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First look: Washington State hosts Colorado in Friday night clash

Washington State Cougars cornerback Marcus Strong (4) intercepts the ball against the Colorado Buffaloes during the second half of a college football game on Saturday, October 19, 2019, at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash. WSU won the game 41-10. Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW  (TYLER TJOMSLAND)

PULLMAN – Here is a first look at Washington State’s home matchup with Colorado on Friday night.

What is it?

Washington State, trying to erase a six-game losing streak, will host Colorado in its final home game as a member of the Pac-12 Conference.

Where is it?

Gesa Field in Pullman.

When is it?

Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.

Where can I watch it?

FS1 will broadcast the game.

Who is favored?

WSU was a 4.5-point favorite in most sportsbooks as of Monday.

How did the Cougars fare last week?

In its 42-39 loss to Cal, WSU nearly came all the way back from what was an 18-point deficit in the fourth quarter, but kicker Dean Janikowski misfired on a 48-yard field goal that would have tied the game.

Quarterback Cam Ward completed 35 of 60 passes for three touchdowns and one interception (a Hail Mary at the buzzer), leading the Cougars’ rally – but he also coughed up three fumbles, two of which the Golden Bears returned for touchdowns. One came in the first quarter, when he lost a fumble on a QB sneak, and the other came in the fourth quarter, when Ward was stripped on an attempted throw.

Those mistakes pushed Ward’s fumble total this year to 11, tied for the most in the country. It’s an issue he’s fought all season, and as much as he understands its importance, he hasn’t found a way to take care of the ball.

“Let’s be clear there – there’s not one time where Cam just says ah, like he’s flippant about it. He’s not,” Dickert said. “He understands that he turned the ball over twice, which led to 14 points, and it’s a three-point game. He’s very aware of what the consequences are of not taking care of it. So we gotta continue to address it. This isn’t the last level he’s gonna be playing at with people rushing them. So we gotta continue to get him better for his future as well.”

That put a damper on the outings WSU got from Leo Pulalasi and Djouvensky Schlenbaker, two freshman running backs who helped the Cougars tally 125 rushing yards, their most in a single game since they posted 161 against Arizona last season. Pulalasi totaled 66 rushing yards, the most by a Cougar since starter Nakia Watson carded 75 in last year’s Apple Cup, while Schlenbaker hauled in a touchdown reception to help WSU draw to within three in the fourth quarter.

For Washington State, that was encouraging for a number of reasons. The Cougars have struggled all year in the rushing department. They’ve had injuries at the running back spot – Watson remains limited with an injury and walk-on Dylan Paine is out with a high-ankle sprain.

“Leo, what a big bright spot coming out of that game,” Dickert said. “That’s what we’ve been looking for, really for 10 weeks. To see him come out and run the ball with craft and creativity and break some tackles, and do what running backs do. It’s not always perfect, but he blocked up, and to make some people miss and to give us a spark and a punch, yet catch some things in the pass game and do well in protection – that position’s rolling. It was really great to see.”

Scouting Colorado …

The hype machine around Colorado, rolling to start the season, has sputtered. The Buffaloes have lost their last four and six of their last seven. After a 3-0 start to the season, Colorado’s season has fallen apart so badly that coach Deion Sanders apologized to fans after his team’s latest setback, a 34-31 defeat to Arizona over the weekend.

The tip of the spear remains quarterback Shedeur Sanders, Deion’s son, who has completed nearly 70% of his passes for 3,144 yards and 26 touchdowns. In his latest outing, he hit 22 of 35 passes for 2 touchdowns and had 13 carries for 29 yards and one score.

The problem for the Buffs’ offense is that Sanders has not been able to stay upright. He has taken 48 sacks this season. That has prompted him to take two pain-numbing injections at halftime, his dad explained, which happened against UCLA and again against Oregon State.

When Sanders has had time, though, he’s been elite. He’s found receivers like Travis Hunter – a two-way star at defensive back, too – and Xavier Weaver and Jimmy Horn Jr. who have combined for 10 touchdowns this season.

“It’s not just the Hunter kid at receiver,” Dickert said. “They’ve got (Weaver) and (Horn) and there’s a bunch of guys that can really make plays. So you gotta neutralize them, try at the line of scrimmage. The other thing that’s offensively is a different play-caller. So you see similar things yet low tempo, yet getting the ball out a little bit more quicker and concisely. So it’s hard to kinda navigate some of those challenges as well.”

Colorado’s new offensive coordinator, the different play-caller Dickert referenced, is Pat Shurmur, who has now called two games. He took over for Sean Lewis in time to coach Colorado’s loss to Oregon State on Nov. 4. The result has been a slower Colorado offense, a group that huddles more than it used to.

On defense, the Buffs have permitted at least 26 points in four straight games, including 46 in a double-overtime loss to Stanford on Oct. 13. In their latest effort, a loss to Arizona, they yielded 34.

What happened last time?

These teams’ last meeting came in 2019, when Washington State earned a 41-10 win in Pullman, the final year of the late Mike Leach’s tenure. In that one, WSU quarterback Anthony Gordon tossed four touchdown passes and the Cougs cruised to a victory.