Brooks: Buffs Hope To Stall Huskies’ Happy Ending
SEATTLE – The Washington Huskies desperately want to be the football team they were in September. In a similar search for good football and better times, the Colorado Buffaloes must look a little further back -- or taking a more positive approach, gaze ahead.
In its fifth season under coach Steve Sarkisian, U-Dub experienced a boom-to-near-bust beginning, opening 4-0 and rising as high as No. 15 in the national rankings. The Huskies’ fall was swift, brutal and – at least to outsiders – somewhat understandable.
After that 4-0 start came losses at then-No. 5 Stanford (31-28) and against then-No. 2 Oregon (45-24). That’s the understandable part. Next came a trip to Arizona State and a mystifying 53-24 meltdown. The Huskies rebounded with a 41-17 win against California, but with four games remaining, the 5-3 overall record they carry into Saturday’s game against the Buffs has far too many of the UW faithful moaning, “Here we go again.”
That would be in reference to the Huskies’ three consecutive 7-6 finishes. Another one (or one worse) would put Sarkisian’s approval rating in Seattle somewhere close to that of any barista serving bad coffee. After thumping Cal, UW had a bye week in which to refocus on its final four games – CU, at UCLA, at Oregon State and in-state rival Washington State.
The Huskies (2-3 Pac-12) hope to use Saturday as a launch point for a strong finish, and the oddsmakers seem fairly certain that will happen. The Buffs (3-5, 0-5) have lost 13 consecutive Pac-12 games and are 28-point underdogs on their first trip into newly renovated Husky Stadium. Kickoff is at 6 p.m. MST (Pac-12 Network).
First-year CU coach Mike MacIntyre liked his team’s competitiveness last weekend in a 45-23 loss against No. 17 UCLA. But MacIntyre is anxious for a mile marker to be passed in his rebuilding project. He told his team on Thursday that he wanted maximum effort on every snap and that any player detected not giving that would make an immediate trip to the sidelines. If at any time during Saturday’s game it appears CU has taken a cue from hockey and is changing players on the fly, now you know why.
MacIntyre believes his team has done a commendable job of inching toward its/his first Pac-12 win, but he also believes the Buffs have to grow weary of coming up short. “For a while there we couldn’t get to that wall . . . that’s an accomplishment (but) now we’ve got to get over it,” he said.
Yet on the whole through his first eight games, MacIntyre hasn’t seen the Buffs roll over. “I’m seeing a little bit more fight with each individual guy and I’m seeing a little bit more . . . I don’t know if the word is pride but, taking a little bit more ownership in their position and in their spot,” he said.
“And that’s what we’re talking about. I think they see themselves getting better and they’re hungry to taste some more victories and I think that they understand that you’ve got to have an extra ‘oomph.’ You’ve just got to have it . . . you’ve got to match the other person’s intensity. But, really what you’ve got to do is go past the other person’s intensity and that takes a little bit of extra effort.”
Freshman quarterback Sefo Liufau said the Buffs “fought all four quarters (against UCLA). We put together a really good game; obviously there were mistakes that you want to take out. You’re never going to play a perfect game but we kept swinging, kept fighting until that final whistle.”
Saturday’s game is special for Liufau, who is from Tacoma, Wash., and will have family and friends in attendance. He called the prospect of playing in front of them “exciting,” but he’s more attuned to how to move his offense against UW. The Huskies are second in the Pac-12 in pass defense, having allowed 214.5 yards a game and a league-low eight touchdown passes – which matches their interception total.
Offensively, UW depends on quarterback Keith Price (271.1 yards passing a game, 16 TDs), running back Bishop Sankey (145.2 yards rushing a game, 12 TDs), receiver Jaydon Mickens (45 catches, 542 yards, four TDs) and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins (20 catches, 244 yards, four TDs).
Liufau has completed 64.9 percent of his passes (74 of 114) for 1,092 yards and four touchdowns (three interceptions), with three of those scoring tosses going to Paul Richardson. Overall, Richardson has caught eight TD passes and is three short of Derek McCoy’s school record of 11 set in 2003. “P-Rich” is fifth nationally in receiving yards per game (123.0), with his 984 total this season inching him closer to Charles E. Johnson’s seasonal school mark of 1,149 set in 1992.
The Buffs continue to make headway in their running game and are hopeful that freshman Michael Adkins II can play Saturday. After averaging 73.8 rushing yards in five games, he missed last week while recovering from a concussion. Also on the wait-and-see list is corner Kenneth Crawley (ankle).
In Adkins’ absence, sophomore Christian Powell, who also doubles as a fullback, ran for a season-high 97 yards on 22 carries. “You have to have that mentality that you won’t be denied,” Powell said of his work last weekend. “I try to carry that into every game. It just shows sometimes more than others.”
A healthy Adkins and Powell could keep UW off balance and benefit Liufau in the passing game. Plus, the Huskies might be more vulnerable on the ground than in the air; they’re ninth in the conference in run defense, allowing 177.1 yards a game. The Buffs’ running game has improved to 128.6 yards per game, ninth in the conference.
“We made some plays last game, but we still need to run the ball better and protect Sefo better,” said CU left tackle Jack Harris. “If we can do that, we’ll continue to improve.”
MacIntyre mostly wants continued improvement in red zone offense. Last weekend, CU totaled a season-best 381 yards and entered UCLA territory on seven of 10 drives. But those seven trips produced only two touchdowns, with Will Oliver salvaging another three trips with field goals.
Two off-sides penalties in the red zone (both on Harris) blunted a pair of drives, and MacIntyre said those mistakes must be corrected before the Buffs begin tracking upward in the conference.
“Offensively, we’ve got to get in the end zone more,” he said. “We’ve got to find a way to get into the end zone more. Like I said, it used to be 24 points and no turnovers was a good offensive day. That’s a bad offensive day now. You’ve got to get between 35 and 40 (points) to have a good offensive day with no turnovers or a one turnover-type thing to be successful.”
The Buffs’ other hurdle – and it meshes with eliminating mistakes – is learning how to win. MacIntyre concedes that’s an important lesson, but it’s not one he conducts. Instead, he talks to his team “about being successful in their own world or what they do,” he said. “I think as we start getting closer and closer in these games, that as they keep doing their job under pressure . . . if you focus on your job under pressure then hopefully the other guy will focus on his job under pressure, then everything comes together.”
When that happens, he said, “We’ll click as a train moving down the tracks. We’ve had a few kinks but I think we’re moving down the track a little bit.”
The Buffs remain hopeful of qualifying for a bowl game, but their window of opportunity is closing. Six wins are needed and CU has half that total with four games remaining. The Buffs return to Folsom Field to play their next two games – next Saturday against California (3:30 p.m.) and Nov. 23 against Southern California (kickoff time not set).