Huard: How UW Huskies can stay in Pac-12 title hunt and beat Colorado

Oct 18, 2018, 12:22 AM
UW Huskies QB Jake Browning may be without his top two RBs Saturday. (AP)...
UW Huskies QB Jake Browning may be without his top two RBs Saturday. (AP)

It’s a different situation for the 15th-ranked UW Huskies as they return home to Husky Stadium for Saturday’s matchup against the 5-1 Colorado Buffaloes.

Huskies fall to No. 15 after loss at Oregon

The hopes of a return to the College Football Playoff have been dashed after an overtime loss at Oregon last week, and there’s no guarantee top running backs Myles Gaskin (shoulder) and Salvon Ahmed (knee) will be in action due to injury. The Pac-12 championship and the Rose Bowl berth that would come with it are both still in play for Washington, at least.

That’s where the focus is in our weekly Huskies preview from ESPN college football analyst Brock Huard. Here are his keys for Saturday’s 12:30 p.m. game.

Leaders need to right the ship.

After the disappointment of the loss at Oregon, responsibility falls to the seniors who have built the foundation for Chris Petersen’s program. Four players that come to mind are Ben Burr-Kirven, Jake Browning, Myles Gaskin and JoJo McIntosh. They very much know and realize a Pac-12 title and Rose Bowl berth is still likely if they run the table.

Teamwork will be important with injuries in the backfield.

This game will be about communication and conviction of offense. With communication, it’s about making protection calls and checks to ensure everyone is on the same page, especially against a Colorado team that loves to pressure off the edges with speedy linebackers. And there needs to be conviction that the plan and execution doesn’t change, regardless of who is behind Browning. I have loved offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan’s willingness throughout the season to utilize all four backs in very big situational moments. It will be all hands on deck Saturday.

Colorado is 5-1 for a reason.

The Colorado offense funnels through Laviska Shenault and quarterback Steven Montez. Shenault plays running back, fullback, tight end, slot wide receiver and outside WR, and he is often a mismatch via speed or size in many of those spots. His status is uncertain for the game due to a toe injury, though. Montez, meanwhile, is a rhythm passer and they will both run him and get the ball out of his hands with multiple quick game attacks. Defensively, the Buffaloes’ linebacking depth and playmaking is the strength of their group. They will run and hit and can be very disruptive on the edges of their scheme.

Channel the emotion on defense.

Washington played extremely well at home the last time out versus BYU, and after two road trips I know the Huskies are anxious to get a very difficult loss out of their system. When that is the case, it is typically the defense that responds emotionally, and I’d expect defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake to cut them loose and let them run and hit. Myles Bryant and Taylor Rapp off the edges and tight man coverage should be the theme for a secondary that needs to impose its will once again.

Embrace the advantage that comes with finally being at home.

With road games at Auburn, Utah, UCLA and Oregon, it feels as if the Huskies have been away from home for most of the season. The schedule tilts more to Husky Stadium now, and that’s a great thing as the students are now fully on campus and Browning and Co. will look to extend an unbeaten streak at home that goes back to 2016.

Chris Petersen wishes for do-over after UW Huskies falter late

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Huard: How UW Huskies can stay in Pac-12 title hunt and beat Colorado