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Washington State braces for three-week span vs. Pac-12’s elite rushers, starting with Colorado’s Phillip Lindsay

UPDATED: Wed., Oct. 18, 2017, 10:56 p.m.

Colorado running back Phillip Lindsay warms up before the first half of a game against Arizona on Oct. 7. (David Zalubowski / Associated Press)
Colorado running back Phillip Lindsay warms up before the first half of a game against Arizona on Oct. 7. (David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

Phillip Lindsay sports a frizzy black afro that might get him automatic entry into almost any 70’s soul band, but the retro look isn’t why Colorado’s leading rusher has cultivated such a following this season and throughout his career in Boulder.

Lindsay’s an easy man to identify, he’s just hard to track down.

“We think he’s one of the best (running) backs in the county,” Washington State linebackers coach Ken Wilson said on Wednesday. “He’s tough, he’s not as big as the backs we’ve faced, but he runs harder than any of the backs we’ve faced. You’ve got to tackle him and you’ve got to be in the right gaps or he can break big runs on you.”

With its senior tailback in tow, Colorado (4-3, 1-3 Pac-12) will arrive in Pullman for Saturday’s 7:45 p.m. game against the Cougars (6-1, 3-1) hoping Lindsay can shoulder a big workload and start to resurrect the Buffaloes’ Pac-12 season.

At the moment, he’s the hottest running back in the conference not named Bryce Love, and Lindsay gets to go about his business as one of the country’s most productive rushers without the weight of being a Heisman Trophy candidate – though in a year without Stanford’s Love, his name might be popping up in a few more of those conversations.

In the Buffaloes’ last two games, Lindsay has accumulated 466 rushing yards and turned in five touchdowns. He’s crossed the goal line in each of Colorado’s seven games this season and enters Saturday’s contest in a tie for third nationally with 11 all-purpose TDs.

It’ll only be a few more carries before Lindsay breaks 1,000 yards for the season – he’s sitting at 995 currently – and the Cougars know they’ll have to clamp down if they hope to keep the Buffaloes’ workhorse under his 144 yard-per-game average.

“Well he’s incredibly tough,” Wilson said. “I mean he runs hard, he’s got really fast feet and he does not take many tackles-for-loss.”

And the thing that distinguishes Lindsay from many of his colleagues in the Pac-12? He isn’t one to juke out of a tackle, spin away from a defender or skip to the sideline when he sees an army of opposing jerseys coming toward him.

Lindsay invites the contact.

“He’s always going forward, he doesn’t mind contact and he’ll just keep doing it over and over,” Wilson said. “He’s a handful, our guys are going to have to tackle well, get more than one guy on the tackle and we’ve got to be good.”

It’s unlikely the Buffaloes will go an offensive drive on Saturday without handing off at least once to their prized tailback. There isn’t a player in the Pac-12, SEC, ACC, Big 12 or Big Ten who’s been asked to carry the ball more than Lindsay. His 178 rushing attempts place him second in the FBS and first among Power Five running backs this year.

Justus Rogers is one of the WSU linebackers who’ll be tasked with plugging the holes that Lindsay tries to run through on Saturday.

“He’s fast, he’s shifty, he’s a really good running back,” Rogers said. “We’ve just got to make sure we prepare ourselves to put ourselves in the right positions and fits defensively and make sure we really rally to get him to the ground.”

When Lindsay rushed for 281 yards on a career-high 41 carries against Arizona two weeks ago, Wildcats quarterback Khalil Tate did him one better, racking up 327 yards for the highest combined rushing total (605) between two players in NCAA history.

The Cougars face Lindsay this weekend, but Tate is on deck and Love is in the hole. Each of those three players have rushed for at least 280 yards in a single game this season and over the course of the last two weeks, they’ve combined to roll up more than 1,300 yards on the ground.

But Lindsay’s probably the most unique – and it isn’t just the hair.

“In this conference, you face good backs every week,” Wilson said. “You don’t usually face a guy that’s as physically tough and wants the contact like Lindsay does.”

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