The Washington Huskies travel to Boulder to take on the Colorado Buffaloes Saturday, hoping to keep their hopes of bowl eligibility alive. Bob Gregory will serve as interim head coach of the Huskies for the second straight game after Jimmy Lake was suspended for the 35-30 loss to Arizona State and fired the following day. The loss dropped Washington to 4-6 overall and 3-4 in Pac-12 play. The Buffs saw their own bowl game aspirations come to an end with a 44-20 loss to UCLA last week and now sit 3-7 overall and 2-5 in the conference.
Washington at Colorado
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 20 at 3 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Spread: Washington -6.5
When Washington Has the Ball
The week before he lost his job, Lake fired offensive coordinator John Donovan. The move did not come as a surprise given that the Huskies averaged 22.0 points per game with Donovan calling the plays this season. The 30 points Washington scored last week marked its third-best output of the season. However, the 266 total yards and 4.22 yards per play against the Sun Devils were both below the team's season averages of 332.1 and 5.09, respectively, under Donovan. Diving deeper, the Huskies now rank 79th nationally with 2.07 points per drive in non-garbage time against FBS opponents and 110th in predicted points added per play (0.129). Poor offensive performance is one of the biggest reasons the squad is fighting to get bowl eligible instead of competing for the Pac-12 title.
Quarterback Dylan Morris has completed 60.1 percent of his passes for 2,071 yards and 12 touchdowns. Morris has been intercepted 10 times, which is more than any Pac-12 signal-caller, and he ranks No. 10 in the league with an average of 6.7 yards per pass attempt. The coaching change could mean more opportunities for five-star true freshman Sam Huard, who has pushed Morris for playing time but is only 5-for-11 for 51 yards as a passer in three games and can appear in only one more contest to preserve his redshirt status.
Morris has talent around him, but the Huskies have struggled with consistency. Five receivers have caught 23 passes or more, led by Jalen McMillan's 33. McMillan ranks second with 422 yards and three touchdowns behind Terrell Bynum, who has been the best big-play threat in the receiving corps with 436 yards and four scores on 26 catches, giving him an average of 16.7 yards per reception. Tight end Cade Otton has an NFL future and has posted a productive 250 yards (with a touchdown) on 28 receptions, but he suffered a lower-body injury last week and appears doubtful to play. As a result, Devin Culp (12 rec., 130 yds., TD) could see an increased role in the passing game, especially after his fourth-quarter touchdown a week ago.
The status of leading rusher Sean McGrew is also uncertain after he missed last week's game due to a sprained ankle. McGrew has gained 431 yards and scored eight touchdowns on 107 carries. If he can't go, Cameron Davis (279 yds., 2 TDs) would be next in line, followed by Kamari Pleasant (266, TD).
When Colorado Has the Ball
In terms of the raw numbers, the Buffaloes have struggled even more than Washington offensively. Colorado ranks last in the Pac-12 in total offense (275.8 ypg) and yards per play (4.60), which rank No. 126 and No. 121, respectively among the current 130 FBS teams. The Buffs have averaged 19.2 points per game, which sits No. 11 on the Pac-12 leaderboard and No. 119 overall. However, there have been positive signs lately. Since Oct. 26, when it beat Arizona 34-0 for its first win over an FBS opponent, Colorado has averaged 24.6 points per contest, 312.0 total yards per game, and 5.02 yards per play. That five-game stretch even includes a dreadful performance against Cal in which the Buffs gained 104 yards on 46 snaps (2.26) and lost 26-3.
Quarterback Brendon Lewis has made some strides recently as well and improved his season stat line to 1,344 passing yards, 10 touchdowns and three interceptions while completing 60.3 percent of his passes and averaging 6.4 yards per attempt. After failing to throw for more than 102 yards in any of his first four games, Lewis has been held below 158 just once since. He also tossed three touchdowns against both Oregon and Oregon State. Brenden Rice (21 rec., 299 yds., 3 TDs) has emerged as Lewis' top weapon in the passing game, and Brady Russell (20, 264) is a productive tight end as well.
The rushing attack has been a disappointment, especially compared to 2020. Colorado ranked third in the Pac-12 with 212.3 rushing yards per game last season but ranks seventh with just 137.9 despite returning one of the top running back duos in the league. But things are looking up, as Jarek Broussard gained 151 yards on the ground against Oregon State two weeks ago and added 108 last week against UCLA to push his season total to 618. He has scored just twice this year and not since Sept. 11. Alex Fontenot leads the team with five rushing touchdowns, two of them coming last week, and has gained 297 yards on 83 carries.
The biggest edge in this matchup is Washington's defense. Like Colorado, the Huskies have struggled to stop opponents on the ground. In fact, Washington ranks 11th in the Pac-12 in rushing defense (204.8 ypg), behind Colorado (183.9). Nevertheless, the Huskies have done better on a per-carry basis, having allowed 4.86 yards per attempt compared to 5.14 for the Buffs. Washington has also posted a better overall success rate (43.6 percent) than Colorado (46.2), and the gap is even wider on passing plays with the Huskies limiting opponents to 34.6 percent, which is the best in the Pac-12 and No. 7 overall, as Colorado ranks 68th at 42.0 percent. Few teams have found any success against the Huskies through the air: Washington leads the nation in traditional pass defense (135.8 ypg) and yards allowed per pass attempt (5.2).
Washington may be a team in transition, but the Huskies have the better defense, an overall talent advantage, and more to play for. Expect a close victory for the Huskies to set up a win-and-they're-in bowl game scenario in the Apple Cup next weekend.
Prediction: Washington 29, Colorado 22
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