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There were reasons why the Colorado Buffaloes were not given much attention as their record grew to 5-0 heading into last Saturday’s showdown with USC at Memorial Coliseum.  Some of those reasons were on display Saturday as the Trojans handed the Buffs their first loss.

Chief among the issues that were exposed in the 31-20 defeat was the reliance of the Colorado offense on star receiver Laviska Shenault to make big plays whenever the team needs a lift.  In Saturday night’s case, the USC defense was able to keep Shenault in check with double teams, if not triple teams, preventing the Buffs’ stud receiver from having much impact in the passing game.  To make matters worse offensively, the star wideout left the game in the second half with a toe injury.

But Saturday night’s loss was really less about offensive inability and more about the dominance of the USC defense.  Simply put, the Trojans’ “D” is stacked with playmakers and those playmakers, well, they made plays. Lots of them.

QB Steven Montez

Montez wasn’t exactly lighting the world on fire anyway through the first half of play, but Shenault’s exit with the toe injury left the Buffaloes QB without a big play option and, playing from behind, the junior signal-caller had his worst game of the season statistically.

Montez finished the evening 26 of 47 passing for 170 yards, with no touchdowns and a 3rd quarter interception that was returned for a touchdown.  He did show his athletic ability with a 19-yard TD run in the game’s final minutes.

Grade-C

Draft stock-4th

Preview for Washington:  Hopefully Montez responds positively from the USC game. Check that. Montez better respond well because he and his offensive mates will be welcomed to Seattle by a Washington defense that has been possibly the best in the PAC 12 this season.

If there’s any silver lining in the previous paragraph, it’s that the Huskies will be without one injured D-lineman for the game and one more is suspended for the first half Saturday after picking up a targeting penalty last week.  That depleted unit might be forced into using a couple true freshmen out of necessity this weekend. But the Washington “D” nonetheless fields a veteran secondary that ranks with the best in the nation.

All of this means that Montez’s upcoming Saturday may just mirror his last Saturday if he isn’t able to take better care of the ball, particularly in his own end of the field with a much rowdier crowd than he found in L.A. last week. I think he will do that but whether he can improve on last week’s passing performance is another question.

WR Laviska Shenault Jr.

To put it bluntly, Shenault was it for the Colorado offense Saturday.  Before leaving in the 3rd quarter with a toe injury, the sophomore star snared 9 passes for 72 yards.  He also led the team in rushing for the game (on only 2 carries), opening the scoring with a 49-yard wildcat touchdown run in the 1st quarter.

The USC defense was as good as advertised on Saturday, making Shenault work for everything in the passing game.  The Trojans’ veteran secondary knows a thing or two about playing against great players in big games and were up to the task against the Buffs.

At the time of his injury, the game’s outcome looked like a foregone conclusion.  But it certainly would have been fun to see if Shenault could pull a rabbit or two out of his hat late in the game to make things interesting.

Grade-B plus

Draft stock-1st-2nd Round

Preview for Washington:  Unfortunately, Shenault looks iffy for this Saturday. Coach Mike MacIntyre has basically listed his star receiver as “day to day” after the toe injury that forced him out of the USC game late in the 3rd quarter.  Shenault has been seen in a walking boot for the past couple days at team functions.  If he can’t go, well, I don’t think we need to go to great lengths to determine what that means for the Colorado offense.

If Shenault does play Saturday, he’ll be dealing with a Washington secondary that is even more talented than the one he faced in L.A. last weekend. The Huskies sport one of the best defensive backfields in the country. Dealing with the toe injury might be the least of his worries if he does see the field in Seattle Saturday.  But I shudder to think of this offense without him.

HB Travon McMillian

18 carries. 32 yards.  Yeah, things didn’t go particularly according to plan for the Buffs’ leading rusher. McMillian isn’t the first, and certainly won’t be the last, running back to have fits dealing with a bruising USC defensive front. Playing catch-up against the Trojans is not exactly a recipe for rushing success. The Trojans’ front seven effectively shut down any lane McMillian had on virtually every carry.

The biggest question about ‘SC is how in the world can a team with this kind of talent be 4-2.

Grade-C

Draft stock-5th-6th round

Preview for Washington:  Before losing some of their defensive line depth due to injury and suspension, the Huskies might have had the best unit in the conference.  Those issues couldn’t have happened at a better time for McMillian and the Colorado offense.

However, the Shenault situation could make it all a moot point.  If the Buffs’ star wideout isn’t able to play Saturday, this game could actually prove even harder for the running game.  If Shenault does play, I see McMillian having a good day in Seattle.  A 100-yard game is stretching it, but putting up 60 or 70 yards against a great defense is a good day.

LB Rick Gamboa

The Colorado senior registered 5 tackles against USC last weekend. At this point in the season, that appears to be the baseline for Gamboa. He seems to have plateaued in terms of his overall production. It almost seems like the Buffs’ defensive leader might be dealing with an undisclosed injury of some type. How else to explain the mediocre numbers he’s been putting up lately?

Grade-C

Draft stock-UFA

Preview for Washington:  If ever there was a time to find out what Gamboa is capable of in terms of run-stopping ability, it is this Saturday in Seattle.  The Huskies have one of the nation’s top RBs in Myles Gaskin. The senior has led Washington in rushing since his true freshman season, including 1,380 yards and a school-record 21 rushing TDs last season. Just for kicks, the Huskies turn to big-play sophomore Salvon Ahmed (6.3 yards per carry) when Gaskin leaves the field.

If Gamboa has designs on playing on Sundays in the future, he could certainly do himself a big favor by having a big game on Saturday. Washington has the ability offensively to completely control the tempo, not to mention the clock, with their running backs. The Buffs desperately need their senior LB to have a big game.

SS Evan Worthington

The Buffaloes’ senior had a lackluster game statistically against USC last Saturday. 3 total tackles and no passes defended.  Many of the comments about Gamboa above could apply directly to Worthington, albeit to a lesser degree.

Worthington has been pretty inconsistent to this point in the season.  A great game against Arizona State the week before gave hope of another good outing against ‘SC.  All in all, a disappointing day from Worthington.

Grade-C-minus

Draft stock-6th-7th round

Preview for Washington:  The Huskies field an offense featuring one of the nation’s top QBs in Jake Browning.  The senior will make the Buffs’ D look silly with any breakdown in coverage. Add to that the Washington running game and Worthington and Co. will have all they can handle and much, much more.

This could and very well should be the biggest game of the season in terms of production for Worthington. From helping out in coverage against Browning and top-tier receivers Aaron Fuller and Ty Jones to supporting the run against the two-headed monster of Gaskin and Ahmed, Worthington’s portion of the stat sheet should be loaded.

The Buffs’ simply cannot afford another sub-par performance from another of their veteran defensive leaders. Worthington and the defense as a whole must have a big game or Washington will roll.

Mike Clark

Author Mike Clark

Founder of the sports blog Redbloodedsports.com Member, Football Writers Association of America

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