The 5-1 record flatters Colorado’s true talent, but they’re a perfectly decent team. They have a decent offense and a decent defense. They have some nice playmakers and enough experience to execute somewhat efficiently. They’re a perfect decent college football team.
The health of Laviska Shenault matters quite a bit to Colorado’s offense. He is so much more productive than every other pass catcher on the roster that his loss will force other players into roles with which they’re not as comfortable. Schematically, they pass a fair bit more often than the national average. Prior to the last couple of weeks, I would’ve thought that tendency would play into UW’s hands. Instead, we’ll have to hope for a bounce-back game from the pass defense. Altogether, without Shenault at full strength, I don’t believe they have enough firepower to string together the types of long drives offenses need to beat the Huskies.
When the Huskies have the ball, they will try to attack a below-average run defense. Colorado has had some success at pressuring QBs and limiting their completions, but teams that have stayed ahead of the chains on the ground have sustained drives against them. With health questions surrounding Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed, this week may be another opportunity for Sean McGrew to step forward.
Much like Oregon, Colorado also struggles on special teams. They are among the worst teams in the country at returning kicks, which should help a poor Husky coverage unit. They have also missed some very makeable FGs, which could negate what otherwise might be an advantage.
Washington- 31, Colorado- 20
This game had the potential to be a national headlines game if both teams had taken care of business last week. Unfortunately, both lost and so just about no one outside of the states of Washington and Colorado will care about the result. But the Huskies have no time to sulk while the goal of winning the Pac-12 is still achievable.
The Colorado offense has been very good this year. It might be more accurate though to say that Laviska Shenault has been very good this year. Shenault has 11 of Colorado’s 27 touchdowns and almost half of their receiving touchdowns. You can’t fully appreciate how dominant he’s been unless you have him on your Pac-12 fantasy football team like I do. Shenault is averaging 34.5 fantasy points per game. Luckily for the Huskies there’s a chance that Shenault won’t play in this game due to a toe injury and if he does he likely won’t be close to 100%. With Juwann Winfree continuing to be out and Jay MacIntyre out with a concussion it means Colorado could be without what were considered to be their top 3 receivers coming into the game.
The Huskies of course are also banged up with both RBs Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed questionable as well. However, Sean McGrew (4.6 YPC) and Kamari Pleasant (6.6 YPC) have both looked like capable replacements in short bursts this season so the drop off might not be as steep as we think. Defensively the loss of Jaylen Johnson for the 1st half means I would expect to see Colorado try to take advantage and run the ball early much the way that ASU, UCLA, and Oregon have all done.
This Colorado team is good but certainly not great. If this game was in Boulder and Shenault were healthy then I’d think there was a good shot at an upset. Washington hasn’t lost a home game since playing USC in 2016. I don’t see that changing in this game unless the Oregon loss broke this team’s spirit. Chris Petersen is too good of a coach to let that happen.
Washington- 27, Colorado- 17
How much of Colorado’s fast start was due to a relatively easy schedule? Once they faced a fast defense in USC, they were completely shut down. Colorado likes to throw to the sidelines and behind the LOS a good deal, so it will be up to Washington’s secondary to blow those plays up. Byron Murphy, Taylor Rapp, and Myles Bryant are particularly good at defending swing passes and WR screens. The Buff’s biggest weapon, however, is their stud WR/all purpose weapon Leviska Shenault. I imagine he will play but won’t be near 100%. I think the Huskies can do a decent job denying him the football, but might struggle if Colorado gets deep into the red zone and they run the wildcat, where they have been extremely efficient.
Outside of that, Colorado will probably struggle like a lot of teams do in Husky Stadium if they try to throw it all over the field. They may opt to play it patient like Arizona State did, and keep running Travon McMillan up the gut. Their run game can be decently explosive but nothing the Huskies shouldn’t be able to handle, especially considering about 20% of their runs get stuffed.
