Here’s what we learned in our Q&A:
UWDP: Quarterback Steven Montez has been excellent so far this season completing over 70% of his passes. How would you assess his play so far? His QB rating has been over 140 in every game except the loss at USC last week when he had his worst statistical output. What happened last week?
Montez has taken a huge step forward after a tumultuous 2017 season. He’s consistent, calm, and makes the right read most of the time. The high completion percentage is also a function of the offense, which counts the pitch forward on jet sweeps (which CU runs a lot) as a pass. So, when Montez takes the snap and just drops it in front of him for the receiver, it counts as a pass.
Last week, USC had him rattled early. He reverted back to many of his old habits because he was facing pressure almost immediately every snap. The Trojans forced CU into a lot of long second and third downs, so he had to force the ball upfield. It was a terrible day at the office for Montez and everyone else on that side of the ball.
UWDP: It’s been the Laviska Shenault show so far this year. While he had a few big plays last season he has really arrived in 2018. Go ahead and brag about him for a bit. Any idea what his status is for this week? Who else can we expect to step up in the passing game for Montez. How has the pass protection been?
Shenault is probably the conference’s best all around weapon. He lines up every where, blows up defenses, and gains yards when there are none available. No offense to anyone else (I love Aaron Fuller and Myles Gaskin, believe me), but it’s hard to argue with Laviska as the Pac-12’s premier skill player.
Fortunately for UW, I don’t think that he will play next week, and if he does, he will be limited. This is going to sound lame, but CU has the depth at receiver to rest him, and in an almost sure loss, it’s not worth risking aggravation or re-injury. Now, no one that the Buffs have can change a game like him, but with Juwann Winfree and Jaylon Jackson coming back, there will be dangerous weapons outside other than Laviska.
To answer your final question, the protection vacillates from good to awful depending on game, drive, and even play. The offensive line is mercurial and young, and it seems that they decide on a whim when they want to block. Last week, the Trojans were an attacking front seven that had way more athleticism and strength than CU had seen all year. They looked and played shellshocked. I expect a slight improvement this week, but the Huskies and take over the backfield if they can commit to it.
UWDP: Travon McMillian has four 100-yard games so far this season. Describe his running style. Who else can we expect to see carry the football? How has the offensive line performed in the running game?
McMillian has been a very pleasant surprise for a team that just lost one of the best runners in school history. At about 6 feet and over 200 pounds, Travon is a big body who never seems to take a full hit. He has quick feet in the hole and gets upfield in a hurry. You can tell he loves to bounce it outside, which can get him in trouble at times, but he is a grad transfer that plays like a mature player. He also got banged up last week, so his status is in question as well.
The next most frequent carrier is probably going to be Montez, who is a threat in the running game. He doesn’t run as much as Sefo Liufau did, but he is athletic and big and can scramble well. Kyle Evans is the back up RB, but his best skill is pass protection. At 5’6, he may be too slight to make a difference against UW. Beau Bisharat will come on as fullback during jumbo packages, but he doesn’t get the ball much this year.
To answer your last question again, the Buffs are inconsistent run blocking as well. The floor is higher in this aspect of the offense, thanks to the natural maulers at guard (Tim Lynott and Brett Tonz). If CU’s line decides to play well, it could go a long way towards an upset.
UWDP: How would you rate the CU special teams? What is your trust level in placekicker James Stefanou? Who are the top kick returners?
CU’s special teams seem exactly average. Despite losing the punter Alex Kinney since the Nebraska game, the punting and coverage seem to be solid and I have no complaints so far. Stefanou, the oldest player in the country, seems to hit every kick but the biggest ones. He has been dealing with a strained groin (heh), so he may pull some kicks. Due to the punter being injured, he’s also dealing with a backup holder.
The kick returners are KD Nixon and Ronnie Blackmon. Both are small, powerful, and dangerous, but CU plays it safe on kickoffs.
UWDP: Colorado is third in the conference in scoring defense so far. How have they performed in your opinion. Who are some key defenders to watch?
They have way overshot my expectations for them, which is all I can ask for. This year, I believe CU has allowed only 6 points in the fourth quarter, and not much more in the second half in general. The Buffs just seem to dominate defensively after the break. D.J. Eliot took a beating last year, somewhat deservedly so, but he deserves a lot of credit this year. He is calling aggressive plays, making adjustments, and using personnel well.
It also helps that the personnel is better.
Nate Landman is one of the best MLBs in the conference, and he gobbles up RBs. Rick Gamboa next to him, who seems have been at CU since the Dan Hawkins era, is as smart as they come but cannot cover the tight end. Mustafa Johnson is consistently disruptive at DE, and Javier Edwards has really stepped up his game at NT. All in all, the front seven is a real strength of the team, something that no one expected coming in.
UWDP: What is your prediction for Saturday?
I predict that a limping CU will come into Husky Stadium and play a similarly beat up Washington team. The difference is, Washington has all kinds of talent, a great coach, and is playing at home. UW wins by 3 scores.
Thanks Jack. For more on Colorado, be sure to check out The Ralphie Report.