Teams going in opposite directions play each other Saturday with No. 8 Washington State trying to extend its five-game Pac-12 winning streak against a host Colorado team on a four-game losing streak after starting 5-0.
The Cougars (8-1, 5-1 Pac-12) enter the game coming off a close call against California last week at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash. Coach Mike Leach’s team beat California 19-13 on a fourth-quarter touchdown pass from Gardner Minshew II to Easop Winston Jr. in the last minute.
Leach believes the close game will benefit his team.
“This time of year especially, if you play a schedule like we do, where everybody’s good, there’s none of these breather teams that exist in some conferences,” Leach said. “It’s good as far as sticking in there and being confident. Keeping composure when it’s tough in a game, I think those are huge assets.”
The Buffaloes (5-4, 2-4) continued to tumble last week with a 42-34 loss at Arizona.
Colorado’s defense has fallen apart since the Buffaloes suffered their first loss of the season at USC. In the last four games, the Buffaloes have lost them all by allowing 35 points per game.
Facing Minshew, the nation’s top passer, appears to be bad news for a Colorado defense that allowed Oregon State’s Jake Luton and Arizona’s Khalil Tate to achieve career-high passing yards in the last two games.
Luton completed 28 of 39 passes for 310 yards and three touchdowns in the Beavers’ 41-34 comeback victory in overtime. Tate went 17 for 22 with 350 yards and threw a career-high five touchdown passes, leading the Wildcats to a 42-34 win. The career high for Minshew is 470 yards, set in September against Eastern Washington.
“(Tate) made some good throws, (but) we didn’t make some plays we should have made,” Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre said Monday. “We have to make those plays. We had a couple instances where some guys should have blitzed and didn’t blitz; I have no idea why. That would have helped us, too, on some of those plays. That was some miscommunication with us; you can’t have that kind of thing happen either.”
The Buffaloes could be without a few key players in their defensive secondary against Washington State, including starting strong safety Evan Worthington, an All-Pac-12 honorable-mention performer in 2017 who missed the Arizona game with a concussion.
Minshew, who is listed at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, leads the nation with 390.8 passing yards per game while completing 70.8 percent of his passes (329 of 465) with 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Colorado could receive a much-needed boost if wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. returns from a toe injury. Shenault compiled 780 yards on 60 catches with six touchdowns before he went down with the injury. Colorado is 5-1 with Shenault and 0-3 without him.
“He’s still day to day,” MacIntyre said. “He did a little bit (in Monday’s practice). We’ll just see. Hopefully we’ll get him back sometime before the year is over. I sure hope so.”
Leach has won games at 10 of the 12 stadiums in the Pac-12 with Colorado’s Folsom Field one of the two he has yet to achieve a victory. The other is Washington’s Husky Stadium. The Cougars have only played in Boulder once under Leach, losing 38-24 in 2016, which snapped an eight-game winning streak.
Leach has his players convinced they are in an adverse situation, playing on the road after last week’s scare.
“Football is a tough sport in general; a lot of battling,” linebacker Dillon Sherman told the Spokane (Wash.) Spokesman-Review. “Adversity comes your way over and over again, but our team is super close. We are a family, we really are. Other teams say that, but I really believe that we all love each other like brothers. So, when we get down and are grinding in those types of situations, we just look to one another and say, ‘Let’s get this.'”