Friday's Fast Five: Keys For Buffs vs. Huskies
BOULDER — Just a year ago, Colorado and Washington each entered the stretch run of their seasons with an eye on a Pac-12 title game berth.
But the Buffaloes fell to Utah in their season finale to end their title game hopes while Washington had its regular season come to an inglorious end when the Huskies' season finale with Oregon — and subsequently a bowl appearance — were canceled by Covid-19 issues.
This year, both teams are struggling to salvage their seasons as they head into Saturday's 1 p.m game at Folsom Field (Pac-12 Networks).
The 3-7 Buffaloes (2-5 Pac-12) are no longer in contention for a bowl berth, but they can rescue some respectability with two wins in their final two weeks, as well as build a little positive momentum for 2022.
The Huskies (4-6, 3-4), meanwhile, are still mathematically alive in the bowl hunt, and can also salvage at least a measure of their reputation with two more wins as well.
But this season has clearly not been what UW planned way back in August. The Huskies opened the year ranked in the nation's top 25, but saw that ranking go away in a hurry with an opening loss to Montana. They opened conference play with an overtime win against Cal, but since then have lost four of six games — and their head coach.
Jimmy Lake, who took over last year after the retirement of Chris Petersen, was suspended two weeks ago after an in-game incident with a player. That suspension turned into a dismissal last Sunday, one day after the Huskies let a 14-point lead slip away in a 35-30 loss to Arizona State.
Now, Karl Dorrell's up-and-down Buffs hope to send their seniors off on the right note in Saturday's home finale while the Huskies, under the direction of interim head coach Bob Gregory, aim to keep their bowl hopes alive for at least another week.
What must the Buffs do to give their seniors a fond final memory of Folsom?
1. Finish strong. For the last couple of weeks, we've said a fast start was imperative for the Buffs and they delivered.
Against Oregon State, the Buffs scored 10 points in the opening quarter before claiming a 37-34 win over the Beavers.
Last week, they put together another quick start, jumping out to a 20-7 lead at UCLA — only to see the Bruins score 37 unanswered points to hand the Buffs a 44-20 defeat.
Now, we need to see the Buffs pair a strong finish with that fast start.
Colorado has been outscored 144-95 in the third and fourth quarters combined this year, and the Buffs have outscored only two opponents (Northern Colorado and Arizona) after halftime.
That's a trend they need to reverse, especially in a game where points will likely be hard to come by.
2. Run the ball early, often and effectively. Washington's defense has been good this year. The Huskies are tied for the Pac-12 lead in points allowed per game (21.2); they lead the conference in first downs allowed, passing yards allowed and pass efficiency defense; and they are second in total defense.
But their run defense has been suspect, as they're 11th in the league in rushing yards allowed (204.3 per game). Michigan (343 yards), Oregon State (242), UCLA (237), Oregon (329) and Arizona State (286) have all gashed the Huskies for big numbers in victories.
The Buffs have the rushing attack to put up some similar numbers. CU has averaged 207 yards rushing over the last two weeks, led by Jarek Broussard's back-to-back 100-yard efforts. If the Buffs can get Broussard rolling early and mix in some planned runs for quarterback Brendon Lewis, they have a chance to produce some early momentum and force the Huskies to throw.
Which leads us to …
3. Get pressure on UW quarterback Dylan Morris. The Huskies' signal caller has had his moment. He's thrown for 2,071 yards and 12 touchdowns this year.
But he's also been maddeningly inconsistent:
In last week's loss at ASU, he was 7-for-9 for 67 yards and ran for a touchdown on the Huskies' first two drives to help stake UW to a 14-0 lead. But after those initial two drives, he was just 9-for-19 for 94 yards the rest of the day.
Morris is also prone to interceptions — he's thrown 10 this season, a very big chunk of UW's 15 turnovers. If the Buffs can pluck off a couple of his passes, they will be in the game down the stretch.
4. Win the big-play battle. This is an interesting matchup here in that category. Both teams are among the nation's leaders when it comes to limiting plays of 40 yards or longer.
Washington has given up just three plays from scrimmage of 40 or more; the Buffaloes have given up just four. UW is also the only team in the nation this year that hasn't given up a pass play of at least 40 yards; Colorado has allowed just three.
The Buffs do have big-play capability. They have eight plays of 40 yards or more, with Broussard accounting for two on the ground and Brenden Rice and Daniel Arias each having two receptions in that category.
The Huskies haven't had many big plays — in fact, they have just one play from scrimmage for more than 40 yards.
If the Buffs can break a couple of those Saturday and keep the Huskies in check, tempo will be on CU's side.
5. Play for the seniors. Every team wants to play well for its seniors in their home finale. That's no secret.
But while small in numbers, this bunch — Nate Landman, Mustafa Johnson and Kary Kutsch — have worn the black & gold in stellar fashion.
It would be nice to have their last memory of Folsom be one they will cherish.