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Opponent Offense Preview: Colorado Buffaloes

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Just how good is the Montez-Shenault connection?

NCAA Football: Arizona State at Colorado
Montez is back and better than ever.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Colorado was one of the biggest surprise teams in the country through six weeks. However, their loss to USC on Saturday took some shine off their start and is a hit to their hopes of winning the South Division for the second time in three years. Despite this, a 5-1 start and good shot at an 8-9 win season is a huge step up from last year’s 5-7 team which finished last in the South division. A big part of the fast start is the maturation of QB Steven Montez, the emergence of WR Laviska Shenault, and RB Travon McMillian keeping the run game alive.

Unfortunately, the injury bug hit Colorado on Saturday night in the Coliseum. The extent of the injuries is unknown right now, but star WR Laviska Shenault limped off the field with a toe injury, while RB Travon McMillian has a thigh bruise. In addition, WR Jay McIntyre is in concussion protocol. Reading the tea leaves (also known as taking a wild guess), I think we see McMillian and a semi-limited Laviska on Saturday night; the latter will be used a decoy even if he’s not 100%.

The Basics

Colorado runs the “college football offense” that many teams utilize these days. They have their wrinkles, but you will see all the usual stuff: QB in shotgun, usually with a running back to his right or left. Plenty of three- or four wide receiver sets with no tight ends, and lots of zone reads, RPOs, and screen passes. Where Colorado has taken that next step this year is in the development of a nice 3-headed monster between QB Steven Montez, RB and Virginia Tech grad-transfer Travon McMillian, and WR Laviska Shenault. Shenault in particular has been nothing short of exceptional and the Buffaloes have a true star on their hands in the sophomore from DeSoto, Texas. He is easily one of the best WRs in the country and his numbers do all the talking: 60 catches, 780 yards, and 6 TDs, to go along with 5 rushing TDs and 5.8 YPC.

The Buffs also use co-offensive coordinators, with Klayton Adams (who Petersen nearly got at UW before landing Scott Huff as OL coach) and Darrin Chiaverini. Adams also coaches the OL and Chiaverini is actually calling plays. Coming from Texas Tech and spending the majority of time his coaching receivers, Chiaverini loves a healthy dose of the pass game, but with a head coach like Mike McIntyre, a physical run game will always be part of Colorado’s game plan. They rank 44th in the country in offensive S&P, which takes into account the strength of the opponent in addition to a team’s efficiency, explosiveness, and ability to finish drives.

Through the Air

Steven Montez brings a lot to the table as a QB. He’s 6-5, has a fairly big arm, and plus athleticism for his size. He’s not a dual threat, but like most college QBs these days, he can run around a little bit (11 carries, 81 yards, 2 TDs vs UCLA). He started off this season exceptionally well completing 75% of his passes before a rough night vs USC where he was only 26-of-47 for just 170 yards and an interception. While USC’s defense certainly played a great game, creating havoc and disrupting routes downfield, this was a throw back to “Bad Steve” of years past, as my fellow Dawg Pounder Chris Landon wrote yesterday. That was always the knock on Montez—you would see moments and flashes of brilliance, but with too many head-scratchers in between. He seems more consistent this year.

NCAA Football: Arizona State at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Montez’s main target, if it’s not obvious so far, is Laviska Shenault. The 6-2 weapon does everything for Colorado, and gets big yards and TDs doing it. He lines up outside, in the slot, as an H-back, and even as a wildcat QB. He’s got hands, an excellent feel for routes and space, and just knows what he’s doing out there. Shenault can often be found slipping across the formation from his H-back spot and catching a ball in space behind the line of scrimmage, usually as part of an RPO or zone read action.

Colorado likes to throw to the sidelines a decent amount, and you see this in their numbers: Shenault averages 13 yards a catch, which is highest on the team for anyone with more than three receptions. That’s not a bad number, but this is the not the most explosive downfield pass game, ranking 75th in passing explosiveness. Montez averages just 7 yards an attempt and 11 yards per completion. However, they are fairly efficient and are top 40 in passing efficiency on both standard downs and passing downs.

Outside of Shenault, the shifty 5-8 K.D. Nixon has 29 catches for 326 yards; he will see the ball plenty. Next it’s Tony Brown, who has really come on in recent weeks. After three catches in his first two games, he’s got at least four in every game since. Jay McIntyre could be out with a concussion on Saturday, but is second on the team with two TDs. The offensive line has been up and down this season and can allow some sacks (the Buffs rank 78th in sack rate).

On the Ground

While the contributions of Montez and Shenault have given Colorado a lot of attention, the physical running of Travon McMillian has been the engine. The 6-foot 210-pound back breaks tackles and runs with a physical presence that gets Colorado the tough yards. He’s got four TDs and is averaging 5.5 yards per carry. McMillian can keep drives moving when they need a few yards, helping Colorado rank 28th in the country in finishing drives with points. But as we saw against the Trojans, shutting down McMillian and the run game totally stalled the offense, to the tune of 12 drives without a point.

Opposite of the pass game, the run game is actually more explosive than it is efficient, partially due to Laviska Shenault (there he is again) and the wildcat. For example, he took a direct snap 49 yards to the house against USC. At times, however, the offensive line can have drives where they struggle to get any push, resulting in one-in-five Colorado rushing attempts going for zero or negative yardage. This was especially evident against USC, where the run game struggled all night.

Final Thoughts

Until the USC game, the plan was to give Shenault the ball any way possible, and keep pounding the rock with McMillian. The Trojans were ready and the Colorado offense could never get rolling until a comeback attempt in the final minutes. While Washington can’t go athlete for athlete with USC, the UW secondary will give the Colorado receivers the Utah treatment, and arrive at the ball with violence to get the pass game off rhythm. Colorado overall has a 50/50 run pass ratio, but when they’ve played on the road, they’ve looked more like a 60/40 pass-first team this year. Throwing into the UW secondary at Husky Stadium usually does not end well for most QBs. The Huskies will be pissed off after the Oregon game and playing in front of a home crowd; I would not want to be a Colorado receiver this weekend.

An issue with Colorado will be if they are within 10 yards of the goal line, where they are deadly efficient. Colorado can punch it in with Shenault in the wildcat, and it will be imperative that the Huskies keep Colorado from many red zone chances. The good news is that Colorado is the third worst team in the country in allowing tackles for loss. This season Washington can’t make plays behind the line of scrimmage, but with Levi Onwuzurike’s emergence, I could see him spending a lot of time in Colorado’s backfield, stalling drives before they get to the red zone. This will be huge: when Colorado needs a few yards to keep a drive moving, will McMillian punch through the line, or will the Dawgs hold strong?

Poll

How many points will Colorado score on Saturday?

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    0-7
    (13 votes)
  • 28%
    8-14
    (82 votes)
  • 47%
    15-21
    (137 votes)
  • 14%
    22-28
    (41 votes)
  • 2%
    29-35
    (7 votes)
  • 3%
    36+
    (9 votes)
289 votes total Vote Now