The Huskies visit Boulder in a measuring stick game for both teams- the Huskies are out to prove that they haven’t just been beating up on inferior competition, while the Buffs seek to put their inconsistencies behind them and demonstrate that they are still the same complete team that won the PAC 12 South in 2016. That’s easier said than done against a Washington opponent that doesn’t look to have lost a step following their run to the playoffs last season.
Savage Defense- The Huskies lost a handful of very good players off of their defense, and fans were concerned they might take a step backwards. They haven’t yet, and there’s reason to think that’s not just due to a few weak opponents- the Huskies rank 6th in ESPN’s defensive efficiency and 10th in yards per play allowed. While it’s true they haven’t really played anybody (Rutgers, Montana, and Fresno are not exactly a murderers’ row), it’s still impressive to hold any three football teams to 37 points over 12 quarters. Colorado doesn’t look to have a fantastic offense, but they will provide a much more legitimate test for the Huskies.
Dante Pettis is on Fire- Pettis (#8) has put together a solid start to the season as a receiver, picking up 209 yards on 12 receptions and 3 touchdowns. Where he’s really shined, though, is as a punt returner. The speedy wide out has averaged nearly 40 yards a return, including three touchdowns. Colorado’s punting and coverage have been a strength for them, but there are few tests as strenuous as covering an athlete like Dante Pettis. In a game where the Buffaloes will need to be flawless to get the W, controlling Dante Pettis will be a priority.
Buffs Ready for Prime Time?- Colorado has been good this season, but Buffs fans are no longer satisfied with merely good. They are looking for the team to continue the dominant performance that won them the South in 2016, and so far Colorado hasn’t quite met that expectation. The talent is there, but the Buffs haven’t found the consistency they need on offense. Against out-of-conference competition, a bad play or two didn’t cost the Buffs much- against Washington, it will mean the ballgame.
Huskies’ First Down Defense- There’s no doubt the Huskies’ defense has been a strength, but stat splits hide a problem on first down- the Huskies are giving up 75% completions and a 125 passer rating on 1st down, and 3.6 yards per carry. The softer coverage on first down is an exploitable trait, and the Buffs will look to create short 2nd and 3rd down situations, a necessity in moving the ball downfield against the otherwise fierce Washington D.
Buffs Searching for a Star- There have been a number of successful contributors to the Buff’s offense so far, but a bona-fide star has failed to emerge. While a similar lack of a playmaker didn’t doom the Buffs last year, a just-try-and-stop-me player could be huge against a team like the Huskies, who promise to put Colorado in positions where they need to make a play at any cost. Leviska Shenault Jr. (#8) is an intriguing choice; the freshman WR from Texas hasn’t been used much, but has picked up two good receptions and a 55 yard punt return for a touchdown, showcasing the kind of talent Colorado is looking for.
Washington should win this game comfortably, and there’s virtually no way they won’t be a top-20 team this season. What makes this one interesting statistically is the amount of uncertainty still inherent in Colorado’s performance to date. The jury is still out on Colorado State, and the Buffs offense has been hot and cold. If the Buffs make this a competitive matchup- or manage to come away with a win- it would suggest that they may be the chief spoiler for USC in the PAC 12 South. G.A.W.P. favors the Huskies by a substantial margin, giving Washington an 85.8% chance to win.
The model has already more or less given up on the Buffs offense, but that’s based on preseason projections that factor the last few years into account- years that Buffs fans fervently believe have been permanently left behind. If new coaches have resulted in better players and a more competitive culture, this projection is still low; what the model sees as a game that should be uncompetitive could prove to be anything but.
This uncertainty is reflected by the model to some degree, which thinks the Buffs might score more points than most folks expect. Vegas has the over/under at 50 with about a 12 point spread for the Huskies, which means they expect a fairly low scoring effort from the Buffs and a final of about 31-19. Our Model thinks that’s an unlikely low score for the Huskies, and projects Colorado to struggle to keep up, but not enough to win the game.
In the end this is a compelling measuring stick matchup for both teams. The Huskies could meet Vegas expectations- a comfortable but by no means easy win; or they could hit the mark that the G.A.W.P. model genereates- a casual undressing of a paper tiger. Colorado has a different result in mind, and will do everything they can to make it a reality, but ultimately will fall well short.
Washington 40, Colorado 23