This weekend’s CU-Oregon State game in Boulder is not only a test for the Buffs – who need to win two of their last four to make a bowl game and avoid the absolute shitshow of discourse that would be thrown their way if they didn’t – but it’s also a test for us: we have yet another 8PM kickoff on our hands. Then again, this time next year they’ll be playing at like 11AM in Lubbock or something, so maybe we should soak up all the painfully exhausting and weird Pac-12 After Dark Energy while we still have it.
The Buffs are really up against it at this point and Saturday’s matchup is the first of four that’ll really give us some interesting insight into what kind of team they ended up being in the first season of The Prime Era, Sponsored By Amazon. Statistically speaking, this is probably the 2nd-hardest (?) game left for them – they’re currently ranked two spots higher than Utah in the College Playoff Rankings, but the Utes’ defense is no joke, and my guess is that the Buffs would rather play OSU at home over Utah on the road 10 out of 10 times. So, gotta have it.
What’s it going to take to get the season back on track? What should we keep an eye out for on Saturday night? Will turning the clocks back an hour in the middle of the fourth quarter rip a hole in the fabric of time and space?
1. The Buffs’ Secondary Needs To Figure It Out
It wasn’t exactly a banner week for Shilo Sanders. If you want to say the hit that got him kicked out of the UCLA game was legal, I’m not even really going to argue that. But the vibes of that game shifted almost immediately after that, and even with Travis Hunter doing Travis Hunter things, the secondary very-obviously (and somewhat surprisingly?) wasn’t the same without him.
Personally, I probably wouldn’t have publicly doubled-down on the play quite as hard as he did, but I don’t think a starting safety at a Power 5 school needs the advice of someone who quit football in high school because tackling hurt too much. It’s been clear all season that Sanders isn’t going to make his money on instructional tackling videos, but the Buffs need him out there – he brings a unique physicality to a defense that is, um, lacking in that otherwise.
The good news for The Headache Gang is that Oregon State’s passing offense isn’t anything special – they rank 8th in both total passing yards (2020) and passing yards per game (252.5). Being a middle-of-the-pack QB in the Pac-12 this season isn’t anything to be ashamed of, but that’s kinda exactly what D.J. Uiagalelei is; he ranks 7th in pass completion percentage and 5th in passing efficiency rating. The Buffs’ secondary has allowed at least 300 passing yards in three of their last four games – and two of those weeks were at 400 (although technically Stanford finished with 399.) OSU’s probably going to run the ball however they want, so shutting down a mediocre passing game becomes all the more important.
Time To Come To Terms With The Offensive Line If You Haven’t Already
Would you believe me if I tried to tell you that the Buffs allowed more sacks in their first four games of the year (23) than they have in the last four? And while that probably doesn’t help Sheduer Sanders get out of the ice bath any earlier, it’s an interesting wrinkle to the widespread argument that the offensive line is only getting worse.
To be clear, that doesn’t mean they’re getting better – they’re still allowing, on average, over five sacks a game. And the news only gets worse when you learn that Oregon State absolutely gets after the quarterback: their 26 sacks are tied for 12th best in the country. Not only that but the top-3 individual sack leaders in this game all play for the Beavers. Not only that, they don’t even blitz all that much outside of 3rd down. This team will get after Shedeur and they won’t expose themselves in the secondary to get that pressure.
And since we’re already at the point where Coach Prime is essentially publicly admitting that it’s not going to get better until they get new guys in the building, a game plan that involves a bunch of five-step drops and slow-developing routes doesn’t seem to make a ton of sense. Dylan Edwards hasn’t ended up being the backfield receiving threat that he looked destined to become after that TCU game, but if he could recapture literally any of that magic again, the Buffs would do well to rely heavily on him keeping OSU off balance.
Will We See Omarion Miller Again This Year?
This is not really a topic pertaining to how the Buffs can win, and more just general wishful thinking. Remember Omarion Miller? And that insane debut against USC? He’s had exactly two catches for 16 yards since Michael Irvin told everyone that he was an NFL-caliber receiver, but that’s how it goes when you’re a true freshman on a team that’s already four or five pass-catchers deep.
There’s a bowl game appearance to go secure, but this final month of the season also acts as a great time to see who’s poised to be a major contributor next year, when guys like Xavier Weaver, and Javon Antonio won’t be around anymore. Another big game from him would go a long way in feeling confident that this coaching staff is having as much success developing talent in Boulder as they are recruiting it.