This is the ninth entry in an ongoing series between Ryan Priest and Alex Hyres. Each week, we'll look at the matchup between Washington and their opponent, give predictions for the game's outcome, and hopefully have a little fun along the way. Up this week is Colorado. Our previous chats can be found here: Boise State, Illinois, Idaho State, Arizona, Stanford, Oregon, Arizona State, California.
Alex: The Huskies' win against the Bears didn't say much about either program that we didn't already know going into the game. The Huskies are a good Pac-12 team that missed out on opportunities to show that they are better than good. The Bears are a bad Pac-12 team who seem destined to lose the rest of their games.
Beating California was essential for Washington's attempt to salvage the season after yet another mid-season malaise. Unfortunately, beating California came at the cost of losing star wide receiver Kasen Williams for the remainder of the season.
Though there is little chance that the Huskies will be able to replace Williams with a single player, they do have a number of candidates who can work in combination to replace his production. Besides John Ross III and Marvin Hall—who have already seen the field in meaningful minutes this season—the Huskies will have to rely on true freshman Damore'ea Stringfellow to help mitigate the loss of Williams at wide receiver. Austin Seferian-Jenkins should also see more targets as the Huskies try to spread the ball around even more than usual.
The Huskies may be able to replicate some of Williams' production in the passing game; however, they will certainly miss his leadership on the field for the remainder of the season.
What do you think the Huskies need to accomplish in this game against the Colorado Buffalos to prepare them for three tough, yet winnable games to finish their regular season slate?
Ryan: The loss of Kasen Williams for the remainder of the season puts into stark focus that Washington doesn't just need to win: they need to win while staying healthy.
Up to this point, Washington had stayed remarkably healthy, especially compared to the calamitous 2012 season when it seemed like every player who put on a pair of cleats was at risk of tearing an ACL. This year, Washington's worst injuries were to John Timu, who missed the Idaho State game with a bruised rotator cuff, and Dexter Charles, who missed the Arizona State and California games after suffering a shoulder injury against Oregon.
Luckily for Washington, if there's any position at which they are equipped to handle the loss of a key player, it's the receiving corps. Stringfellow is the obvious candidate to fill Williams' shoes, as the two share similar body types and play styles. Even if the true freshman doesn't rise to the occasion, though, the Huskies still have playmakers like Jaydon Mickens and Kevin Smith who should continue to play dependably. Williams' injury also offers a prime opportunity for preseason All American Austin Seferian-Jenkins, whose play has been strangely quiet this year, to show why he's considered prototypical NFL player. The big question mark, however, is whether or not someone will step up to Kasen's level as a blocker. He was a key cog in Washington's ability to execute bubble screen and rocket plays.
In the backfield, the Colorado game will be the final dress rehearsal for Jesse Callier, Dwayne Washington and Deontae Cooper to prove their worth as the heirs to Bishop Sankey before UW begins its three-game stretch against UCLA, Oregon State and Washington State that will decide the state of the program as it heads into the offseason.
This week, UW is a four-touchdown favorite against the hapless Buffs, whose only wins this season come against Colorado State, Central Arkansas and Charleston Southern. Much like the win against Cal two weeks ago, I'm convinced that there's little positive that we can take away from this week's game. What are your thoughts on what we can (or can't) learn from Saturday's contest?
Alex: While the Huskies have struggled against some of the elite teams in the Pac-12 this season, they have pounded lesser teams. Idaho St. didn't really ever have a chance. Arizona—outside of Ka'Deem Carey—struggled to stay with the Huskies. And California seemed to gain yards without much to show on the scoreboard.
I expect the Huskies to continue their success against the bottom-feeders of the Pac-12. This is yet another game where style points matter because they are expected to win this game—and win it handily.
The Husky defense can earn some style points by creating turnovers and in turn extra possessions for the offense to turn this game into a blowout early. Scoring on big plays would go a long way toward scoring some style points for the offense. John Ross III seems on the verge of breaking some big plays and I wouldn't be surprised to see him make a few in this game. I could be wrong about that again though, since I have predicted that almost every week and it has yet to happen. If it doesn't happen this week, I will be resigned to the fact that I have jinxed him. And I will cease to predict big games for him.
Outside of style points, I think the Huskies can do nothing but ruin their season in this game. A loss in this game will be tough to recover from considering the last three opponents. The Huskies are unable to have a great season at this point; however, they are still in the running for a good season—a 9-3 regular season, with a bowl win would be a good season in my mind. A win against the Buffaloes is necessary to keep that scenario alive.
How will you measure success in this game and the season overall?
Ryan: Those are two very different questions, so I'll take them one at a time.
One sizable factor of whether or not I judge Saturday's game to be a success will be the cleanliness of Keith Price's jersey at the end of the fourth quarter. For the first time since the Stanford game, Washington's offensive line is as close to 100 percent as they can reasonably expect. They've shown an ability to be proficient if not exemplary in pass protection, and Colorado has only one truly ferocious pass rusher in the form of defensive end Chidera Uzo-Diribe. Colorado is certainly much improved from its woeful showings of the past few years, but they still rank decidedly among the conference's worst teams. Saturday is a prime chance for Price to get into a groove heading into the season's home stretch, and Colorado is the perfect team to do it against. If Price can see that his offensive line is again trustworthy, it will pay dividends in the next few games against UCLA, OSU and WSU.
Another indicator of success will be Washington's health. They learned the hard way that anyone can be hurt at any time, as Kasen Williams suffered a season-ending injury against California after playing dependably all year. Sankey in particular needs to stay as close to mint condition as possible, as it is clear at this point that the coaching staff isn't ready to give a large number of meaningful carries to his backups.
Alright, it's time to put up or shut up. I think we both like Washington to win this one; the question is, how much do we like them to win it by?
Alex: This game will be tougher for the Huskies than the game against the Bears—but not by much. The Huskies can and should dominate the Buffaloes from start to finish. However, there is always chance for a deviation in that script.
If the Huskies turn the ball over, especially early and often, they may give this young but competitive team a reason to hope. With the help of some turnovers and a strong showing from former Bellarmine Prep and current Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau with his corps of receivers, Colorado could pull the upset.
To avoid such a scenario, the Huskies need to protect the football and tackle well in space. A fast start—especially in the friendly confines of Husky Stadium—could turn this game into a blowout quickly. Keith Price would do well to get his young receivers involved early in the game after establishing the run with the Bishop. Defensively the Huskies will need to shutdown Paul Richardson and force the rest of the offense to beat them. If most of the game goes to plan, I see the game ending with a score of Washington Huskies 45, Colorado Buffaloes 13.
Ryan: There's no question that of the two teams that square off on Saturday, Washington's will be the more talented. Of course, the most talented team isn't always the one that wins the game—Washington fans need only ask themselves which team currently holds the Apple Cup to be reminded of that fact.
My feeling is that, regardless of what happens at the beginning of the game, Washington will be up by at least double-digits at the start of the fourth quarter. That's my way of saying that I fully expect them to come out firing (Washington has excelled against lower-quality competition under Steve Sarkisian, with the aforementioned 2012 WSU game being the glaring exception), but even if they don't, UW's superior athletes will assert themselves by the game's later stages.
In Kasen's absence, I predict Austin Seferian-Jenkins making double-digit catches en route to a pair of scores, and Bishop Sankey to again flirt with the 200 yard mark, if not break it outright. On defense, thanks to a strong pass rush from Hau'oli Kikaha, Marcus Peters will have a game against Paul Richardson much like Desmond Trufant had last year against USC's Marqise Lee, and further establish himself as one of the conference's top cornerbacks. Call it Washington 49, Colorado 20.