Here's a breakdown of Saturday's Pac-10/Big 12 clash at Folsom Field.
CU offense vs. Washington State defense
If the Notre Dame game film showed Gary Barnett and his staff anything, it's that WSU blitzes … a lot. The Cougars baffled Notre Dame's offense in the first half with many different looks and blitzes.
That aggressive style plays right into Colorado's offensive weakness, the offensive line. The Bruins dominated the line of scrimmage last week, routinely making plays in the backfield. Quarterback Joel Klatt took more shots than a frat kid on his 21st birthday.
Hopefully, the offensive linemen lived and learned, because they're going to get another major test this week. New WSU head coach Bill Doba, who was promoted from defensive coordinator, will attack and pressure the Buffs' young line and quarterback in much the same way UCLA did last week.
Colorado likely will counter with quicker passes to keep Klatt free of danger. The onus will be on Derek McCoy and D.J. Hackett to use their height advantage against the Cougars' smaller defensive backs. Cornerback Jason David led the Pac 10 in interceptions last season, but he's only 5-8 and he doesn't get to play opposite current NFLer Marcus Trufant anymore.
The passing game will finally get help from the running game. Bobby Purify and Brian Calhoun haven't exactly made the CU faithful forget about Chris Brown. But that should change this week. The Irish ran for 163 yards against the Cougars. Anything less than 150 rushing yards from CU this week should be considered a disappointment.
CU defense vs. Washington State offense
The Cougars are a pass first, run second team. They often line up three or four wide receivers, and, as Notre Dame found out, love to get the tight ends involved. Tight end Troy Bienemann had four receptions against Notre Dame, while back-up tight end Adam West – isn't the caped crusader a tad old for college? – was the target of many passes.
Washington State is able to go vertical, thanks to quarterback Mett Kegel. The senior is trying to fill the shoes of Jason Gesser. So far, so good as Kegel had the Irish defensive backs turning every which way. Kegel finished the game hitting 22 of 39 passes for 274 yards, two touchdowns passes and one interception.
Don't be surprised if all those numbers are topped this week.
As good as Colorado's defense looked last week, the secondary was still disappointing. And with Marques Harris and his pass rushing ability out of the mix, even more pressure will be on the defensive backfield to keep the Cougars in check.
The Cougars' running game struggled against Notre Dame, but that was more mirage than trend. Jermaine Green is a talented back – one of the best in the Pac-10 – and he'll test Colorado's defensive front, which will be playing its first game without its leader.
The loss of Harris is huge both physically and emotionally. The senior was a steadying presence on a young defense. With Harris out, youngsters James Garee, Alex Ligon and Chris Hollis will have to step up their play. The same goes for Gabe Nyenhuis, Sean Tufts and Medford Moorer, all of who need to share the defensive leadership role in Harris' absence.
The Bottom Line
The pitfalls are numerous for CU this week. Will the Buffs be caught looking ahead to their trip to Tallahassee? How will they play without Harris? Have two consecutive close calls sacked their energy level? Is Washington State angry about the way they lost to Notre Dame?
All of that said, the Buffs are playing at home and simply have more talent than WSU. Look for Colorado to play aggressive defense to try and get Kegel out of his comfort zone. Offensively, the running game will complement the passing game for the first time this season.