Here we are again. Another disappointing walk out of Folsom, another winnable game in front of CU, and another sign of improvement. This season is the best bad season I've ever seen. This chance at heartbreak or heartfelt redemption comes at the hands of the Washington Huskies, fresh off a disastrously bad game against ASU. Before we dive into this post-Halloween matchup, let's look at the game that raised and then crushed so much hope, the UCLA debacle
*sigh*. There's only so many close losses that a team can put you through before the heart gives out. There's only so many ways to say "almost there" or "moral victory" and there's only so many close losses before they turn into wins. The problem is, as hard as it is to keep writing about these heart-breakers or watch the team fall short again and again, that's exactly what this team is doing. A year ago, if you predicted that the Buffs would take a top 25 team into double overtime, you would immediately placed on watch lists for every government agency. The amount that this team has grown in the past year is just mind-boggling. The same front seven that gave away the game against CSU stopped a PAC-12 O line from moving one inch forward and the same running backs that got stuffed time and time again are now averaging over 4 yards a carry as a unit. The UCLA game was the most hopeful performance in a season full of them, and you have to feel for this kids and this fanbase, who haven't tasted success in so long and seem so close to it. The front seven rebounded from a horrendous first quarter to dominate the game throughout, the offense moved the ball against some ridiculous athletes (and untimely picks by Sefo Liufau), and ultimately, went toe-toe against an upper echelon PAC-12 team. It would've been nice to the team finally take that next step and close out (or start well), but right now, for me at least, watching this team grow leaps and bounds is worth it for me. As a final note, the student section was absolutely phenomenal on Saturday. They were engaged, stayed the whole game, and had some great coordination. The moving to the North endzone was a stroke of genius and was noticed by fans and team alike. Showing up to an 11 AM game post-Halloween night against Washington is a different beast. It's a challenge that I hope the students, both athletes and supporters, are ready for.
For all of the problems that CU has had on defense, it seems that the Huskies have been just as inept on the offensive end. Cyler Miles, of Colorado fame, leads the offense into Boulder after missing last week with a concussion. He is the most mobile QB that the Buffs have faced this year, and is one of the few consistent threats that Washington has on offense. Part of the reason that their offense has stalled is the injuries mounting in the backfield. In addition to Miles being spotty, D.J. May and Jesse Callier are out for the season and Dwayne Washington appears to be doubtful. That leaves Lavon Coleman and the infamous Shaq Thompson at running back, with Deontae Cooper likely to play again after performing well against ASU. Washington's run game is by far a bigger threat than their passing offense, and they have shown the ability to consistently get yards against sturdier fronts than Colorado's. A lot of that has to do with their big uglies up front, who outweigh everyone but Josh Tupou by a considerable margin. With the lightest being 281 (Coleman Shelton, RT) and the heaviest being 381 (James Atoe, RG and presumably marble statue), they can significantly punish the Buffs' slim defensive front if they aren't careful. As far as weapons on the outside, no one has really made a name for themselves thus far. John Ross, Jaydon Mickens, and DiAndre Campbell all have the athletic ability to do some damage, but as of right now, they have underwhelmed for the Huskies. As inept as the Buffaloes have been on defense, particularly at the beginning of games, the Huskies should give them every chance to atone for their mistakes in this one. Expect CU to put a spy on Miles and focus on him, as he is one of the few consistent threats in this offense, and also expect the Buffs to sell out for the run. This allows them to shorten the Huskies' drives while masking their lack of healthy safeties. Get better soon, Tedric!
