Colorado star wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. is day to day with a turf-toe injury going into Saturday's game against Washington State.
PULLMAN – Stating the value of wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. to Colorado’s football team, coach Mike MacIntyre made an analogy this week that would resonate with any Washington State fan.
And one that would equally make them squirm.
“Well, I think when you take a Heisman Trophy candidate out of your picture, it’s a big deal,” MacIntyre said, speaking of Shenault Jr., the sophomore wideout who became one of the nation’s breakout players through CU’s first five games before suffering a turf-toe injury. “Kind of like (Gardner) Minshew. Take Minshew out, it might change Washington State. So we haven’t had our best football player on the field for 3 1/2 games, since halfway through the USC game. So he only played 5 1/2 games.”
Shenault Jr.’s toe may be the most pertinent example of how injuries have depleted MacIntyre’s 2018 roster. Before he was injured in the second half of a game at USC, the Texas native caught 60 passes for 780 yards and six touchdowns. That’s in addition to his five rushing touchdowns.
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When Shenault Jr. has played in all four quarters for the Buffaloes, they’re 5-0. When he hasn’t, CU is 0-4. When his top receiver was flexed out wide, Colorado quarterback Steven Montez posted an average QB rating of 179. In the four games where Shenault Jr. has either been a limited participant or absent, Montez has seen his QB rating dip to 122.2.
Colorado was once the nation’s 19th-ranked football team. Now, after four consecutive losses and a wave of injuries, the Buffaloes (5-4, 2-4) will be chasing bowl eligibility for the fifth consecutive game when they host the Cougars (8-1, 5-1) Saturday at Folsom Field (12:30 p.m., ESPN).
CU’s star receiver is listed as day to day. MacIntyre has indicated that Shenault Jr. would be a game-day decision, though fans were encouraged by a post from the player’s Instagram, which showed Shenault Jr. in a practice uniform at Folsom Field.
Even with him back, the Buffaloes could still be hurting at wide receiver – and elsewhere on the field.
Two other starting receivers, Jay MacIntyre (concussion) – the coach’s son – and J.D. Nixon (hip) are also day to day.
Another high-impact injury has been the one to starting strong safety Evan Worthington, who left CU’s game against Oregon State with a concussion and hasn’t returned to the field. Two opposing quarterbacks, OSU’s Jake Luton and Arizona’s Khalil Tate, have posted career-high passing numbers with Worthington on the sideline.
Another metric that would accentuate the safety’s value, as pointed out by the Boulder Daily Camera: With Worthington healthy, CU’s defense gave up nine touchdowns and intercepted seven passes in 7 1/2 games. In the 1 1/2 games he’s missed, the Buffaloes have allowed eight touchdowns and picked off just one pass.
Worthington or no Worthington, the Cougars are still wary of what the Buffaloes are capable of doing in the secondary. CU, which has a knack for producing pro-level cornerbacks and safeties, has had four of its defensive backs selected in the past two NFL drafts.
“They’ve got quality players every year,” WSU coach Mike Leach said. “There’s a lot of guys running around from Colorado that are pretty good players. So they’re kind of like they always are. They have some good players at some key positions.”
Worthington’s status is a question mark and the Buffaloes have had to replace cornerback Chris Miller, who suffered a season-ending hand injury against USC. Running back Beau Bisharat is also questionable for CU and starting kicker James Stefanou will miss his fourth consecutive game.
The injuries can be especially gut-wrenching for a team that lost each of its past two games by a single touchdown. The Buffaloes took Arizona to overtime before bowing 42-34.
“We got beat up a little in the USC game, but the other three games I think we definitely could’ve won,” MacIntyre said. “If you watch the games, we could’ve won all three games. And we didn’t. We’ve got to find different ways and other guys have to step up. That’s part of life. That’s part of football.”
Minshew an O’Brien semifinalist
In August, Gardner Minshew was battling for a starting job at Washington State. In November, he’s being mentioned in the same breath as some of the nation’s top quarterbacks.
Minshew, the fifth-year graduate transfer who came to Pullman in May from East Carolina, was recognized as one of 16 semifinalists for the 2018 Davey O’Brien Award, given annually to the best quarterback in college football.
The Davey O’Brien Foundation will select three semifinalists Nov. 19 and will announce a winner Dec. 6 at The Home Depot College Football Awards.
Minshew is one of two Pac-12 quarterbacks on the list, along with Oregon junior Justin Herbert, and becomes the second WSU quarterback to be named a semifinalist in as many years after Luke Falk made the cut in 2017.
The other 14 semifinalists are Ian Book of Notre Dame, Mason Fine of North Texas, Ryan Finley of NC State, Jake Fromm of Georgia, Will Grier of West Virginia, Dwayne Haskins of Ohio State, D’Eriq King of Houston, Trevor Lawrence of Clemson, Jordan Love of Utah State, Marcus McMaryion of Fresno State, McKenzie Milton of UCF, Kyler Murray of Oklahoma, Shea Patterson of Michigan and Tua Tagovailoa of Alabama.
Behind Minshew, the 10th-ranked Cougars have won their past five games and enter the 11th week of the college football season at No. 8 in the College Football Playoff rankings and with an overall record of 8-1. They’re the only one-loss team in the Pac-12 with a 5-1 mark.
Minshew is the nation’s leading passer with 3,517 yards on the season and an average of 390.8 yards per game. The Brandon, Miss., native has thrown 27 touchdowns this year – tops in the Pac-12 and sixth in the nation – and is the only player in the country with five games of 400-plus passing yards.
In addition to the Davey O’Brien honor, Minshew has been named a semifinalist for the Maxwell Award, given to the top player in college football, and was named to the top 15 for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award.