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Colorado Buffaloes vs. Washington State Cougars: Week 11 Preview

The Buffaloes look to stop their skid against the Pac-12 leading Cougars.

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

There’s three games left in the regular season for the Colorado Buffaloes (5-4, 2-4 Pac-12), and yet the benchmark sixth win continues to evade the team who was once the last remaining undefeated team west of the Mississippi. Saturday, the Buffs are faced with their toughest test to date against the No. 10 Washington State Cougars (7-1, 5-1 Pac-12), who come into Boulder having won five straight including back to back contests against No. 12 Oregon and at No. 24 Stanford.

The Cougars mounted a 28-point shutout against the Buffs in last year’s meeting in Pullman. A game that was almost over before it started with horrible field conditions due to torrential monsoon rains. Colorado scrapped together 174 yards of total offense behind Phillip Lindsay’s 29 carries for 98 yards.

Mike Leach’s team comes to Boulder following a comeback victory to beat Cal at home last week. WSU quarterback Gardner Minshew threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Easop Winston Jr. in the last minute as the difference maker in the 19-13 win. It was the third game for the Cougars this season decided by six points or less, including their 39-36 loss at USC.

Leach isn’t downplaying where the Buffaloes currently sit in the season and understands there’s still a fight against every conference opponent.

“This time of year especially, if you play a schedule like we do, where everybody’s good, there’s none of these breather teams that exist in some conferences,” Leach said. “It’s good as far as sticking in there and being confident. Keeping composure when it’s tough in a game, I think those are huge assets.”

Leach has a long history with Colorado. He has never won at Folsom Field as a head coach, posting an 0-4 record going back to 2000 while at Texas Tech. It’s one of the two Pac-12 stadiums Leach has yet to secure a victory at.

Minshew goes up against a Buffs defense needing to regroup after the past couple weeks, allowing 35.2 points per game in CU’s four losses. The nation’s top passer has averaged 439.6 yards per contest, along with 27 touchdowns to seven interceptions in eight games. Perhaps Minshew is the most efficient quarterback to come through Pullman during Leach’s tenure. Some critics have compared his style of play to Brett Farve, and the fifth-year graduate transfer from East Carolina is built to thrive in Wazzu’s Air Raid offense. The Buffs defense are hoping to keep Minshew under 300 yards passing for the first time this season.

Alabama was one of the first teams jumping in for Minshew’s services when he graduated from ECU last December. Nick Saban give him an open invitation to compete with Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts for playing time, but Leach had a better offer to compete for a starting position.

Colorado remains optimistic all-around wide receiver threat Laviska Shenault Jr. will be returning from a toe injury this week. He’s been day-to-day over the past two weeks, but hasn’t been on the field in a month. Shenault was third in the nation with 780 yards and 11 total touchdowns when he was sidelined against USC. He’s a much-needed weapon for CU’s offense led by quarterback Steven Montez, who’s thrown for 2,396 yards and 17 touchdowns to five interceptions.

Buffs running back Travon McMillian continues to move towards becoming the second CU player to rush for 1,000 yards in a third straight season, needing 163 yards to do so. He’s one of twelve players since 1946 with at least one rush and one reception of 50 yards or longer during the same season.

News and notes

Folsom Field hosts the annual Military Appreciation Day on Saturday. A flyover of RV-8 aircraft by Rocky Mountain Renegades and Marine Corps veteran and CU alum Josh Sloat doing the pregame coin toss are both parts of the pregame festivities. A group of 25 people will take the oath of enlistment on the field during the game, along with CU inducting its 14th class into its Athletic Hall of Fame this weekend.

Colorado holds a 6-5 lead in the all-time series with Washington State.

From the desk of Dave Plati:

“Sophomore CB/KR Ronnie Blackmon has been close all season to breaking a long return, and he finally busted through at Arizona. His 59-yard punt return in the first quarter to the UA 14-yard line was the second-longest by a Buffalo in the last 13 seasons; CB Isaiah Oliver returned one 68 yards for a TD against UCLA in Boulder in 2016. It was the longest away from Boulder by a Buff since WR Jeremy Bloom returned one 80 yards for a TD against Oklahoma in the 2002 Big 12 Championship Game, and the longest in a true road game since WR Roman Hollowell returned one 66 yards for a touchdown at Kansas in 2001; in fact, it was the 10th longest punt return by a Buffalo in a road game in the school’s history.”

Obscure stat of the week- “Due in part to the new rule where players can appear in up to four games and not lose the year of eligibility, Colorado has seen a record for players seeing their first action in a CU uniform in a single season. A total of 45 players have seen their first action in 2018; 34 in the opener against Colorado State, a school record for a season opener. The previous high was 33 players in 2011, as the annual number usually hovers around 25. Of those 45, 30 are freshmen (nine true, the most since nine played in 2012).”

Colorado hosts Washington State for the 499th game in Folsom Field history on Saturday, Nov. 10 at 1:30 p.m. MT.

TV: ESPN (National)

Radio: 850 KOA (Regional)/ Sports USA (National)

Odds: -6.0 Washington State

Weather: 52° Sunny