What’s up with this Washington-Colorado football game?
There’s no sideshow, no championship, no debut, no abrupt exit, no memorial, no bowl game, no tears, no defection, absolutely nothing out of the ordinary surrounding this 17th meeting involving these teams.
In years past, the near unbeatable Gil Dobie quit as Washington coach immediately after thumping the Buffaloes 46-0 on Thanksgiving day in 1915; Jim Owens made his Huskies coaching debut against Colorado in 1957; Buffs quarterback Sal Aunese died of stomach cancer the week before CU played the Huskies in a highly emotional football game in 1989; Rick Neuheisel bolted Colorado to become the Huskies coach in 1999; and these teams have faced each other in the 1985 Freedom Bowl, 1996 Holiday Bowl and 2016 Pac-12 championship game.
All you get this Saturday afternoon at Husky Stadium is a consolation game of sorts matching up up conference contenders coming off difficult losses and having their postseason hopes watered down some in a week’s time.
Which brings us to this regular Friday exercise: 10 pertinent questions setting up what could be a fairly competitive matchup by the lake:
- Who is Sean McGrew?
Standing next to him, he’s even smaller than he appears from the stands or on TV. Up close, he’s wiry and acts unafraid. If Myles Gaskin or Salvon Ahmed aren’t ready to go this weekend, the redshirt freshman from Torrance, California, is your starting Huskies running back. Any fears? “No, I played in a lot big games in high school,” said the 5,700-yard prep rusher without blinking. He credits Gaskin with mentoring him and showing him how to patiently wait for holes to open. So will you be starting this weekend, Sean? “You’ll have to ask Coach Pete,” he said with a smile.
- Who is Laviska Shenault Jr.?
He might be the best football player in the Pac-12. He’s got a great name. He’s a wide receiver who has five rushing touchdowns and six more hauling in passes. He averages 10 catches per game. He knows more about Friday Night Lights than any other player involved in this particular game after playing for Texas 2016 6A state champion DeSoto High School from the Dallas suburbs. And, unfortunately for these Buffaloes, he also might be a designated spectator on Saturday, nursing an injured toe.
- Will the Huskies increase the pressure and get any sacks against Colorado?
Through seven games, they have a measly nine quarterback drops, which is a startlingly low total even when taking into account that Vita Vea left town before this season unfolded. The hopeful news for this Husky defense, one that has no catchy nickname or any reason to promote one, is Buffaloes quarterback Steven Montez has been sacked 14 times in six games. Let the pass rush begin.
- Will the Huskies come up with any interceptions against Colorado?
This is another sore subject for the UW defense. It has just two picks this season, one from Jordan Miller at Utah and the other from Taylor Rapp at UCLA. None at Husky Stadium. Just two in 226 opposing passing attempts. Here’s piling on: zero interception return yardage so far this season. The discouraging news for the Huskies here is that Montez had a stretch in 2017 in which he went 172 passes without throwing it to a defender and he has just three interceptions this season.
- What is the fashion statement for this outing and why does it matter?
Colorado has indicated it will wear the rare ensemble of gold helmets, white jerseys and silver pants, anything to make the Buffs feel better about themselves after coming off a 31-20 defeat to USC. It should be noted that in 1989 against Colorado, the Huskies wore purple pants for the first time in program history as a source of inspiration, got a nice round of applause from their followers when running out on the field and then proceeded to fall behind 38-6 in their new threads and lose 45-28 to the Buffs.
- Who is Chris Mulumba and why should anyone be afraid of him?
The Colorado backup defensive end is a former three-time national judo champion from Finland who still holds a black belt, and he’s completed his mandatory one-year obligation in his country’s military service before turning to college football without any background in the game. Oh yeah, he’s fluent in English, French and Finnish. Imagine the trash talk.
- What happened to Drew Lewis?
The former UW player, dismissed for team violations following his redshirt freshman season in 2015, entered the season as a senior and a returning Colorado starter at inside linebacker. He was the Buffs’ leading tackler in 2017 with 119, or 9.9 per game, but he lost his job to sophomore Nate Landman in fall camp and was moved to outside linebacker this season. While still a starter, Lewis admittedly felt like he received a demotion. He’s seen his production drop to just under five tackles per game. Yet he’s coming off his first career interception against USC. He should be properly motivated to play against his former team in his hometown.
- Who the heck is John Clark?
With UW defensive tackle Jaylen Johnson suspended for the first half for his targeting call at Oregon, the little-used and undersized Clark likely gets the starting call on the Huskies front wall. They aren’t tipping their hands, still listing Johnson as the starter on their game-day flash cards. Clark, who sat out 2017 with an injury, has six career tackles on his resume and has played in just a dozen Huskies games, saw a lot of time against the Ducks and is likely the first man up.
- If this game comes down to a field goal to win, will Peyton Henry be up for it?
With such a big miss at Oregon, people will forever doubt him each time he takes aim. It was an epic wide right in Eugene. Even if he starts wracking up the field goals, Henry will forever carry the scar of blowing a Huskies victory against their most bitter rival. We'll actually answer this one in question No. 10.
- Which brings us to the bottom line: who wins this one?
The Huskies, leading the series 11-5-1, could find their running game impaired with Gaskin and Ahmed gimpy. They could find their pass rush muted even more with Johnson missing half the game. They might be vulnerable in the secondary with cornerback Jordan Miller missing much of the Oregon game and likely slowed this week. Yet Colorado looked like an absolute pushover against USC. The Buffs will lose their ninth straight to the Huskies. No field goal is necessary for that to happen. Washington 28, Colorado 14.