The Colorado Buffaloes (3-3, 1-2 Pac-12) move on from a 42-point blowout loss at the hands of No. 13 Oregon to face a Washington State Cougars (3-3, 0-3 Pac-12) team still searching for the first conference win of the season.
Not much of anything has gone in favor of Mike Leach’s team in the past three weeks. Washington State was once ranked among the top 25 before losing three straight in recent weeks — a 67-63 barn-burner to UCLA, followed by a loss at No. 19 Utah and a near comeback against 19th-ranked Arizona State last week. Now Leach prepares his teams for a brief stop home to host Colorado before heading on the road for back-to-back stops at Oregon and Cal.
Nonetheless, the Cougars are off to their second-worst start in conference play during Leach’s tenure at WSU — outmatched only Leach’s 2012 debut season in which they went 3-9 record and 1-8 against Pac-12 opponents. During this past three-game slide, Leach was so concerned about his team’s focus that he enforced a “social media ban” on his players, according to a report by Theo Lawson of The Spokesman-Review.
The report was later confirmed in a press conference with Leach who said, “I think we entertain too many distractions. And if I had it to do over again, I would’ve done it when we started camp. But no, I think we entertain too many distractions. I think we’re a little too distracted right now, but I think there is a team-wide determination to be less distracted.”
This move is seemingly fit for television with HBO featuring Leach and Washington State on 24/7 College Football as they prepare for CU on a future episode of the show airing Wednesday, Oct. 23.
One of the positives for Washington State has been the efficiency of Anthony Gordon. The junior college transfer from San Francisco is the latest Cougars quarterback in the “air raid offense” to lead the nation in passing yards. Gordon has completed 211-of-296 passes (71.3 percent) for 2,612 yards and 25 touchdowns to six interceptions. A majority of targets have gone to receiver Easop Winston Jr., as he has 42 receptions, 496 yards and nine touchdowns this season. Including Winston, Washington State has eight receivers with at least 200 yards receiving and a touchdown through the first six games.
Compared to Colorado’s offense, Gordon has nearly 1,000 more passing yards than Steven Montez, but has thrown the ball 86 more times. The Buffs are more diverse as well rushing for 902 yards and nine touchdowns in large part to Alex Fontenot and Jaren Mangham. Washington State doesn’t do much on the ground with their running backs, but they feature them heavily in the passing game. All-purpose back and Colorado native Max Borghi originally committed to CU, but flipped to WSU. Borghi is a scat back who is perfect for that offense. He has 678 yards from scrimmage and seven touchdowns on the season. He is very much a threat for CU in the flats as well as on screen and wheel routes.
As for Montez, he is trying to overcome a career-worst game last week. Despite throwing four interceptions vs. Oregon’s shutdown defense, the senior Buffs leader didn’t mince words when talking about the match-up with the Cougars, saying Pullman was “hardly ever nice.” Montez and the Buffs don’t have fond memories of playing in that part of the Pacific Northwest due to a 28-0 loss two years ago in a semi-monsoon conditions. The game in 2015 came with similar conditions and a similar result— a 27-3 win for Wazzu in a frigid downpour, along with a sub-freezing 20-degree wind chill.
Colorado’s last win at Washington State came in 2012, a 35-34 comeback victory capped by Jordan Webb’s 4-yard go-ahead touchdown run as time expired. The one-point nail-bitter was Jon Embree’s lone Pac-12 win that season before losing eight straight.
Colorado and Washington State are nearly similar defensively. On paper, both teams have allowed opponents near the same amount of yards (CU: 480.0; WSU: 459.0) and points per game (CU: 33.8; WSU: 31.8). Also, both are hovering around the same strength of schedule rankings currently (CU: 44th; WSU: 37th). The Buffs and Cougars are set apart in the turnover margin category— Colorado is +4 and Washington State is even on the season. Mostly due to Buffs defensive back Mikial Onu with six forced turnovers (T-1st FBS).
News and Notes
From the desk of Dave Plati:
“Stat of the Week: 0. As in no fumbles by the Buffaloes in the last 241 touches (scrimmage plays, punts/placement kicks, returns). For the year (521 touches), Colorado has just six fumbles, or one for every 86.8 touches. The ones most likely to fumble, the running backs, have none in 201 (rushes and receptions), and have just 19 over the last seven seasons in 2,295 carries (or just one in every 120.8 attempts). And the six is actually a bit misleading, as three have been charged to the team on bad snaps; the two that were lost were both fumbled on kickoff returns meaning just one has been charged to a player on offense.”
“Lies, Damn Lies & Statistics: The title of a famous book as well as an honest look at QB Steven Montez’ interceptions. While his “four” at Oregon were the most by a CU quarterback since 2012 (Nick Hirschman had four at Utah), it’s important to note that three of those were in and out of the hands of receivers, either bobbled or batted away. In fact, of Montez’ 28 career interceptions, eight were of this variety, bobbled, tipped or nearly caught then broken up and picked off.”
Colorado takes the second game of a back-to-back road stand in the Pacific Northwest with Washington State on Oct. 19. Kickoff is schedule for 5 p.m. MT at Martin Stadium. The pivotal tiebreaker in the series with each school notching six wins a piece. The cougars have a 4-2 advantage since CU joined the Pac-12 in 2011. Mel Tucker’s first game against Washington State; Mike Leach hold a 4-5 vs. Colorado (3-2 at WSU, 1-3 at Texas Tech).
TV: ESPNU (National)
Radio: 850 KOA (Regional)
Weather Forecast: 42°, 90 percent chance of rain at kickoff with 20 mph winds
Odds: -13 Washington State