Martin Stadium opens its gates for the last time this year when No. 24 Washington State (7-3) hosts the Colorado Buffaloes (4-7). Thankfully, it looks like all the snow and single digit temperatures got pushed back a few days, and Saturday should be crystal clear and chilly.
It will be Senior Night this weekend, where we get the opportunity to give some appreciation to the young men who spent as much time as the NCAA would allow playing football at Washington State. While the sub-freezing temps on Saturday night might be less than ideal conditions for a party, it's the perfect venue.
When Mike Leach and his staff first asked recruits if they wanted to be a part of turning a program around, these are the guys that answered the bell. They didn't have a multi-million dollar Football Operations Building, they had Bohler Gym and the promise one was in the works. They didn't have the vast history of a winning program. They had before them a slate, wiped blank by a near decade of football incompetence, and an opportunity to be the foundation that turned WSU into something special.
Students, stay for this game. Every football game you'll enjoy in the future of your collegiate careers, and likely well into the time you're an alumni, giving your annual donation to the CAF, you'll owe to this group of seniors that stuck it out. That wanted to build something for you, for this University. They're the ones that answered the bell and delivered, when an easier path was in front of them.
You owe them that. We all do. Give them a great environment as a send-off. Let them know we showed up for them, had their backs after they showed up for us every weekend, good times or bad. Make Martin a party on Saturday night and spend the rest of the week with your family.
I promise you this, you will regret not seeing a ranked Washington State team close out great season at home and sharing the revelry with friends. Take it from Jason Gesser, or Bill Moos, or thousands of alumni on social media ... you will regret not going to this game. Find a way to be there.
There's a striking similarity between the 2015 Buffs and last year's Cougs. They've played in six one-possession games, losing four of them -- including one of the weirdest, most unfortunate endings you'll see in college football to open the season against Hawaii -- and have been a tough out for most of their schedule.
Colorado trips to Pullman toting a three game losing streak against some of the best teams the conference has to offer: battling UCLA to a four-point loss, getting worked by Stanford, then pushing USC to the wire on a short week. Stanford-USC back to back is tough on anyone, and the Buffs didn't come away unscathed, losing starting quarterback Sefo Liufau.
They didn't appear to limit or change their playbook with back-up Cade Apsay, who completed 18-of-23 passing for 128 yards and two TDs against the Trojans. Apsay isn't quite the runner Liufau is, but he's still pretty capable, and a lot of the Buffs' offense works off inside zone read.
They'll primarily work out of single TE, single RB personnel groups and motion across formation fairly frequently, especially out of double tight end sets. Fly sweep is pretty integral to what they do, and they build play action off it in addition to an inverted veer.
They hit this play a few times in the past few games and do it out of various formations. Whatever the offensive personnel, the concept remains the same. Motion by the inside receiver to a fly sweep play fake at the snap. The RB rounds out a vertical down the sideline, forcing an easy high/low read on the corner with the fly sweep.
The backside receiver runs a shallow cross that's money if the LBs bounce over and chase motion, while the receivers to the play side pull defenders inside. This was a big play for Colorado nearly every time they ran it against USC.
What has me concerned about the Buffs
Let down. WSU cracked the AP Top 25 this week for the first time since 2006, where -- like this year -- the Cougs were ranked after beating UCLA in the Rose Bowl. Wazzu promptly bombed their next home game, losing by 10 to 6-6 Arizona, then got roasted by 33 in Tempe against 7-6 ASU, and limped across the finish line with a three point loss in the Apple Cup to a hapless 5-7 UW squad.
Not exactly the finish Coug fans were hoping for. Having already exceeded expectations this year, WSU needs to go out and win the games it should, not just the games no one not wearing Crimson thinks they can.
Nelson Spruce. Spruce has 812 yards on 75 receptions and gets the most attention -- by far -- with a 27 percent target rate. No. 22 is now the conference record holder in career receptions and is also a very dangerous return man.
Brian Howell, CougCenter Hour guest and Buffalo beat-writer for buffzone.com, was kind enough to lend his thoughts
What are you most confident in about the Colorado Buffaloes?
"More than anything, I think you can count on CU competing and playing hard for four quarters. That probably doesn't sound like a big deal, but it is for this team. They've learned how to do that over the past couple of years and it has kept them in most games they play. I also feel fairly confident in their ability to play solid defense week in and week out. Sounds odd to say that because this team has been horrific on defense the past several years, but they've made great strides in that area this year."
What has me confident in Wazzu
Stones. Luke Falk has been nails in tight games all season. You really can't say enough about what he's been able to do in crunch time. His late game heroics are no longer considered fluky; it's what he does.
Nickel. The Buffs run your garden variety base nickel defense, which WSU practices against daily. Colorado isn't particularly great or terrible at anything on defense, they're fine. They'll line up and try to pressure with four on the DL and drop into their zones. Falk should be able work the holes in a nickel zone, as he and the receivers have a real great idea where they'll all be.
Ground Game. CU gives up just over 200 yards per game on the ground and surrenders 5.02 yards per attempt. The Buffs are specifically pretty weak at Rushing Success Rate, ranking 100th nationally, where WSU excels, ranking 8th. This could be a game where one of the RBs breaks 100.
Get sack happy. Wazzu flustered Josh Rosen last week, but weren't able to drop the elusive QB behind the line of scrimmage. It was only the second time all season WSU didn't record a sack (Arizona). Facing an inexperienced QB, the Cougs need to not only get after him with pressure, but mix up stunts to make his zone reads as difficult as possible. CU posts a 7.4 percent sack rate on passing downs (64th nationally).
So, Mr. Howell...
What about Wazzu should have the Buffs concerned?
"The Wazzu offense should concern CU, as I'm sure it concerns most teams. Luke Falk is an accurate passer with a bunch of weapons, and it appears he's got a really good handle on Mike Leach's offense. That's dangerous to any defense. From what I've seen in watching the Cougars, Falk makes big-time throws even when the defense plays well. So, that should concern CU. The Buffs' margin for error on defense is razor thin.
"I also think WSU's pass rush should concern CU. Not that WSU has a great pass rush, but I would expect the Cougars to come after a young quarterback making his first career start, and CU's offensive line is not great. The CU offensive line needs to have a big night to keep the Cougars away from Cade Apsay."
How I see this game playing out
With the exception of two quarters against OSU and one quarter against ASU, the Cougs have played everybody close all season. That changes this weekend. The Buffs are a decent team that's caught a few bad breaks this season, and can absolutely beat WSU if the Cougars don't bring their A game. Wazzu might be past all that now, as there's little doubt the coaching staff and team leadership will allow them to not show up.
Colorado was the victim of some brutal scheduling and the Body Blow Theory could be in order after facing the Cardinal and Trojans. Add to that a freshman QB making his first start on the road and a defense the Cougs practice against daily, Wazzu should be closing out Martin a lot better than they opened it.
Final score: WSU 56 - 27 CU
"This season, Washington State has played seven games that have been decided by a touchdown or less, and Colorado has played in six of those games. Both teams know how to compete and stay in the game for four quarters, and I think this one will be the same thing. Unlike Wazzu, though, CU hasn't figured out how to win those close games. So, I think this is a close game throughout, but Washington State finds a way to win it."