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Colorado fighting injuries, adversity as No. 10 Washington State comes to town

PULLMAN – Stating the value of wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. to Colorado’s football team, coach Mike MacIntyre made an analogy Tuesday during his weekly press conference that would resonate with any Washington State fan.

And one that would equally make them squirm.

“Well, I think when you take a Heisman Trophy candidate out of your picture, it’s a big deal,” MacIntyre said, speaking of Shenault Jr., the sophomore wideout who became one of the nation’s breakout players through CU’s first five games before sustaining a turf toe injury. “Kind of like (Gardner) Minshew. Take Minshew out, it might change Washington State. So we haven’t had our best football player on the field for 3 1/2 games, since halfway through the USC game. So he only played 5 1/2 games.”

Shenault Jr’s toe may be the most pertinent example of how injuries have depleted MacIntyre’s 2018 roster. Before he was injured in the second half of a game at USC, the Texas native caught 60 passes for 780 yards and six touchdowns. That’s in addition to his five rushing touchdowns.

When Shenault Jr. has played in all four quarters for the Buffaloes, they’re 5-0. When he hasn’t, CU is 0-4. When his top receiver was flexed out wide, Colorado quarterback Steven Montez posted an average QB rating of 179. In the four games where Shenault Jr. has either been a limited participant or absent, Montez has seen his QB rating dip to 122.2.

Colorado was once the nation’s 19th-ranked football team. Now, after four consecutive losses and a wave of injuries, the Buffaloes (5-4, 2-4) will be chasing bowl eligibility for the fifth consecutive game when they host the Cougars (8-1, 5-1) Saturday at Folsom Field (12:30 p.m., ESPN).

CU’s star receiver is listed as “day to day.” MacIntyre has indicated that Shenault Jr. would be a game-day decision, though fans were encouraged by a post from the player’s Instagram, which showed Shenault Jr. in a practice uniform at Folsom Field.

Even with him back, the Buffaloes could still be hurting at wide receiver – and elsewhere on the field.

Two other starting receivers, Jay MacIntyre (concussion) – the coach’s son – and J.D. Nixon (hip) are also day to day.

Another high-impact injury has been the one to starting strong safety Evan Worthington, who left CU’s game against Oregon State with a concussion and hasn’t returned to the field. Two opposing quarterbacks, OSU’s Jake Luton and Arizona’s Khalil Tate, have posted career-high passing numbers with Worthington on the sideline.

Another metric that would accentuate the safety’s value, as pointed out by the Boulder Daily Camera: With Worthington healthy, CU’s defense gave up nine touchdowns and intercepted seven passes in 7 1/2 games. In the 1 1/2 games he’s missed, the Buffaloes have allowed eight touchdowns and picked off just one pass.

Worthington or no Worthington, the Cougars are still wary of what the Buffaloes are capable of doing in the secondary. CU, which has a knack for producing pro-level cornerbacks and safeties, has had four of its defensive backs selected in the last two NFL drafts.

“They’ve got quality players every year,” WSU coach Mike Leach said. “There’s a lot of guys running around from Colorado that are pretty good players. So they’re kind of like they always are. They have some good players at some key positions.”

Worthington’s status is a question mark and the Buffaloes have had to replace cornerback Chris Miller, who sustained a season-ending hand injury against USC. Running back Beau Bisharat is also questionable for CU and starting kicker James Stefanou will miss his fourth consecutive game.

The injuries can be especially gut-wrenching for a team that lost each of its last two games by a single touchdown. The Buffaloes took Arizona to overtime before bowing 42-34.

“We got beat up a little in the USC game, but the other three games I think we definitely could’ve won,” MacIntyre said. “If you watch the games, we could’ve won all three games. And we didn’t. We’ve got to find different ways and other guys have to step up. That’s part of life. That’s part of football.”