On Colorado’s seventh defensive play on Saturday at Oregon State, linebacker Derek McCartney sprinted untouched and took quarterback Darell Garretson down from the blindside.
Just a sliver of a second before McCartney arrived, however, Garretson released the ball and completed a 6-yard pass for a first down. Three plays later, the Beavers scored their first touchdown of the day in CU’s 36-33 victory.
“I don’t know how the guy got the ball off,” head coach Mike MacIntyre said Tuesday. “If we were that much closer, it’s a sack, fumble and picking it up and running it in. It changes the whole game. Those are the things you’re talking about. You’re just so close, but you’ve got to make them.”
CU (4-3, 1-3 Pac-12) has had plenty of those close calls of late, but the Buffs aren’t quite making the plays with their pass rush. As they prepare to visit No. 15 Washington State (6-1, 3-1) on Saturday, the Buffs are putting an emphasis their pass rush.
Washington State is led by sensational Luke Falk, one of the best quarterbacks in the country. As good as Falk has been, however, the Cougars are prone to giving up sacks. In fact, they’ve given up a nation-worst 32 sacks this season, including nine in a stunning 37-3 loss to California last week.
Cal’s pressure not only generated nine sacks, but helped to force Falk into a career-worst five interceptions.
CU, meanwhile, has recorded just two sacks in four Pac-12 games. One of those sacks was for no gain not recognized by the NCAA, and the other one went for a 1-yard loss.
McCartney, who has two sacks this season — both in nonconference play — said the Buffs have to find a way to get to Falk this week.
“It’s going to be the difference in the game, to me,” he said. “I think that’s what’s going to define whether we have a chance or not in that game. Whenever you can get to the quarterback and get in his head and get to him and affect the throws, that’s when you have a chance to win games.”
To do that, the Buffs needs several players, including McCartney, freshman Jacob Callier and others to step up their game.
“We just have to be more physical,” McCartney said. “We have to be relentless to the quarterback and keep executing the calls the best we can.”
That will be tough against Falk, who has become a master at running Washington State’s offense. MacIntyre compared Falk a bit to New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, in terms of how he manages the game, reads blitzes and releases the ball just in time to make a play.
“It’s important to create some hurries on him, there’s no doubt,” MacIntyre said. “It’s important to be able to hit him a little bit, too. He’s able to get rid of it when he wants to. We definitely need to be able to get to him a little bit.”
Nobody has had more close calls than inside linebacker Drew Lewis, who has yet to record a sack, but leads the team with six QB pressures. One of those led to an interception by Evan Worthington last week, but Lewis said he’d love to get that first sack.
“I’ll get in the pocket and be able to put pressure him but I can’t finish sometimes, so I want to change that stat,” he said. “Definitely something I’ve been thinking about.”