1Everyone on the offense has to make it a priority protecting Marshall Lobbestael. The Buffaloes’ defense, featuring three down linemen and a couple of exceptional pass-rushing linebackers, leads the Pac-12 in sacks with 14. Outside linebacker Josh Hartigan (four sacks) and end Chidera Uzo-Diribe (2.5) get upfield and flush the quarterback, with middle backer Douglas Rippy (2.5) supplying a push in the middle. The Cougars will be starting their third center in three games, with sophomore junior college transfer Matt Goetz filling in for Andrew Roxas (ankle) this week.
2Be aware of Rodney Stewart. The diminutive Stewart (a 5-foot-6, 175-pound senior) is not having his best season running the ball (he’s third on the Buffs’ career list with 3,022 yards; trailing offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy – 3,677 – and Heisman winner Rashaan Salaam – 3,057), but he’s still a threat. Colorado uses Stewart as a receiver out of the backfield and in the screen game, resulting in a team-high 23 catches this season. If Stewart is in space, the first WSU defender can’t let him get away clean or it could be a long gain.
3Win the special teams battle. If there’s an area first-year coach Jon Embree is disgusted with, it’s his special teams. The Buffaloes were gashed last week with two long kickoff returns (one called back for a hold that had little to do with the return), had a punt travel just 20 yards and saw Stewart muff a punt at his 10. Ohio State started seven possessions inside Colorado territory. Earlier this week, Embree announced he would use more starters on the special teams in an attempt to clean up the mistakes.
4The Cougars must take care of the ball. Though this is a key every week, with Colorado playing its first Pac-12 game today, any change of momentum is going to be magnified by 50,000 people screaming for the Buffs. Though Colorado hasn’t turned the ball over much this season – three times – the Buffs also don’t force a lot of miscues and have broken even in their first four games. Take care of the ball and WSU should be able to score on a Colorado team that’s yielding 30.2 points a game.