The defensive game plan was at once simple and taxing for the Colorado Buffaloes. And despite a 31-7 defeat — the Buffs' fifth in a row after a 5-0 start — the CU defense turned in a gutsy effort against arguably the most prolific passing attack in the nation.
Washington State quarterback Gardner Minshew entered the game leading the nation in passing yards per game, and it's difficult to say the Buffs completely throttled him after Minshew finished 35-for-58 for 335 yards and two touchdowns without an interception or even a sack.
Still, when the game remained competitive through the first three quarters, the Buffs at least made the game a challenge for Minshew, and CU's injury-depleted secondary came up with more than a few key plays.
"We just wanted to get as many eyes on the quarterback as we could," safety Nick Fisher said. "We got a little bit out of man, because they like to do rub routes and stuff like that. So we were passing guys off to each other, and I felt like it worked out pretty well for us."
The Buffs once again played without starting safety Evan Worthington, who didn't proceed far enough through the concussion protocol to get on the field. However, a few defensive backs were able to pick up the slack.
Washington State's first drive ended when Derrion Rakestraw broke up a third-down pass. The Cougars second drive ended with consecutive breakups on third and fourth down by Mehki Blackmon and Delrick Abrams, respectively.
The Buffs finished with a season-most six pass breakups while forcing Minshew into a season-high 23 incompletions.
"We had a lot of zone coverages called and we just had to prepare for their plays all week," Rakestraw said. "A lot of the time we knew what they were going to do, and that helped out a lot. We just didn't get it done. We didn't get enough points and we needed to get more stops."
Opponents have managed to sack WSU quarterbacks just seven times this season, and the Buffs conceded this point by often rushing only three linemen at Minshew. The drawback was that as the game progressed the Buffs' secondary was charged with following Minshew's array of targets all over the field for far too much time. With CU's offense struggling to sustain drives, the defense had to try and maintain that exhaustive approach for 94 plays.
"Any time you have to run around that much, you're going to get tired," Fisher said. "I thought the defense was well-prepared for it. Sometimes it does get tough out there, but you've got to bounce back. Initially it was all fine, but when the scramble drill starts, that's when it starts getting tough. Guys get you out of leverage, and now you don't where the guy is going to go. I think that's the toughest thing to deal with."