Washington (5-3, 1-3 in Pac-12) at Colorado (2-6, 0-5)
10 a.m. PT Saturday, Folsom Field
The line: Washington by 4
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Never miss a local story.
Radio: 1000 AM/97.7 FM
Probably doesn't need to be said that this is a must-win game for the Huskies, who enter Saturday's matchup on a two-game losing streak and needing to beat the struggling Buffaloes to restore some zest to their season. The primary concern centers around the offense, which ranks 105th nationally in total yards and 113th in yards per play. That's better than only six other Power Five teams. That isn't good.
But I expect their final statistical totals from Saturday's game to reflect a performance far better than their season average.
Colorado's defense isn't as stout as Stanford's, or as athletic as Oregon or Arizona State's. The Buffaloes rank 11th in the Pac-12 in scoring defense (ahead of only California) at 38.8 points per game, and rank last in the conference in rushing defense, allowing 192.5 yards per game and 5.6 yards per carry. That's a full 1.1 yards worse than the next-worst team (ASU).
For that reason -- and also because of the return of starting quarterback Cyler Miles, who could get in on the rushing action himself -- I think the Huskies will be able to move the ball better against Colorado than they have against any other Pac-12 opponent. The status of Lavon Coleman and Dwayne Washington is still up in the air -- Chris Petersen kind of said on Thursday that each would be able to play, but we'll see what that really means. Regardless of whether it's Coleman, Washington, Shaq Thompson or Deontae Cooper carrying the ball, this is the one team in the conference the Huskies should be able to run the ball against.
And, as offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith pointed out earlier this week, running the ball goes hand-in-hand with being able to throw it, too. That's why Miles needs to make Colorado pay early if the Buffaloes cheat up and pack the box in an effort to stop Thompson (or whoever) from running up the middle over and over again. A couple play-action passes -- of longer than, say, 10 yards -- to Jaydon Mickens or John Ross wouldn't hurt.
Offensively, Colorado is a lot better this season with Sefo Liufau in his second year as the Buffaloes' starting quarterback, and the Buffaloes have been much more impressive in their losses than in their victories. If you saw Colorado's 40-37 double-overtime loss to UCLA last week, you know this is a team capable of putting up points against a talented defense, and you wonder how much Colorado might benefit from preparing to face a UW defense that might not have Thompson at linebacker (that's assuming he plays full-time running back again).
This feels a little like the Cal game, in which you knew the Huskies were going to have to pressure Jared Goff and get some big turnovers to take the Bears out of their rhythm. That's exactly what they did, and it led to a relatively easy win. If Hau'oli Kikaha gets another couple sacks (Colorado has allowed only 12 this season, so that could be a challenge) and the Huskies can turn another turnover into points -- something they've obviously done well all season -- I think UW will, finally, be able to run the ball well enough to get up by a couple scores early and hold on from there.
The pick: Washington 37, Colorado 24.