Washington (6-4, 3-4) at Colorado (4-6, 2-5)
7 p.m. Saturday, Folsom Field, Boulder, Colo.
TV: ESPN. Radio: KOMO-AM 1000/FM-97.7
Latest line: Huskies by 14.5 points.
UW key players
QB Jacob Eason: 63.7% completions, 2,472 passing yards, 20 passing touchdowns, 7 interceptions
RB Salvon Ahmed: 886 rushing yards, 5.8 yards per carry, 9 touchdowns, 55 receiving yards
OLB Joe Tryon: 35 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 6 sacks, 1 pass breakup, 1 QB hit
LB Edefuan Ulofoshio: 20 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble
Colorado key players
QB Steven Montez: 63% completions, 2,428 passing yards, 14 pass TD, 10 INT, 118 rushing yards, 3 TD
RB Alex Fontenot: 720 rushing yards, 4.86 YPC, 4 TD, 120 receiving yards
LB Nate Landman: 117 tackles, 4 TFL, 3 PBU, 2 sacks
DB Mikial Onu: 62 tackles, 4 INT, 3 FF, 2 TFL
Establish the run
If you’ve seen this key before, it’s because we’ve written it before. Lots of times. Washington’s most consistently productive asset this season has been junior running back Salvon Ahmed, who has piled up 886 rushing yards, 5.8 yards per carry and nine scores in nine games as UW’s established starter. He ran for a career-best 174 yards, including a 60-yard touchdown, in his team’s win over Oregon State on Nov. 8. Moreover, he averages 109.8 rushing yards per game, and 84.25 yards per game in losses. So the Huskies would be wise to get him going. UW also touts a significant short-yardage and red-zone threat in redshirt freshman Richard Newton, an all-purpose grinder in junior Sean McGrew and a consistently effective run-blocking offensive line. And, as the statistics reinforce in the below prediction, Colorado’s rushing defense is one of the worst in the conference. This isn’t rocket science.
This is a matchup of bad on bad. On one side, you’ve got Washington’s offense, which has been most consistent in one area this season: third-down struggles. UW is converting 34.85% of its third-down tries, which ranks 109th nationally and dead last in the Pac-12. Even worse, the Huskies are moving the chains on a stunningly incompetent 28.28% of their third downs (28-99) in conference play. One would think that with an experienced offensive line, a tremendously talented quarterback (Jacob Eason), a superb short-yardage back (Richard Newton) and two elite pass-catching tight ends (Hunter Bryant and Cade Otton), this would not be the case. But here we are. UW coach Chris Petersen said this week that, “bottom line, it just comes down to consistency and execution.” And, like Washington, Colorado’s defense has also struggled on third down this fall. The Buffs are allowing opponents to convert on 47.62% of their third-down tries, which ranks dead last in the conference and 120th out of 130 teams in the FBS. So, in a battle of bad versus bad, somebody’s got to be less bad Saturday.
By now, this is an established statistic, but it warrants repeating. In Washington’s six wins, the Huskies have forced 14 turnovers. In their four losses, they’ve forced two. Defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake’s crew should certainly have an opportunity to nab a few interceptions against a quarterback in Colorado’s Steven Montez who has thrown 14 touchdown passes and 10 picks. The Buffs’ 11 interceptions this season ranks tied for 10th in the Pac-12. But on the other side, UW junior quarterback Jacob Eason has coughed up pick-sixes in back-to-back games. And, though Colorado’s defense has its issues, the Buffs’ 10 interceptions ranks tied for third in the conference and 27th nationally. Washington will be the more talented team on Saturday. If the Huskies can avoid costly mistakes — say, yet another pick-six — they should leave Boulder with a win. And recent history says it would help for the UW defense to get in on the act as well.
Pay no mind to the transitive property. Yes, Colorado beat Stanford in its last game, while Washington fell on the road to the Cardinal (again) in October. This is irrelevant information. Colorado’s defense, to put it plainly, is not very good. Under first-year coach and former Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, the Buffs have surrendered at least 30 points in nine of 10 games this season. That’s incredible consistency. They rank 10th in the Pac-12 in scoring defense, 11th in sacks per game (1.7), 11th in opponent yards per carry (4.77), 11th in passing defense (308.9 yards per game), 11th in opponent pass efficiency rating (156.49), 11th in opponent yards per attempt (8.7), 11th in total defense (469.3 yards per game) and dead last in opponent yards per play (6.8), tackles for loss per game (3.9) and third-down defense (47.62% conversions). They’re bad, is what I’m saying. And, I get it: Washington’s offense has been quite inconsistent as well. But the Huskies will run the ball with Salvon Ahmed and Richard Newton. Jacob Eason will bounce back and limit big mistakes. Coming out of a bye, the young UW defense will continue to improve. Colorado quarterback Steven Montez will make his plays, but it won’t be nearly enough.
Final score: Washington 31, Colorado 17