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Controlling the clock was key for Washington State in 24-point rout of Colorado

UPDATED: Sun., Nov. 11, 2018, 10:14 p.m.

Washington State Cougars running back James Williams (32) runs the ball against Colorado during the first half of a college football game on Saturday, November 10, 2018, at Folsom Field in Boulder Colo. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State Cougars running back James Williams (32) runs the ball against Colorado during the first half of a college football game on Saturday, November 10, 2018, at Folsom Field in Boulder Colo. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

BOULDER, Colo. – The best offense is a good defense. The best defense is a good offense. It’s been a little bit of both for No. 8 Washington State this football season.

Saturday, in a 31-7 thumping of Colorado, the two units worked in harmony to cruise past the Buffaloes and earn their ninth win of the season and their sixth in Pac-12 play.

That can manifest itself a few different ways on a football field, but on Saturday the biggest indicator may have been the digits in the time of possession column. The Cougars held onto the ball for nearly 42 minutes – 41:16 to be exact – and the Buffaloes had it for 18:14.

Even during a sluggish first quarter – the only one that didn’t produce points for 10th-ranked WSU – the Cougars probably played better offense than what the box score reflected. No points, but WSU and Gardner Minshew had possession of the ball for 12:05, reducing the workload for Tracy Claeys’ defense, which only spent 2:55 on the field.

WSU coach Mike Leach comes from the Chip Kelly school of thinking when it comes to time of possession. In other words, he isn’t a fan. Why do what you can do in 10 plays if you can do it in five?

“It’s a stat that I take virtually no pride in whatsoever,” Leach said last season. “It’s fun to have occasionally, just so you can beat the ball-control people over the head with it.”

Leach hasn’t altered his opinion on the subject in the last calendar year, but the Cougars are off to their best start in his seven years on the Palouse and they’ve won the time of possession battle in seven of the 10 games they’ve played.

The largest discrepancy came Saturday versus the Buffs.

“I thought that in our case we just weren’t in really great tempo,” Leach said. “We were OK, we did keep the ball away from them. We hogged the ball the whole game, I thought we could have capitalized on more stuff. We could have scored more points in the first half.”

WSU may not be moving down the field at warp speed this season, but there haven’t been many wasted possessions either. The Cougars are still the Pac-12’s best offense at 37.6 points per game and they came into the weekend leading the country with 18 scoring drives of 10 plays or more.

WSU upped that number to 20 on Saturday. The Cougars used 10 plays to set up a 39-yard Blake Mazza field goal on the third drive of the first quarter. Their final touchdown came on a 13-play drive that exhausted 6:24. Another 14-play drive in the first quarter culminated with a turnover on downs, same with an 11-play drive in the third quarter.

“I think one of the biggest things was how good our running game was today,” Minshew said. “Our O-line and our running backs hit it hard.”

It certainly factored in. The Cougars rushed the ball a season-high 33 times and for a season-high 131 yards.

The defense worked quickly, too. The Cougars had eight offensive possessions that lasted seven players or longer. The Buffaloes had only two of those and six of their possessions were cut to three plays or fewer. WSU constantly put CU in precarious situations on third down and the Buffs were dismal there, converting just twice on 11 tries.

“Our defense was getting them off the field so fast, so hats off to them for getting us the ball and having us a lot of possession,” Minshew said.

Three of CU’s possessions were shortened because of turnovers.

“When the defense does that, that’s a spark play for us,” Williams said. “So when they get fired up, the energy flows through us and we start going out there and doing our thing.”

And the Buffaloes’ only touchdown Saturday? It came on an offensive possession that lasted just 48 seconds.

Not intentional, of course, but just another example of how the Cougars were able to control the clock in the latest Pac-12 triumph.

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