BOULDER, Colo. – This is a game you simply don’t lose.
No matter the circumstance, no matter the unexpected pitfalls, there are few reasons why the Washington Huskies should lose to the Colorado Buffaloes today at Folsom Field.
The discrepancy between the two teams in talent and momentum is too great to overlook.
For Washington, last weekend’s 34-15 win over Utah was perhaps the Huskies’ best performance of the season and it likely secured a third consecutive bowl berth. After being inconsistent most of the season, quarterback Keith Price and the UW offense seemed to find a rhythm.
“I thought it was a complete performance,” coach Steve Sarkisian said. “Hopefully it’s one we can build on here and continue to grow from as we head into the last couple ballgames of the season.”
Meanwhile, Colorado lost its sixth game in a row – 56-31 to Arizona in a contest that wasn’t as close as the lopsided score seemed to indicate. The Buffaloes had no answer for Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey, who set a Pacific-12 Conference record with 366 yards rushing along with five touchdowns on 25 carries.
Colorado has given up at least 42 points in all six Pac-12 losses.
With fans’ interest waning and Colorado coach Jon Embree’s future in doubt, even the home-field advantage won’t be great for the Buffaloes.
“I know Coach Embree,” Sarkisian said. “I know him personally and I know he is fighting his tail off with that coaching staff to get the best out of his football team. It’s challenging. We’ve been there before and it’s not always fun, it’s not always easy, but when you watch the film they are playing hard.”
And yet, even as a heavy favorite, the Huskies know they aren’t accomplished enough as a football team to look past the reeling Buffaloes and toward next week’s Apple Cup, and still win.
“It doesn’t matter to us,” linebacker John Timu said of the Huskies’ rare role as the heavy favorite. “They are all nameless, faceless opponents – I’ve said it before. It doesn’t matter what the record is for Colorado. They are respected in this game and we need to go out and dominate and hopefully come out with a win.”
There have been a few bright spots for the Buffaloes this season. Bruising freshman running back Christian Powell has three 100-yard rushing games. Sophomore quarterback Nick Hirschman looked solid last week before leaving with a concussion. Hirschman’s status for today is unknown. If he can’t go, transfer Connor Wood will likely start in his place.
“They are a pro-style offense,” UW defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said. “They’ve got good tight ends. The back is very heavy; he gets a lot of yards after contact, which is something we haven’t done a great job of limiting. So that’s going to be a test for us. We’ve got to go out and execute.”
But even if Colorado does get points, Washington should get more. Colorado is last in the Pac-12 in just about every statistical category: scoring defense (47.2), total defense (505.2 yards per game), run defense (227.6 yards per game) and second to last in pass defense (277.4 yards per game).
“We just have to attack this thing like any other week,” Price said. “If we just play the way that we’re capable of playing, we’ll be fine.”
Sarkisian isn’t going to change anything based on Arizona’s success running against Colorado last week.
“We’re going to do what we’re good at,” he said. “We’re not going to try to reinvent the wheel, we’re not going to become Arizona and run Arizona’s offense this week. We’re going to run our offense and execute it to the best of our ability. That gives us the best chance to be successful.”
Washington, with a three-game winning streak, is on track to finish the regular season with an 8-4 record, its best under Sarkisian.
But an upset by Colorado would go far in spoiling the good feelings from recent weeks of success. Coaches on the UW staff have tried to make sure no letdown is possible.
“At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter,” Wilcox said. “It’s about how we prepare, how we execute –whether we’re playing Colorado, Utah, USC, the Seahawks, Bellevue High – it doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t.
“It has to do with how you prepare and how you execute on game day. And if you do that to the best of your ability, then you can feel good about what happens.”
WASHINGTON (6-4 OVERALL, 4-3 PACIFIC-12 CONFERENCE) AT COLORADO (1-9, 1-6)
10:30 a.m., Folsom Field, Boulder, Colo.
TV: FX. Radio: 950-AM, 102.9 FM
The series: Washington leads the all-time series 6-5-1. The first meeting was in 1915, when Gil Dobie was the Huskies’ head coach. The teams will meet often now with Colorado part of the Pac-12. Last season, in their first meeting as conference foes, Washington rolled to a 52-24 win at Husky Stadium.
What to watch: With Apple Cup coming up next week and the Huskies fresh off a win that made them bowl eligible, this game could be viewed as a “trap game.” It would be easy for Huskies to look past the hapless Buffs. After all, Colorado has been beaten up and blown out in just about every game this season. Last week, Washington’s offense scored more than 21 points for the first time this season against an FBS opponent. The Huskies will look to extend that success against the 118th-ranked defense in the country. Keith Price looked more like the quarterback he was last season in last week’s win over Utah. He was decisive in the pocket, he ran the ball effectively and he avoided mistakes. Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins has been UW’s best player. Look for Price to target him and Kasen Williams multiple times early to set the tone. The biggest questions surrounding the Huskies are lack of depth on the defensive line and the health of corner back Desmond Trufant. The defensive line is so beat up with injuries that Seferian-Jenkins played defensive end a handful of snaps last week. That number could go up today. Trufant has been bothered by hamstring injuries the past few games. Washington’s best defensive player should be able take this game off without dire consequences for the team. Colorado coach Jon Embree could be fighting for his job. While he has the backing of legendary former coach Bill McCartney and was a player during the program’s most successful period, the blowout losses and dwindling attendance may force the administration to make a change just two years into his contract.
What’s at stake: The Buffaloes are reduced to playing for pride and possibly the future employment of Embree. For Washington, a loss would be a blow to what has been an upswing after a difficult start to the season.
The pick: Washington, 44-7.
Transfer QB likely to start, with Nick Hirschman battling an injury.
Bruising running back leads three-headed rushing attack.
Doesn’t have overwhelming numbers, but he’s one of the Buffs’ better pass-catching threats.
Prized recruit of the 2008 class is now facing the final two games of a solid CU career.
Stalwart up front will be making his 48th career start.
He should get some much-needed snaps in mop-up time.
Yards could be plentiful against Pac-12’s worst rushing defense.
With Trufant ailing, Ducre could see plenty of time at corner.
Buffs have allowed 42 sacks this season, and Shirley could have a big impact on this game.
Just throw it to him, even when he’s covered, because he makes good things email@example.com Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports @RyanDivish