On the flip side, Colorado has a more than solid secondary that I imagine the Huskies might try to avoid. Husky receivers can absolutely be said to be a pleasant surprise this year, but as we saw against the Ducks, there is still a ways to go. They will be going against a secondary that is keeping teams to just over a 50% completion rate, so they will need to make use of their opportunities and continue to play efficiently. While Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed are supposedly good to go this week, don’t be surprised if we see plenty of Sean McGrew and Kamari Pleasant. Nate Landman and Drew Lewis are a pretty good linebacker duo for Colorado that the Huskies will have to keep their eyes on. Their strength is up the middle, so expect plenty of sweeps and reverses if Washington isn’t able give Colorado the Gaskin/Ahmed treatment up the gut as they did in 2017 in Boulder, and the 2016 Pac-12 Championship Game.
I think we’ll see a Colorado team on Saturday that will fight hard, and make some plays. Travon McMillan will get tough yards and provided Leviska Shenault isn’t too hobbled, he’ll create danger. We know this Washington team isn’t as dynamic as years past but will get the job done against less talented teams. I have a feeling the defense has one their best pass rush days of the season against a Colorado OL that’s been vulnerable. When it comes to Colorado’s QB, we’ll see some great plays, but enough “Bad Steve” to put Colorado in a hole.
Washington- 31, Colorado- 17
This is one of those games where there’s a few guys that scare me, their defense plays smart, and I think they’re a good team, but I don’t feel like they’ll be able to keep up with Washington for four quarters. Laviska is on that same level as N’Keal Harry as far as just pure game-changing insanity and Steven Montez has improved a bunch from last year, but otherwise it doesn’t feel like they have enough dynamic playmakers to spread Washington’s defensive resources thin. When the Huskies are on offense will be more interesting -- CU’s defense is disciplined in space and smart at reading eyes, but has been most challenged by superior athletes and offensive coordinators using motion and different formations to misdirect attention. I could see this being a game of two steps forward, one step back, and then a big chunk play or two occasionally from Washington’s offense. This is a defense that’s kind of a jack of all trades master of none and, while they’ll give their offense room to work, they also gave up around 30 points to USC and Nebraska teams that are led by freshmen QBs trying to figure their crap out.
Washington- 38, Colorado- 21
One week after losing a rivalry game in heartbreaking fashion on the road to the Ducks, the Huskies are back on the shores of Montlake. It’s just their luck that the team they look to bounce back against happens to be one of the more impressive squads in the Pac-12 South.
The key matchup in this game will come between Colorado’s quarterback Steven Montez and wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. against the Washington secondary. Shenault leads the conference in receptions (60) and yards (780), both by fairly wide margins, and is one of just two players in the Pac-12 who has tallied double-digit touchdowns on the year (six receiving, five rushing). Limiting his big-play potential (Shenault has gained 10+ yards 28 times, and 30+ yards five times) will go a long way in limiting Colorado’s chances to extend drives deep into Washington’s territory.
The Huskies’ performance inside the 20-yard line has been an issue all season long, and that circumstance is unlikely to chance Saturday. Colorado’s six red zone touchdowns allowed ranks sixth in the country, and through six games, they’ve allowed opponents just 13 trips into the red zone at all. UW will therefore need to produce explosion plays like Browning’s 43-yard touchdown pass last week to Ty Jones to create consistent scoring drives, especially if Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed are limited or unavailable to play.
Per Bill Connelly’s two- and five-year recruiting rankings, the Huskies have a clear personnel advantage over the Buffs. I especially like the matchup of Byron Murphy and Jordan Miller against Laviska Shenault Jr., who will get his fair share of touches but isn’t likely to run roughshod over the Washington defense. But Colorado’s defensive stoutness in the red zone combined with Washington’s trouble scoring in the same scenario, along with a running back corps that could potentially rely upon its third- and fourth-stringers, make me think that this game comes down to the final drive.
Washington- 28, Colorado- 24
Washington- 5, Colorado- 0
Against the Spread (UW -15.5):
Washington- 1, Colorado- 4
Washington- 31.0, Colorado- 19.8