This side of the ball is much more fun to cover. Washington's front seven is probably the best the Buffs will encounter this season, which is scary given how much USC dominated them. This unit is led by the man in the middle, Danny Shelton. An elite NT, he swallows up blockers and allows an opportunistic linebacking unit make plays all over the field. He is flanked by the two Hudsons, Andrew and Evan, who are adept at setting the edge in the run game and occupying blockers. Make no mistake, this defensive line is talented, experienced, and huge. Alex Kelly and company have their work cut out for them here. Behind them are three playmakers who have a chance to change the game. In the middle is John Timu, who scored Washington's only touchdown last week. At weakside linebacker is Shaq Thompson, the game changing athlete that plays both ways, and on the other side of Timu is Cory Littleton, the least heralded LB of the corps. At the pass-rushing LB/DE hybrid is the nation's sack leader, Hau'oli Kikaha. He is a one man wrecking crew and CU has to be on high alert on all times to slow him down. Expect him to be chipped almost every play by either a TE or a RB, if not double teamed by two O linemen. Kikaha is crazy good, and relentless, too. Moving on back, the secondary is anchored by Marcus Peters and not much else. The junior is the only upperclassman in the back 4, and he will shadow Nelson Spruce in an effort to slow him down. The high draft pick has the size and speed to shadow almost everyone in the country. The rest of the secondary is extremely inexperienced. Kevin King, Budda Baker, and Sidney Jones have one year of college football under their collective belt, and while they have grown a lot over the year, they still get picked on quite often. Shay Fields and last week's star Bryce Bobo should have plenty of opportunities to get catches, and they could make a huge difference in the outcome of this game. The key to stopping the defense is stopping the penetration. If they can slow down the people on the edge, they can give Sefo a chance to look downfield, where the chances of a completion rise.
CU's Oline vs. UW's Dline - Advantage: Washington. While the CU offensive line had their best performance of the season last Saturday, the Husky defensive line (no pun intended) should be too much for the young Buffs to handle. Expect penetration all day, and Lindgren should scheme enough to counter it.
UW's Oline vs. CU's Dline - Advantage: Slightly Washington. Their massive O-line should have their way run blocking against CU, but this unit has proved me wrong the past few weeks. If Tupuo and Solis build off their amazing performances and Derek McCartney hits his stride, they could give the Huskies more than they bargained for. Pass blocking, I expect McCartney and Gilbert, as well as Coleman, to bend the edge hard and try to use their slight frames to their advantage.
CU's QB vs. UW's DB's - Advantage: CU. Sefo Liufau should do some damage against an inexperienced squad. If he can get rid of his trademarked bad interception to start the game, Liufau could really do some damage against this vaunted defense. I expect him to try to spread the ball around to get it away from Marcus Peters, as well as use WR screens for easy completions and confidence.
UW's QB vs. CU's DB's - Advantage: Slightly CU. If Tedric Thompson plays, this jumps up to a huge advantage. Cyler Miles is a runner, not a passer, and while he's great at protecting the ball, he's not very polished. This is the game that Kenneth Crawley gets his interception, and Miles gets rattled. However, if he stays composed, and Colorado is without both safeties that got injured, he has a chance to take the top off the D.
CU's Skill Players (WR, TE, RB) vs. UW's Back 7 (LB's and DB's) - Advantage: Slightly UW. The Buffs' tailbacks had their best game of the year against the Bruins, and that trend is only going upward with Powell back in the mix and Adkins gaining confidence. Nelson Spruce is still fantastic, and Bryce Bobo came on late. However, UW has the talent to counter this and more. Their linebacking corps is great all around, Marcus Peters is fantastic, and the rest of the secondary has potential. This could go either way, but I sided with the consistent performers on this one.
UW's Skill Players vs. CU's Back 7 - Advantage: Slightly CU. With so many people injured, Shaq Thompson should be the main ball carrier in the game, which is good news for the Buffs, as that means less of him on defense. Kenneth Olugbode had a fantastic game and looked like he belonged, and Addison Gillam might FINALLY be healthy, but you can't tell with Gillam this year. Crawley and Henderson should have no trouble on the outside, and Chidobie Awuzie will continue to impact games. They can do a lot to make Colorado have a chance at pulling this out.
Special Teams - Advantage: CU (Hooray!). Washington hasn't done much in terms of special teams splash plays this year, and they have been thoroughly middling in this category. The Buffs have improved every week, and last week they completely neutralized Ishmael Adams and company. Expect more of the same, and maybe even a big return from Phillip Lindsay. He's due.
I was confident heading into last week that CU would finally pull out. They would finally get over the hump. Alas, I was disappointed. However, it gave many fans confidence heading into this week as Washington is not as talented and they have struggled against the better PAC-12 teams. CU is not one of those teams. As much as I want to predict a Buffs win, I can't see it. Controlling the line of scrimmage is their specialty, and controlling the line of scrimmage usually leads to controlling the game. UW wins 24-20 in my opinion, as much as I wish it wasn't. Please prove me wrong, Colorado.