Saturday’s Pac-12 conference matchup between the Colorado Buffaloes and the No. 15-ranked Washington Huskies has plenty on the line; it’s not only a rematch of the 2016 Pac-12 Championship game, but it is essentially a must-win for both teams if they want to get back to Santa Clara. With both teams heading into the game as the top team in their respective divisions and both falling last week, it will be interesting to see which team avoids back-to-back losses after Saturday’s game. Here are three things to watch for.
Buffs’ offense battered
Saturday’s game has the makings to be one of the most entertaining games of the day as it has two dangerous offenses in all of college football going at it. But it also depends on who is available, as both teams are going through injuries of their own and have key players that are questionable to play.
For the Buffs, it is unarguably their best player on the season in wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr., who has entered the Heisman candidate race with his incredible start. Another big game against a ranked team will only make his case stronger at having a real shot at winning the Heisman. Shenault Jr. hurt his toe against USC last week, which limited his play late in the game, and even if he does play, he will be hampered a bit. Shenault Jr. has been the engine for Colorado, as he has caught 60 passes for 780 yards with six touchdowns to go along with it. He’s leading the nation in receiving yards per game (130) and is responsible for 11 of Colorado’s 27 touchdowns on the season. Fellow receiver Jay MacIntyre is under the concussion protocol as well, and starting running back Travon McMillan has a leg contusion that will slow him down, although he is expected to play. This is a team that is battered but must find a way to win, even if they are not at full strength.
Stopping the Huskies’ Running Game
The Buffs aren’t alone in the injury department. Washington also suffered some key injuries and could be without running backs Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed. Gaskin went down in the second quarter against the Oregon Ducks with a shoulder injury. He has had success against Colorado in the past, and in their most recent game last year in Boulder, he ran for a career-high 202 yards in a 37-10 beatdown. If both players are forced to sit, it is definitely a downgrade, but sophomores Sean McGrew and Kamari Pleasant filled in against the Ducks and showed that they are capable of contributing. Colorado will be tasked with attempting to stop a very good quarterback in Jake Browning, so limiting the running game — no matter if it is Gaskin out there or the duo of Pleasant and McGrew — will be the difference in a win or loss.
Two Great Quarterbacks
Colorado is in quite the bounce-back spot, going up against one of the nation’s best teams, but any chance of winning it all starts with quarterback Steven Montez. Montez is having a career year thus far, with 1,590 passing yards and 11 touchdown passes. He also has taken care of the ball, as he only has three interceptions on the season. The main part of his game that has stood out is his efficiency. He has been ultra-efficient, completing 70.5% of his passes. He is the leader of the offense and was just recognized as a mid-season addition to the Manning Award watch list. Washington will be going after Montez all game long, and the offensive line for the Buffs are coming off of a game where they gave up multiple sacks to USC.
The Huskies’ offense recorded 437 yards total in last week’s defeat and Browning was on the verge of a game-winning drive that ended in a missed kick. He went 15-for-25 for 243 yards and also had a TD. He did have an interception in the game, but still a solid overall performance, and he will look to have an even better showing against a Buffs defense that is susceptible of giving up big plays. The Buffs’ defense will have to get pressure on Browning early and often. Colorado is ranked No. 3 In the Pac-12 in scoring defense and have been leaning on Mustafa Johnson to get pressure on the quarterback. He has 5.5 sacks on the year and will be tasked with making things uncomfortable for Browning.