Key matchups for Saturday’s game between the CU Buffs and No. 15 Washington State Cougars

Andy Cross / The Denver Post
Washington State running back James Williams, center, is one of three backs the Buffs will have to contain on Saturday.

CU cornerback Isaiah Oliver vs. WSU receiver Isaiah Johnson-Mack

Wazzu suspended top receiver Tavares Martin, Jr., leaving Johnson-Mack is the top option at receiver. That means Oliver will often be charged with covering him. Going against a passing offense that ranks third in the country, it’ll be essential for Oliver to contain Johnson-Mack. Oliver has been up to the task all year, allowing catches on just 40 percent of the passes thrown his way.

CU linebackers vs. WSU running backs

The Cougars’ trio of backs — Jamal Morrow, James Williams and Gerard Wicks — are not only good runners, but exceptional receivers. CU’s backers, especially Drew Lewis and Rick Gamboa, have to be on their game and not allow the Wazzu backs to have big games.

CU defensive line vs. WSU offensive line

During the past two games, the Buffs have been torched up front, allowing 690 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground. The Buffs also haven’t had a sack in either of the last two games. Slowing the run and generating a pass rush are crucial in this game.

CU offensive line vs. WSU defensive line

It’s been an up and down year for the Buffs up front, but they’ve done a nice job with run blocking of late. Washington State has a very active and aggressive defensive line, led by Hercules Mata’afa, named a mid-season All-American by the Associated Press this week. For the Buffs to succeed on offense, they’ll need to open holes for Phillip Lindsay and keep the Cougars away from quarterback Steven Montez.

CU quarterback Steven Montez vs. WSU’s secondary

Going against a pass defense that ranks No. 7 nationally, this will be one of Montez’s toughest tests of the season. The last time he went against a top-notch pass defense, he threw three interceptions — including a pick-six — against Washington. That was also the only one of his 10 career starts that he didn’t throw at least one touchdown pass. He will have to avoid the interceptions and find the end zone this week.

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