It will be the Pac-12's top passing offense against Colorado's top ranked pass defense. Although, the Cougars' high flying offensive attack took a hit when senior wide receiver River Cracraft suffered a torn ACL during Washington State's 56-21 win over Cal last Saturday.
Cracraft will end his college career No. 2 on the Cougars' career receptions list, behind his teammate Gabe Marks, now the Pac-12's all-time leading pass catcher. Marks broke the conference's career receptions mark that Colorado's Nelson Spruce had set just last season.
261 is the fewest passing yards Washington State has had in a game this season, while the Buffaloes are giving up an average of just 176.9 yards per game through the air. Something is going to have to give on Saturday afternoon at Folsom Field.
“Something they do really well is they are really good on timing. All of their routes are on time and the quarterback throws it to the right spot each and every time,” Colorado sophomore cornerback Isaiah Oliver said when talking about the Cougars' passing attack. “What we really have to work on is disrupting their routes earlier in the play so that it throws off the timing.”
Cougars head coach Mike Leach got his PhD in the “Air Raid” offense while serving as an assistant coach under Hal Mumme at Iowa Wesleyan and Valdosta State. Leach's offenses at Texas Tech from 2000-2009, and at Washington State since, have kept many defensive coaches up at night.
Why is Leach's version of the spread so difficult to defend?
“Because they execute very well,” Buffs safeties coach Joe Tumpkin answered. “They understand how they are being attacked offensively and they try to get the best number game that they can. They are very efficient in what they do. And Coach Leach has done a good job of evolving it and adding wrinkles to his offense over time.”
And it helps to have an experienced quarterback behind center. Cougars starter Luke Falk earned first-team all-conference honors in 2015. He ranks first in the nation in pass completion percentage, and ranks second in passing yards, through 10 games this season.
“And Falk does a great job of getting them in the runs and getting them into plays that Mike wants them to get into. He does a lot of checking,” Buffs head coach Mike MacIntyre explained. “Their quarterback completely thinks like Mike does out there and I think that is why they are so productive.”
Additional notes -
*** Washington State's defense currently ranks in the top half of the conference in scoring defense, which had not been accomplished in Leach's previous four seasons with the Cougars.
*** Colorado junior left tackle Jeromy Irwin was back practicing on Monday after missing the Arizona game due to illness. Junior right tackle Sam Kronshage was also back practicing, but sophomore left guard Gerrad Kough is out right now with an ankle injury.
“We'll see as the week goes on,” MacIntyre said of Kough. “Hopefully he can do some more as we get through the week. We'll find out.”
*** Senior tight end Sean Irwin also has an uncertain status for the Washington State game, but MacIntyre said they are “optimistic” he will be able to return from a minor knee injury to play against the Cougars.
*** Sophomore running back Kyle Evans did not have any carries against the Wildcats but MacIntyre said he is healthy and ready to go if needed. Junior Phillip Lindsay carried the ball 25 times for 119 yards with three touchdowns in the Buffs' win over Arizona.
“Phillip's really hot [running the ball] and he didn't get as tired, it was a cool night,” MacIntyre explained. “Here is the other thing, when you play on FOX, they have like five million timeouts and it lasts forever so you stay a little fresher. But we definitely believe in Kyle and believe he can do a great job. We don't have any hesitancy putting him out there whatsoever.”
Lindsay needs just 63 more yards to become the Buffaloes' first 1,000 yard rusher since 2010, when Rodney Stewart rushed for 1,318 yards.
*** With a half game lead in the Pac-12 South, Colorado controls its own destiny. But with USC and Utah just behind in the standings, the Buffs will likely need to win both of its final two regular season games in order to win the division.
“We win out, we go to the Pac-12 Championship so it is exciting,” MacIntyre said.
Added Oliver: “To have these last two games at home and having them be so meaningful, it is exciting and should be a lot of fun.”