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Colorado vs. Washington preview: Huskies barking up wrong tree?

Colorado looks to pull off the upset after getting some fight back.

Stephen Dunn

The Colorado Buffaloes travel to Seattle to face a Washington team that went from a Top 15 program earlier this season to a second tier team in the Pac-12 conference. After starting 4-0 with quality wins against Boise State and Arizona, losses to Stanford, Oregon and Arizona State have brought the Huskies back to Earth. Washington sits at 5-3 now after a rebound win against Cal and a bye week’s rest heading into the game against the Colorado Buffaloes. The Huskies finished 7-6 (7-5 in regular season) in 2012 and have visions to improve on that. This is a game the Huskies need to win, having to travel to UCLA and Oregon State the next two weeks before facing state rival Washington State to end the regular season, and to show recruits, fans and the team they are taking that next step rather than staying in place.

Huskies Offense

Washington is in the Top 25 in both passing and rushing and average nearly 35 points a game. The Huskies are led by senior Keith Price, a QB that operates well in Washington’s system but is not overly mobile. He is very efficient with only 4 interceptions against 16 touchdown passes. He has thrown for 2,169 yards putting in the top 25 QBs in FBS for passing yardage. Price likes to sling it around and uses play action to perfection. He is very effective spreading the ball around having six players with over a dozen catches with two of those players over 500 yards for the season, one at 421, another at 244 and two others over 170 yards. In contrast, CU only has four players with over a dozen catches and over 100 yards. Jaydon Mickens is the leading receiver in both yardage (542) and receptions (45) for Washington. Junior tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins is a house that has the size and speed to play at the next level. No one is a standout for the group but all are effective and make big plays with all 6 having a reception longer than 30 yards.

Of course, it helps Price and the Huskies to have the nation’s third leading running back, junior Bishop Sankey, beside him. Sankey has amassed over 125 yards in six of his eight games this season. Sankey has scored in every game this season and is coming off his most explosive output with a 241 yard, 2 touchdown performance against Cal. Sankey is a legitimate top 5 RB if he comes out after his junior year with great field vision and speed. While Price is the musher that steers and directs this Huskies offense, Sankey is the lead dog that powers the Huskies sled.

Huskies Defense

The Huskies have been very effective on defense in their victories, especially at home where they allowed 36 points total in 4 home victories. Of course they allowed 45 in their lone loss in Washington to Oregon. They are a very upperclassmen heavy group that is led by their strong LB corp with Princeton Fuimaono, John Timu and Shaq Thompson leading the team in tackles. Sean Parker and Marcus Peters are ball hawks in their secondary with 3 interceptions each and a dozen pass deflections between them. The Huskies get after the quarterback and are averaging 3 sacks a game. The most efficient is Hau’oli Kikaha, a junior defensive end, with 6 sacks on the season. They don’t let the less talented offenses sustain drives and that has been the difference in their victories.

Colorado vs. UCLA Quick Recap

The Buffaloes did what everyone expected going into Pasadena by losing to the Bruins. The difference is this was that turning point game the Buffs had not seen in quite some time, HOPE! The Buffs were much less talented but played UCLA tough and traded punches with them throughout the game, only being outgained by the Bruins by 31 yards. Unfortunately Colorado settled for 2 touchdowns and field goal attempts on 5 occasions, only making 2, while the Bruins kept putting up touchdowns having 6 touchdowns to go with a 1 of 2 FGs made on the night.

Buffs faithful saw poise in true freshman Sefo Liufau and a team that stood up to the bullying Bruins when likely first round pick Anthony Barr got under the helmet of Liufau. No punches were thrown, but it was a team that said you aren’t going to push us around anymore without a fight. That was the difference most Buffs fans point to, there was a fight and belief that we can play with the big boys. Other highlights against UCLA were Christian Powell looking the most effective he has all season with Michael Adkins II out and Derrick Webb had his best performance of the year with a 9 tackle performance.

Colorado vs Washington Match-Up

Washington is very balenced and efficient on offense. The Buffs defense has shown they can get gashed by both the running game and passing game. However, the Buffs biggest weakness has been a mobile quarterback while they have done a fairly respectable job of limiting the opposition’s running back. The Buffs kept Ka’Deem Carey under his typical output and typically have done so with top dogs. Washington’s top dog Bishop Sankey is of similar talent and will need to be kept in check. Price can bootleg and scramble, but he is not very mobile as evident by him being sacked almost three times a game. Because of this and the Buffs deficiencies on stopping mobile quarterbacks, back-up QB Cyler Miles (yes, formerly of Mullen High School in Colorado) may get a few opportunities to make some plays in read-option sets. The Buffs have to teach and EXECUTE on how to stop a mobile QB for the upcoming games and in case Washington tests Price’s legs or bring Miles in. Colorado’s other limiting factor is the big play. In their last two games, against Arizona and at UCLA, they were competitive in almost the entire first half before giving up a big play (long touchdown pass and turnover on kick return). If the Buffs can go into halftime of a Pac-12 game with a lead, who knows? The problem is, they can’t seem to keep from tripping over their own feet to get there.

In terms of pass rush, something has to give. While CU hasn’t given up a ton of sacks, they give up a lot of pressure and Washington allows a ton of sacks with Price at times holding the ball much too long. If Colorado actually gets some pressure and stops Washington’s drives by bringing down Price… who knows?

Liufau is going back to his home state. I am sure he will be a little geeked up to play in front of family and friends. Hopefully it leads into him showing continued improvement. The element that lacked against UCLA was the run part of the run-option. He optioned off for a handoff nearly every time it was ran against UCLA when him tucking and going may have been the most efficient way to pick up yardage.

If the Buffs get back Michael Adkins II back and Kenneth Crawley, that would add some much needed help in the backfield to give the Huskies another dimension in the offense to try to solve and a defensive back that will be needed to cover the solid receiving group of Washington.

Buffs and Huskies Prediction

The Huskies are coming off a bye week after a big win against Cal. Colorado is coming off a game they gained some confidence but lacked the push to sustain drives and have a chance at a victory. While the Huskies are the better team and have handled an Arizona team that dominated the Buffs, there is momentum gaining for the Buffaloes, while Washington appears to be that middle of the road Pac-12 team. The Huskies no doubt spent time in their bye working mainly on Colorado but the way college football works is at times the lower teams get overlooked and Washington probably did some preparation work for UCLA as well.

This game is not a 28 point spread like Vegas seems to have missed big time on. Colorado is going to put up at least 20 points and Washington can’t approach the 7 TD range, even against another really bad Colorado defense. The Buffs coaches will do more than try to keep it close and realize that while Will Oliver has been pretty good, they need to go for blood and try to convert 4th and under 6 yards every time they cross midfield to have any chance. The Buffs will finally be within a score at halftime against Washington and may lead. The cards read a 17-17 tie at halftime. The key will be the 3rd quarter where Colorado continues to get manhandled and blown out making the 4th quarter of games grueling to watch as Buffs fans. If we receive in the 2nd half, I like our chances of pushing Washington to a potential upset. Therefore, my prediction is two-fold: Receive in the 2nd half and Buffs pull a big upset and get a signature victory with score 38-31 Buffs. Buffs kick and they lose 41-20 Huskies.