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Two-minute drill: Keys to victory for Washington State against Colorado

UPDATED: Fri., Oct. 18, 2019

Don’t take your eyes off …

Last Saturday, Arizona State repeatedly targeted Washington State cornerback Marcus Strong, who had minimal success covering Brandon Aiyuk on a seven-catch, 197-yard, three-touchdown day for the explosive Sun Devils receiver. How will Strong respond, especially if he’s responsible for marking preseason Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year candidate Laviska Shenault Jr.; or K.D. Nixon, who’s been stronger than Shenault on the stat sheet this year; or perhaps CU’s receptions leader, Tony Brown, who’s having a breakout year with 34 catches for 463 yards and four touchdowns? Earlier in the week, WSU interim defensive coordinator Roc Bellantoni said of Strong, “Hopefully, he bounces back and has a game he’s capable of having, because he’s been our best guy all year.”

When Colorado has the ball …

The Cougars are a few chunk plays away from being 5-1 this season, and they’d fix many of their defensive problems if they can eliminate the explosive plays. But Colorado, with three big-time receivers and a few others who are more than capable, seems capable of striking downfield. Senior quarterback Steven Montez has a powerful arm, but he struggled with accuracy his first two years in Boulder, hovering around 60 percent as a freshman and sophomore. But Montez bumped his completion percentage to 64.7 percent in 2018 and he’s hitting on 65.2 percent of his passes this year. Expect the Buffaloes to be balanced. They’ve thrown the ball 212 times and rushed it 226, scoring 11 touchdowns through the air and nine on the ground. Together, Alex Fontenot (463) and Jaren Mangham (239) have rushed for 702 yards and seven TDs for Colorado.

When WSU has the ball …

Three of the nation’s seven worst passing defenses reside in the Pac-12, and one of them resides in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The Buffaloes are giving up 307 yards per game – only nine teams nationally are conceding at least 300 – and 9.22 yards per pass attempt, which ranks fourth worst in the FBS. Colorado will need a few lucky breaks to limit Washington State’s Air Raid, which generates 452 passing yards per game – 57 more than LSU, the country’s second-best passing offense. One of those breaks could be the elements. Weather.com indicates there’s an 80 percent chance of rain at the time of kickoff Saturday, but that could just prompt WSU quarterback Anthony Gordon to make more run checks at the line of scrimmage and hand off to sophomore Max Borghi, who has rushed for 407 yards this season and is second among Pac-12 running backs in yards per attempt (7.0).

Did you know?

While the Cougars have enjoyed a great deal of success in the passing game against Colorado, the Buffaloes can’t say the same. It’s been seven years and five meetings since Colorado’s most recent touchdown pass against Washington State – that coming in the fourth quarter of a September 2012 game played at Martin Stadium. The Buffaloes began a 17-point comeback on Jordan Webb’s scoring throw to Nick Kasa and went on to win 35-34. Since then, the teams have met four times. While the Cougars have tossed 10 TDs, there hasn’t been one from the Buffs’ side. During the same span, WSU has thrown for 1,204 yards while Colorado has thrown for 899. The previous time the Buffs came to Pullman, three quarterbacks combined to go 13 of 34 for just 94 yards amid driving rainstorms. Montez was just 4 of 13 for 21 yards before being pulled.

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