The No. 15 Washington State Cougars stored their bags on a flight home last Friday after forgetting to un-pack them in Berkeley. The California Golden Bears did a lot of things to win the game and WSU seemingly did even more to lose it, in a contest that’s best filed away in the “forgettable” section of your fandom.
Colorado scrapped out a win over Oregon State — in the final minutes of the Beavers’ first game without Gary Andersen — to notch their first conference win and hit the brakes on a three-game losing skid, after suffering defeats to Washington, UCLA, and Arizona’s quarterback.
The game is set for a 7:45 PM PST kick-off amidst a weather pattern sweeping across the Pacific Northwest that is being called an “atmospheric river.”
There will be rain. There will be wind.
What has me concerned about the Colorado Buffaloes
Off The Field: Bill Moos became “former Athletic Director Bill Moos” rather unexpectedly following the loss to Cal, and we’re a little unsure of what impact — if any — that’ll have on the football team. You’d like stability and a friction-less athletic department during the type of run the Cougs are putting together, but you can’t always get what you want.
WSU President Kirk Schulz responded to the situation well, immediately naming an interim most fans really like and forming a search committee that has generated near universal praise. Brian Floyd wrote about this whole situation more elegantly than I can summarize it, and I would strongly recommend reading his thoughts if you haven’t already.
Fans have treated Moos’ departure an awful lot like a recruiting de-commitment;
- Our staff/administration is terrible! How can they let that guy go!
- We are totally screwed now.
- Actually, that person wasn’t even that good. It’ll be fine.
- We didn’t want him anyway.
I wouldn’t suspect this would be a thing that would be a distraction for players but you never know; Moos did develop close relationships with some of the student athletes.
Off The Field Part 2: Tavares Martin Jr. is suspended for this game following a violation of team rules. He has apologized to the team and it appears no other disciplinary action will be needed after this Saturday. Martin Jr. is targeted on just over 16 percent of all pass attempts and leads the team with seven touchdowns. His absence leaves the X wide receiver position in the hands of senior CJ Dimry and true freshman Tay Martin. Neither has more than 10 catches on the season.
Carryover: No team is immune to laying an egg. Most teams do, at some point or another throughout the course of the season, but the great teams find a way to win even when that happens. For a half on Friday night, it looked like WSU might be up for putting together that sort of strugglefest effort. Then the wheels fell completely off after halftime.
“Flush it” became a joke of a phrase during the Paul Wulff Era but that’s really what Wazzu needs to be able to do after that game. Don’t let Cal beat you twice by carrying bad morale into Saturday night.
Weather: This is lazy analysis but, man, the Cougs throw a bunch and the weather will be garbage. There’s not a whole lot more to it than that. As a passer, wind is typically more frustrating to deal with than a wet ball and both will be in play Saturday.
Phillip Lindsay: Averages 5.5 yards per carry and the Buffs run it nearly 43 times per game. Wazzu is 35th in rushing yards (125.86) and 31st in rushing first downs (6.7) per game, giving up the 39th fewest yards per carry (3.69).
The Cougs are 48th in S&P+ against the run. Stats suggest WSU should be able to bottle Lindsay up, but he racked up 144 yards on 31 carries against the Cougs in Boulder last year and is second only to Stanford’s Bryce Love in yards per game this season.
Brian Howell, who covers Colorado for BuffZone.com, was kind enough to stop by and lend his insights
What are you most confident in about the Colorado Buffaloes?
“I’m most confident in Phillip Lindsay having success running the ball and the offense being fairly efficient. The Buffs haven’t been as dynamic in the passing game as we thought, but they’ve adjusted well and leaned on Lindsay quite a bit. I’m sure Washington State will key in on him, but the offensive line has been doing a nice job lately of opening holes for him, and he takes advantage of that.”
What has me confident in the Cougs
DL Tempo: What was arguably the Cougs’ largest concern — and largest unknown — heading into 2017 has miraculously turned into the most dominant position group on the team. Wazzu leads the nation in defensive line “havoc,” forcing a turnover, sack, or tackle for loss on nearly 22 percent of all opponent plays. Their adjusted sack rate is also the best in college football, dropping opposing quarterbacks on 9.9 percent and 12.4 percent of pass attempts on standard and passing downs, respectively.
Colorado ranks 90th in adjusted sack rate and quarterback Steven Montez goes down on 7.6 percent of his drop-backs.
Run game: Last week wasn’t exactly the ground raid advanced stats predicted but not a lot went right in that game to begin with. They’ll get another crack at a slightly below average rush defense in sloppy conditions on Saturday. Colorado is allowing nearly five yards per attempt and 194 yards per game on the ground.
Mr. Clean: Falk should stay upright in this game. The Buffs rank below 100th in sacks per game and sacks per pass attempt. Their sack rate on standard downs — where WSU spends a lot of its time — is 118th at 1.7 percent of attempts.
So, Mr. Howell...
What about Wazzu should concern the Buffs the most?
“Honestly, I think the fact that Wazzu was routed last week and played poorly is a big concern for CU. They expect to get an angry Wazzu team. But, on the field, I think Washington State’s running backs are the top concern for CU. The Buffs have struggled against the run the past two weeks. While Wazzu doesn’t run the ball a lot, their backs are plenty capable of doing the job. CU has to be able to limit what those backs can do.”
How I see this game playing out
The Cougs aren’t shy about sticking to their pass game in inclement weather and I’d suspect they at least start the game trying to do their normal thing against the Buffs. Wicks, Morrow, and Williams should all factor in prominently if conditions keep the offense stagnant.
You’d expect the loss of WSU’s leading receiver and a downpour would spell offensive ineptitude and a lack of scoring, so let’s fade the public and guess the opposite happens. Big plays and sloppy tackling abound.
WSU opened as 10.5 point favorites and are still being bet at -10. The Over/Under has dropped 3.5 points to 52.5. Vegas sees the Cougs winning 31-21. Advanced stats see it as WSU winning 34-22.
Final Score: WSU 33 - 17 CU
“I see Washington State playing much more determined and focused than it did last week, and being at home helps. The Buffs have been able to score on offense, and I think that’ll continue. I’m just not real confident in the CU defense slowing down the Cougars. I’m going with Washington State, 35-24.”
Huge thanks to Brian for not only answering our questions here but talking with Michael Preston on the CougCenter Hour podcast earlier this week. You can find his coverage over at BuffZone.com.