A surprising loss has Washington State searching for answers as it prepares to face Colorado this week. The Cougars (6-1, 3-1 Pac-12) saw their perfect season come crashing down with a one-sided 37-3 loss to California. Everything went wrong on offense, starting with seven turnovers. Washington State converted just 4-of-16 third downs and produced 337 total yards. On defense, the Cougars failed to produce any takeaways.
“We played sorry and we got what we deserved,” Cougars coach Mike Leach said in his Monday press conference. “That's what it boils down to.”
The Buffaloes (4-3, 1-3) snapped a three-game losing streak, edging Oregon State 36-33 on Saturday. Colorado needed a big game from running back Phillip Lindsay to rally to beat the Beavers. Lindsay finished with 185 yards — highlighted by a 74-yard touchdown run on the team's first drive of the game.
Colorado leads the all-time series 6-4. The two teams have split their four previous Pac-12 meetings.
Colorado at Washington State
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 21 at 10:45 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Washington State -10.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Washington State improve QB protection?
One reason Washington State imploded on offense against California is that Luke Falk (above, right) faced almost non-stop pressure from the Bears' defense. He was sacked nine times and also threw five interceptions after totaling just two picks in the previous six games for the Cougars.
The lack of quarterback protection is part of a broader trend for Washington State up to this point. The Cougars rank dead last in nation in sacks allowed and sack yardage. They have allowed 32 sacks for a total loss of 229 yards. Keeping Falk healthy the rest of the way could become a major concern if he is continually running for his life.
Struggles in protecting the quarterback serve as an ironic counterpoint to the pressure the Cougars create for opposing quarterbacks. Washington State is tied for the FBS lead in tackles for a loss with Ohio State (58) and ranks fourth nationally in sacks (23). Hercules Mata'afa leads the way with 12.0 TFL and 6.5 sacks.
2. Will Colorado be able to solve defensive issues?
Strong defensive play boosted Colorado out of the Pac-12 South cellar last season. After four Pac-12 games, it's clear that the Buffaloes have taken a major step backward on that side of the ball. They are allowing 504.3 yards and 35.5 points per game against Pac-12 opponents.
The biggest regression has come in stopping the run. Colorado has allowed at least 250 rushing yards in three of its last four games. Opponents in those same three contests averaged more than six yards per carry. Three different Pac-12 running backs — Khalil Tate, Myles Gaskin and Ryan Nall — have tallied season highs in rushing yards against the Buffaloes.
Colorado allowed just 148.9 rushing yards per game a year ago, helping the Buffaloes rank second in the Pac-12 in total defense and third in scoring defense.
3. Making history in the backfield
It's no secret that Falk is closing in on every key Pac-12 passing record. But the Washington State quarterback won't be the only player on the field Saturday who will have his name in the record books at season's end.
Colorado running back Phillip Lindsay is poised to become the first running back for the Buffaloes to notch back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons. Lindsay has 995 rushing yards through seven games. He ranks second only to Stanford RB Bryce Love in total rushing yards among Pac-12 running backs. The only other Colorado player to have two 1,000-yard seasons in his career was Eric Bieniemy, who did it in 1988 and 1990.
Lindsay had a successful outing against Washington State last season. He ran for 144 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 31 carries to lead the Buffaloes to a 38-24 victory over the Cougars.
Washington State's loss to California was so shocking, in part, because of its one-sided nature. The Cougars should be able to get back on track this week. Colorado is a shell of itself on defense compared to last season. The Buffaloes also have trouble churning out points against even average defenses. That won't be a formula for success against a Washington State team hungry to prove that last week was a fluke.
Prediction: Washington State 34, Colorado 27
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.