Washington coach Steve Sarkisian looks at the Colorado Buffaloes and sees things he likes.
Their two defensive ends. Their freshman linebacker, Addison Gillam, who ranks second in the Pac-12 Conference in tackles. Their star receiver, Paul Richardson. And their freshman quarterback, Sefo Liufau, a Tacoma native and Bellarmine Prep graduate who took over the starting job a few weeks ago.
“They play hard,” Sarkisian said. “I think coach (Mike) MacIntyre has done a good job of changing the culture there and getting those kids to play hard. They have some good football players.”
They do, and that’s nice of him to say. But these are the facts: the Buffaloes are 3-5, with three wins over non-BCS schools. They haven’t beaten a Pac-12 opponent since Sept. 21 of 2012. There’s also a reason why the Huskies are 28-point favorites to beat Colorado in Saturday’s 5 p.m. game at Husky Stadium.
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Washington (5-3, 2-3 Pac-12) has struggled some this year, but the Huskies have a much better team than the Buffaloes, and so UW fans likely expect nothing less than a convincing victory.
If the Huskies oblige, they will attain bowl eligibility for the fourth consecutive season.
But that’s the minimum expectation now, and UW isn’t thinking big-picture quite yet. Sarkisian wants the Huskies to play faster, and they should be able to move the ball well enough to rack up some yardage. The Buffaloes rank 98th nationally in rushing defense — good news for UW running back Bishop Sankey — and 109th in total defense. And they’re last in the Pac-12 in total offense (though in the Pac-12 this season, lack of offense is somewhat relative; Colorado still gains 377.8 yards a game).
UW has totaled 600 yards or more in three games this season, and if the Huskies are as efficient and balanced as they were while beating California, 41-17, two weeks ago, they could hit that number again.
Sarkisian said he thought his team was lethargic in the loss to Arizona State on Oct. 19, after the offense moved a little slower than he would have liked in a loss to Oregon the week before.
As UW approaches “the fourth quarter” of its season, as Sarkisian has labeled it, he wants the Huskies to return to their go-go-go ways that helped them to a 4-0 start.
“I want to make sure this final month here that we’re playing really fast football, and that starts with our pace,” Sarkisian said. “That starts with our tempo and how we’re running plays, and so it’s a little bit of a unique challenge when you start losing a couple guys at key positions, but I think our guys are really excited about the opportunity. We’re going to go as fast as we can go but yet be efficient and execute really well and do things the right way.”
One of those key losses is junior receiver Kasen Williams, who broke his leg against California and will miss the rest of the season. After using the bye week to prepare younger receivers to fill Williams’ role, UW now plays its first game without him.
“I’m ready for it,” freshman receiver John Ross said, “But I don’t feel like it just means something for me. It means something for all the wideouts. We all have to step up as a unit because we’re all a group. We’re just one. We’re not one person. We’re a whole unit.”
And they won’t look past Colorado.
“We know they are going to come in and try to win a game,” senior quarterback Keith Price said. “It’s how Cal was. They came in ready to play. I think they’ve (Colorado) won three games. So they’ve won a couple more than Cal did. They are going to come in, they are going to play hard and fight to the finish.”
Which is exactly what Sarkisian wants Washington to do over the next month.
COLORADO (3-5, 0-5 Pac-12) at WASHINGTON (5-3, 2-3)
5 p.m., Husky Stadium, Seattle
TV: Pac-12 Network. Radio: 950-AM.
The series: Washington leads, 7-5-1. UW won, 38-3, on Nov. 17, 2012 in Boulder. The Huskies have won four games in a row against the Buffaloes.
What to watch: Coach Steve Sarkisian said the Huskies benefited greatly from the bye week from a health perspective, so there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be energized compared with the games against Oregon and Arizona State the two weeks prior. Colorado hasn’t stopped much of anything defensively this season, so junior RB Bishop Sankey has a chance to put up numbers similar to the 241 yards he rushed for against California. Sankey is 533 yards short of UW’s single-season rushing record of 1,695.
The pick: Washington, 42-17.
No. Name, Pos., Ht., Wt., Year
6 Paul Richardson, WR, 6-1, 170, Jr.
Best player the Buffaloes have, and a deep threat the Huskies’ secondary must monitor closely.
13 Sefo Lifuau, QB, 6-4, 215, Fr.
How will Bellarmine Prep grad fare in first collegiate game before hometown fans?
44 Addison Gillam, LB, 6-3, 225, Fr.
One of Pac-12’s best tacklers and could give Price trouble.
96 Chidera Uzo-Diribe, DE, 6-3, 250, Sr.
Pass-rusher who will make UW offensive line pay if the Huskies don’t come ready to block him on every play.
No. Name, Pos., Ht., Wt., Year
9 Damore’ea Stringfellow, WR, 6-3, 225, Fr.
True freshman has just 3 catches for 20 yards this season, but size and strength make him intriguing replacement for Williams.
16 Marvin Hall, WR, 5-10, 182, So.
One of a few receivers who should see more time on the field – and more targets – in the absence of injured WR Kasen Williams.
17 Keith Price, QB, 6-1, 202, Sr.
Price says the thumb on his right hand is “100 percent” after he played through pain and swelling since injuring the thumb on Oct. 5.
76 Dexter Charles, OL, 6-4, 289, So.
Sarkisian said Charles, who missed UW’s previous two games with a shoulder injury, wasn’t limited in practice this week. He’s expected to play tonight.