Top-25 showdown looms in Boulder

Looking to add to its best start to conference play in program history, the 22nd-ranked WSU football team heads to Boulder for a top-25 showdown with the No. 10 Colorado Buffaloes.

The Cougars (8-2, 7-0) are riding an eight-game winning streak and enter their matchup against the Buffaloes (8-2, 6-1) with an opportunity to clinch the Pac-12 North Division with a win and a loss by No. 6 Washington.

A win will be no easy task for WSU. Colorado enters the game leading the Pac-12 South Division and enters Saturday’s game winners of four straight.

The Buffaloes’ two losses came against No. 4 Michigan and a University of Southern California (USC) team that knocked off the Huskies last Saturday in Seattle and is currently ranked 13th in the nation.

“From what everything says, they’ve got a pretty good defense,” WSU redshirt senior wide receiver Gabe Marks said. “I know they’ve got some athletes out there. They fly around and have bought into their coach’s philosophy.”

Statistically, Colorado possesses one of the best defensive units in the Pac-12. The Buffaloes are tied for first in the conference in scoring defense – allowing just 17.9 points per game – and rank first in the conference in yards allowed per game. Colorado also ranks in the top-10 nationally in both categories.

For the Cougars to move the ball, they will likely need to find success in the running game, as Colorado’s one defensive chink in the armor comes in its rushing defense. The Buffaloes rank in the top-10 nationally in scoring defense and passing defense and 11th in total yards allowed per game.

Taking the Buffaloes’ defensive strengths into account, a 29th-ranked run defense looks to be the best area for WSU to attack, even if the opponent is strong there as well.

On the other side of the ball, the Buffaloes rank between fifth and seventh in the conference in every major offensive category. Led by junior tailback Phillip Lindsay and senior quarterback Sefo Liufau, the Buffaloes have undergone somewhat of an offensive renaissance from their first three years under Head Coach Mike MacIntyre.

Already at eight wins on the season, Colorado has secured its first winning season under MacIntyre and first since 2005.

“It seems like the guys rally around him (Liufau),” redshirt junior quarterback Luke Falk said. “He’s a part of turning that program around.”

Colorado is bound to be an important test for WSU, but recent offensive trends holding true may sway the game in its favor.

The running game has been clicking lately, giving the Cougars an opportunity to hit Colorado in its weakest defensive area, and the offensive line has not surrendered a sack in the team’s last two games.

WSU ranks second in the conference in both scoring offense and total offense behind the country’s most statistically accurate quarterback in Falk. Falk has completed a career high 73.9 percent of his passes this season and sits at second in the NCAA in passing yards behind Texas Tech junior quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

The Cougars will likely turn to sophomore wide receiver Kyle Sweet to fill the void left by senior wide receiver River Cracraft, who is second in receiving yards on the team but suffered a torn ACL in the team’s win over California on Saturday.

On defense, WSU has enjoyed a similar revitalization in production to that of Colorado’s. The Cougars rank near the middle of the conference in most categories, but lead the conference in rushing defense.

WSU received a defensive boost on Wednesday, as redshirt senior nose tackle Robert Barber was granted a stay of his suspension from Whitman County Superior Court Judge David Frazier and is immediately available to play and return to the classroom.

The game kicks off at 12:30 p.m. Saturday and will air live on FOX.