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Colorado 101: Time to finish for Cougs

WSU's HOME SCHEDULE CONCLUDES with the bruised and battered, and dangerous, Buffaloes in town. Colorado has little more than pride still to play for but don't take them lightly. They have nearly beaten four of their last five opponents including No. 22 USC last time out.

But Colorado did lose their starting quarterback, and their bowl hopes, in the process. 

If the Cougs can maintain the level of execution they have displayed  the last six weeks, a comfortable WSU victory should be in order.
 
Cougars (7-3) vs Buffaloes (4-7)
AT A GLANCE

KICKOFF:
7:30 p.m. PT

WHERE:
Martin Stadium (32,952)

TELEVISION:
ESPN 2

RADIO:
The Cougar Sports Radio Network covers much of the West. Click here for listings.

THE LINE:
WSU by 15

LAST MEETING:
Colorado won 35-34 in Pullman in 2012.

THE SERIES:
Colorado leads 5-3.

MATT MOORE'S PREDICTION:
Cougs 38, Buffs 20

THE BUFFALOES ON OFFENSE:
QB Cade Apsay: Colorado lost quarterback Sefu Liufau last time out.  In stepped the freshman Apsay who did remarkably well on short notice.  He went 18-for-23 for 128 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in a near upset of USC. He is on the small side, just 6-1, 190 pounds, but he has good mobility and a quick release.

WR Nelson Spruce: The senior is the conference's all-time leading receiver.  He isn't the fastest man on the field but runs precise routes and has hands like glue.  He has been Colorado's most dependable offensive playmaker for years.  With defenses putting too much attention on him, his production has dipped in 2015 from amazing to very good.  He has 74 catches for 822 yards and three scores. He should NOT be underestimated.

RBs Phillip Lindsay and Christian Powell: Colorado is going for thunder and lightning here. Lindsay is the scat back weighing in at just 180 pounds while Powell brings a robust 235-pound frame.  The pair have generated 864 rushing yards and 10 scores to go with 220 receiving hashes.  They are not the kind of dominant backs CU is known for, but they will be leveraged heavily in Liufau's absence. 

Overview
This is a balanced, but unremarkable offense.  The Buffs generally crack into the 20's on the scoreboard, but have not surpassed 31 points against any BCS team.  When the offense is working, they tend to run sweeps to the outside mixed with slant passes back to the inside, to wear down the front seven.  Spruce is the wild card, as he will attack all over the field.

Strategy
Freshman generally do not handle pressure well, and Apsay was no exception against USC.  He avoided interceptions and a high number of incompletions, but he took seven sacks and generally abandoned the play too easily when blitzed.  Spurce is an outstanding safety valve so the Cougs need to maintain tight coverage on him, but aggressively attacking the line of scrimmage should be the order of the day.

Key Stat
255 first downs: This is a ball control offense.  The Buffs actually have 35 more first downs than their opponents do this year.  They are successfully shortening the games, but they just aren't getting enough points.

THE BUFFALOES ON DEFENSE:
LB Derek McCartney: The Buffs will likely bring pressure and McCartney is their best blitzer. He leads the time with five sacks and 12 quarterback hurries.

DB Chidobe Awuzie: A sure tackler, he has 73 stops on the season for Colorado and seven pass break ups. Perhaps more importantly for WSU, he also has 10 tackles for loss and four sacks – he will sneak up.

Overview
Jim Leavitt is completing his first year as the CU defensive coordinator and the difference has been noticeable -- the 40-point blowouts are a thing of the past.  (Leavitt is the old head coach from South Florida and was picked up by MacIntyre after a stint with the 49ers).  He brings a pro-style defensive philosophy, where is players neither give space, nor take gambles.

Strategy
CU is a workmanlike team, but they don't have the tools to win a high scoring game.  Their goal will be to get the ball and keep it.  I expect Colorado to bring pressure, while bringing safeties up to try and take away the short passing game – WSU’s bread and butter plays.  The Cougs may counter with getting the ball to, among others, Keith Harrington out in space and letting him weave his way down the field. CU may be willing to bet Luke Falk will hold on to the ball too long, or will throw a pick on a short pass, and the CU defensive backs generally do not turn their back on the quarterback. They don't give a lot of space either -- CU can be beat deep if the throws are accurate.  Bottom line: Falk needs to burn them early and often, similar to the way the Oregon State game played out, and not let Colorado enjoy too much first half success in their defensive game plan. 

Key Stat
Time of possession: 31:27. In conference play, the only games CU lost the time of possession stat were in blowout losses to ASU and Stanford.  They are trying to become clock grinders and they’re off to a good start this season.  CU held the ball for over 41 minutes against UCLA and lost by only four points. 

THE BUFFALOES ON SPECIAL TEAMS
Spruce often lends his abilities to the return game, but the overall group is unremarkable.  Kicker Diego Gonzales has made 70 percent of his kicks with a long of 52.

FINAL THOUGHTS
-It is hard to know how much the Buffs have left in the tank – this will be their 12th straight game without a bye.  They have managed to be within a touchdown in four of the last five Pac-12 games, so, they are playing good football.  But the loss of Liufau, combined with a blown double digit lead in second half against USC and having their bowl hopes officially dashes, may be more than they can handle.

- WSU clearly won the special teams battle against UCLA, and boy did it help.  CU isn't known for exceptional special teams play and WSU has a real opportunity to do it again.

- It has been a truly remarkable year filled with more ups and downs than any in recent memory (and mostly ups). Whatever  happens, the Cougs have earned a victory lap in Martin Stadium.  Colorado won't give it up willingly, but I suspect it is coming all the same.


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