minshew loves throwing to that part of the field. Between the two of them, they’ve caught 86 balls for 1,176 yards and 10 touchdowns.

5. Who are the players to watch on defense?

The guy who seems to play a central role every week is middle linebacker Peyton Pelluer. He’s a sixth-year senior, and it’s not an overstatement to call him the heart and soul of the defense. His strength is in run support -- he’s leading the team in tackles by a wide margin, and his strength is a major asset -- but he’s also excellent at pursuing the passer in blitz situations. When he’s making a lot of plays, that’s a really good sign for the defense.

6. How can CU beat WSU on Saturday?

It’s probably going to take a bunch of points and probably going to need to involve WSU making some uncharacteristic mistakes such as turnovers or red zone futility. In terms of the former, the secondary is the weakest link in the defense -- the corners in particular are prone to getting beat, where they’ll either give up a big play or commit a penalty. Kickoff coverage can be a little suspect, also. Whatever happens, if Colorado wins, it’s probably in a shootout.

7. What is your prediction for the game?

I don’t think Colorado can do much to slow WSU’s offense down; I think the Cougs are heading for something in the neighborhood of 40ish points. I also don’t think Colorado can keep up with that. Getting Leviska Shenault back would be a huge boost, but I don’t think that’s enough. I’ll go with 45-28, WSU.