Colorado vs. Washington (Santa Clara, Calif.) PAC 12 Championship
Kickoff: Friday, Dec. 2, at 9 p.m. ET
Where: Levi’s Stadium
TV Channel: FOX
The Washington Huskies came into the 2016 season as a highly touted, and they have lived up to the hype with an 11-1 record, and winning the PAC 12 North. Washington’s perfect season was ruined by the USC Trojans three weeks ago, but they picked themselves up off the ground, dusted themselves off, and claimed back-to-back wins to end the regular season on a high note, defeating Arizona State and rival Washington State. For the Colorado Buffaloes, no one expected this type of season, as they claimed the PAC 12 South, and have a 10-2 record. The Buffaloes finished their regular season with six straight victories, and their only conference loss was on the road to USC back on October 8. Buffaloes’ head coach Mike MacIntyre’s guys clinched the division with a hard-fought win over Utah this past weekend. The Huskies and Buffaloes will meet for the 16th time, and it’s Washington who holds the lead in the all-time series, 9-5-1. The Huskies have taken the last six meetings.
Here are three things to watch:
1. Breaking the Secondary Vice Grip
There are no two secondary units in perhaps in all of college football that feature the amount of star power as the units of Colorado and Washington. The Buffaloes’ group, featuring Tedric Thompson, Chidobe Awuzie and Ahkello Witherspoon, are the engines that drive the nation’s No. 20 passing defense, as well as the sixth-best turnover-generating defense. Few teams were as good this regular season at creating turnovers as Colorado, and even fewer were better. Washington was one of those teams that have done better. The Huskies finished with 30 takeaways, which is the most among all FBS defenses, with the secondary of Budda Baker, Kevin King, Sidney Jones and Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year Taylor Rapp combining for nine of those takeaways. Washington head coach Chris Petersen’s teams typically make their bones on the defensive side, despite having the reputation for overseeing exciting offenses that are rife with trick plays. The first team that can break through these secondaries may be the winner of this game.
2. Get The Ground Game Going
In order to offset both squads’ amazing secondary, Washington, and Colorado must establish an effective ground game. However, it will be easier said than done. Washington allows only 3.5 yards per carry, and Colorado allows only 3.9 yards per carry. The inability to jump-start the running game had impacted both teams in each of their respective losses against USC earlier this season. The Buffs failed to reach 100 yards on the ground at USC. Washington’s two-pronged attack of Lavon Coleman and Myles Gaskin gained just 17 total yards on the ground, a statistic slightly skewed by the Trojans’ sacks of Huskies quarterback Jake Browning. However, USC was able to get to Browning because the Husky run game was so overwhelmed.
3. Explosive Plays
Both Colorado and Washington excelled in generating explosive plays, particularly those of 30-plus yards. The Buffs ranked No. 20 in the nation, while the Huskies’ 31 plays of 30 yards or more ranked seventh. Deep and multifaceted receiving corps played central roles in each teams’ big-play proficiency, which should make for an interesting chess match with those aforementioned secondaries. With Browning, and Colorado’s Sefo Liufau at the helm for each of their respective offenses, the possibility of fireworks going off in this game is at hand.
It has come full circle for these team. I remember when Colorado and Washington dominated the college football landscape at times through the 1990s and into the early 2000s. Both squads hit many lows over the last decade-plus. This Friday’s match-up in Santa Clara is something of a throwback for me and serves as a reminder as to just how unpredictable college football is. With a win, Washington has likely assured a playoff berth. The Huskies face more pressure than their opponents — but Washington also might have just a little bit more than Colorado. Washington 27, Colorado 21