No. 8 Cougars face Buffaloes in Boulder

WSU meets an injury plagued Colorado team in Pac-12 showdown



Quarterback Gardner Minshew II prepares to throw the ball during the game against Cal last Saturday night in Martin Stadium. Minshew will lead the offense against the stout Buffalo defense this weekend.

JOHN SPELLMAN, Evergreen reporter

No. 8 WSU football will head to Boulder to face off with University of Colorado on Saturday. Last season, the Cougars defeated the Buffaloes 28-0 during an downpour in Martin Stadium.

Head Coach Mike Leach said he is looking forward to playing under brighter skies in Boulder after last year’s harsh conditions.

“The weather was brutal,” Leach said. “It was one of the wildest weather games I have ever been in. It was bitter cold and swirling rain so no matter where you turned you were going to get a face full of water, and the wind blew for good measure just to make sure it was as cold as possible.”

WSU (8-1, 5-1) comes into the contest with wins in five consecutive Pac-12 Conference games, propelling the team to first in the Pac-12 North and putting it in position to contend for a conference championship and a shot at the College Football Playoff.

Colorado (5-4, 2-4) opened the season 5-0, however, injuries mounted and the Buffs are now riding a four-game losing streak going into Saturday.

The Cougars are coming off a tough victory last Saturday in which they faced a challenge from University of California, Berkeley. The Golden Bears kept the game close with their strong defense before WSU scored the game-winning touchdown with less than one minute remaining in the game.

Despite the hard-fought victory, it was the worst performance for Leach’s Air Raid offense this season and quarterback Gardner Minshew had 334 passing yards, his third lowest output this season.

Even with his performance against Cal, Minshew extended his lead as the nation’s top passer by pushing his total passing yards this season to 3,517. He is also averaging the most passing yards per game of any quarterback.

It helps that he has an impressive running back combination of redshirt junior James Williams and freshman Max Borghi, who have been instrumental in the running and passing game, combining for 20 touchdowns.

Minshew has also had support from rising wide receivers such as redshirt sophomore Easop Winston Jr. and junior Dezmon Patmon. They have been monumental in the Cougars’ success as Winston is averaging 13.2 yards per catch while Patmon is averaging 14.1.

Minshew will have to go to battle against a difficult Colorado defense led by two of the top linebackers in the Pac-12, sophomore Nate Landman and senior Rick Gamboa, who have 84 and 52 tackles respectively.

“They recruit great defensive backs, and they are a well-rounded team on offense and defense so we can’t take anything away from them,” WSU junior wide receiver Calvin Jackson Jr. said.

On offense the Buffs are led by junior quarterback Steven Montez, who has thrown for 17 touchdowns this season. Maybe the most intriguing part of Montez’s skills is his pocket mobility, as the WSU defense will need to be aware of his ability to escape the pocket and gain yards for the Colorado offense.

“He’s a real good quarterback, he’s got a great arm,” WSU senior cornerback Darrien Molton said. “He’s really good with making guys miss, so he extends plays a lot. Just overall a pretty good quarterback.”

One big question is whether Colorado’s explosive offensive player, sophomore wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr., will be playing Saturday at Folsom Field.

Shenault, a Heisman Trophy hopeful earlier this season, was averaging 130 receiving yards through the first six games of the season before injuring his toe, forcing him to sit out the last three games.

“He’s a great receiver, he’s pretty good at everything,” Molton said. “He’s big, has good size and good speed. He’s good with his route running and he’s got great hands. He’s a complete receiver and good to watch on film.”

However, Colorado has been quiet on Shenault’s availability for Saturday’s game, forcing the Cougars to prepare for the possibility they may have to take on one of the top wide receivers in the nation. Colorado Head Coach Mike MacIntyre said Shenault will be a game-time decision.

These two schools have a relatively young series history, with only 11 games played between them. The Buffs currently lead the series at 6-5 over the Cougars.

One person who has made a few treks to Folsom Field is Leach, who has coached in Boulder three times, once with WSU and twice with Texas Tech University. However, Leach is winless against the Buffaloes.

“They are almost always a good team every time I’ve been there,” Leach said. “We have played quality teams each time and it looks they have another one this year.”

Despite that, it looks like the Cougars have the right pieces in place to get Leach his first win in Boulder and continue the run they are on.

Kickoff is set for 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colorado. The game will also be broadcasted live on ESPN.