With an early-morning trip to the airport on tap, there is no better time than now to take our usual look back at positives and negatives from Washington’s most recent game, this one a 41-10 victory over Colorado in the Pac-12 championship game at Levi’s Stadium.
First, as always, a few links:
--- Here is my story from the game, with UW winning its first Pac-12 championship since 2000 in dominating fashion.
--- Here is a notebook detailing the struggles of Tacoma native and Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau.
And radio highlights from Bob Rondeau and Damon Huard.
1. The Huskies are going to the College Football Playoff.
No doubt about it now. This, obviously, is the primary takeaway from Friday’s victory. There may have been some concern that the CFP committee might jump the winner of the Big Ten championship game over the Huskies, or perhaps might take a closer look at Michigan’s worthiness.
But if the committee wants to compare common opponents, well, Michigan trailed Colorado 21-7 in the first quarter of its eventual 45-28 victory back in September, and that was after Sefo Liufau got hurt and sat the rest of the game. Liufau got hurt against UW, too. But he returned and played the entire second half, a period in which UW outscored Colorado 27-3 and intercepted Liufau three times.
The result was a victory far more convincing than what Michigan did to the Buffaloes, on a neutral field, and with Liufau in the game for about the same amount of time. Yes, he was hurting, and the anke injury surely contributed to his poor play (3-for-13 passing for just 21 yards with the three picks). But the Huskies also took a quick 7-0 lead on an easy touchdown drive before Liufau even set foot on the field, and CU backup Steven Montez is a lot more experienced now than when he subbed in for Liufau in the Buffaloes’ loss to Michigan.
Maybe UW didn’t even need a convincing victory. Maybe it just needed to win, no matter the margin. But the Huskies left no doubt on Friday, putting forth a performance that leaves the CFP committee with no choice but to include them among the top four on Sunday morning. The only question now, it seems, is whether UW will remain at No. 4, or perhaps climb higher depending upon the result of No. 3 Clemson’s game against Virginia Tech for the ACC championship.
2. Taylor Rapp.
You knew UW’s coaches liked Rapp coming out of Sehome High School, and the fact that he enrolled early and participated in spring practices gave him a chance to play as a true freshman.
But there probably aren’t many folks outside UW’s locker room who expected Rapp to make this kind of impact this season. Yet here he is, now leading the team with four interceptions after picking Liufau twice and returning one for a touchdown.
Those two plays, made on consecutive possessions, pretty much put an end to any thought that Colorado could win.
Of his 35-yard interception return for a touchdown on the first play of the third quarter, Rapp said: “I was just back there on the post, and I saw the quarterback threw the ball, and I saw it was a little high. So I was converging on the receiver. You know, it's just reaction, got the ball, and my teammates obviously did an incredible job blocking and making a lane for me.”
Said UW coach Chris Petersen: “He's just continually gotten better as the season's gone on. So what was going on out there with Taylor's performance didn't surprise, I don't think, anybody on the team.”
3. The defense, in general.
This was as dominant of a defensive performance as could have been expected. Colorado finished with only 163 yards of total offense and an average of 3.0 yards per play. The Buffaloes managed only eight first downs and ran only 54 plays. They committed three turnovers, were tackled for a loss seven times, and totaled minus-4 yards in the fourth quarter. Phillip Lindsay, the Pac-12’s leader in rushing touchdowns, finished with 53 yards on 19 carries. Liufau had as many interceptions as completions.
That’s why Rapp’s touchdown in the third quarter, which made the score 21-7, felt like a game clincher. Colorado simply could not move the ball against Washington’s defense, which now ranks sixth nationally in yards per play allowed after entering the game tied with the Buffaloes in that category.
“We knew it would be a hard, defensive-type game, and I can't say enough about our defense creating turnovers, scoring touchdowns, playing championship defense,” Petersen said. “And I think that's why you have two teams like ours in this game.”
1. The passing game.
Who could have believed Jake Browning would attempt 24 passes, complete only 9 of them for 118 yards, and UW would still score 41 points in an easy victory?
UW’s passing game never really found its rhythm against a Colorado team that ranks fourth nationally in pass defense efficiency. Browning couldn’t seem to connect with the Huskies’ receivers. Even when they were open, his throws just seemed to be a little off. And UW’s most impressive completion of the night was Ross’ miraculous, one-handed snag on a prayer Browning lofted toward the sideline while being pressured.
Huskies coaches will be happy to dissect that film after a 31-point victory instead of a loss. But Colorado won’t be the last talented secondary the Huskies see this season, so that kind of failure in the passing game isn’t particularly encouraging.
“Our pass game was awkward, for lack of a better word,” Petersen said.
“I think it had to do with good cover guys, for sure, and just being off a little bit. It will be interesting to put the tape on.”
2. Two red zone trips without touchdowns.
It obviously didn’t really matter, and both came with the Huskies already comfortably ahead. But UW twice took possession of the ball after CU turnovers inside the Buffaloes 15-yard line, and twice had to settle for field goals -- once after driving to Colorado’s 2-yard line with a full set of downs.
Colorado has a talented defense, the kind that is going to swell up with its backs against the goal line every now and then. But UW might regret leaving that many points on the board against an opponent with a more capable offense.
3. Colorado’s near kick-return TD.
OK, so this is a pretty minor nit, especially because the play was capped by a superb effort by Kevin King to prevent a touchdown. But after Ross’ touchdown gave UW a 31-7 lead, the Buffaloes nearly returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown after Anthony Julmisse fumbled the ball forward and Lindsay picked it up and ran it to UW’s 2-yard line.
King tackled him there, and UW’s defense forced Colorado to settle for a field goal. But hey, we need a third negative from a game that UW dominated against a top-10 opponent. So, this is it.