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Colorado Buffaloes vs. No. 15 Washington State Cougars: Week 8 preview

Buffs can ink a signature upset win and derail the Cougars on Saturday.

NCAA Football: Washington State at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

#Pac-12AfterDark heads to Pullman for this week’s matchup between the Colorado Buffaloes (4-3, 1-3 Pac-12) and No. 15 Washington State Cougars (6-1, 3-1 Pac-12). Like last year, there will be some potential postseason implications for both teams. CU needs two wins to reach bowl eligibility and WSU is trying to win out and not rely on a win in the Apple Cup to punch their ticket to the conference championship.

After a scrappy back-and-forth slugfest last week with Oregon State, the Buffaloes can make it two-in-a-row and upset a top 25 team for the first time in over a decade. Washington State slid out of the top ten and down seven spots with an embarrassing 37-3 loss last week on the road vs. California. Cougars quarterback Luke Falk failed to throw a touchdown for only the third time in his career and it marked the second top 10 upset for the Bears since 1978.

The last contest for CU-WSU was dominated in the fourth by the Buffaloes defense on the way to a 38-24 victory. Sefo Liufau and Phillip Lindsay combined for 54 carries, 252 yards as all five of CU’s touchdowns came on the ground.

Washington State comes into this game needing to avenge last week’s defeat and build momentum going into the last month of the season. Like the past four years, Falk has been the story of the Cougars offense this season. The senior leads the Pac-12 with 19 touchdowns while completing 70.8 percent of his passes, but will be without his go-to receiving option this week. Tavares Martin Jr. was suspended by Coach Mike Leach earlier in the week for a violation of team rules. According to The Spokesman Review, Martin missed Tuesday morning’s practice along with throwing an angry temper tantrum towards Cougar players and coaches. He leads Washington State with 502 receiving yards and is currently third in FBS with seven touchdowns. Falk will have C.J. Dimry and Davontavean Martin as backup receivers in Martin’s absence.

How Colorado defends against the Washington State air assault will be the biggest key to this matchup. It was a lousy first half of the season for a Buffaloes defense allowing an average of 24.1 point per game. Falk and the Cougars will test CU’s secondary with defensive back Trey Udoffia returning to his starting cornerback position opposite Isaiah Oliver. In last year’s contest, Falk went 2-of-9 against receivers covered by Oliver. A huge plus will be the physical play of Nick Fisher, who had a stellar game vs. WSU, along with fellow safeties Evan Worthington and Afolabi Laguda.

Keeping the defense off the field will also be a key for Colorado’s success. Steven Montez has developed into a game-managing quarterback by constructing long drives, leading the conference and ranked tenth in the nation for 3rd down conversions (49-of-107- 45.8%). The Buffaloes are also efficient on fourth down, converting 8-of-11 attempts. A solid ground attack with Lindsay is one of the reasons why CU has been able to stretch out drives against opponents. Also, Montez has taken care of the ball by cleaning up the mistakes. He hasn’t thrown an interception in the last 96 attempts going back to the second half vs. Washington on Sept. 23.

There will be a much different defense for Montez to deal with this week. The Cougars are second in the conference behind Oregon with 23 sacks in addition to averaging two takeaways per game so far this season. The Buffaloes offensive line will need to account for Hercules Mata'afa and his ability to shift around the defensive line with ease. Right off the snap, WSU’s defensive lineman takes a quick first step and powers his way into the backfield. To avoid Mata’afa’s wrath up the middle, the Buffs will need to set the edge with Lindsay and shoot towards the outside with quick screen passes or designed runs for Montez.

CU is currently one win away from win No. 700 in the school’s history with an all-time record of 699-497-36. The last time CU made back-to-back trips in back-to-back weeks to roughly the same part of the country was in 1985 (at Iowa State, at Nebraska).

Colorado travels to Washington State for a late night contest at Martin Stadium on Saturday, October 20 at 8:45 pm MT with national television coverage on ESPN. The Buffaloes hold a 6-4 advantage in the series over the Cougars since 1981.