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Leadership to be tested as CU Buffs try to end skid

Colorado riding two-game losing streak heading to Washington State

Photo courtesy CU Athletics
Led by quarterback Steven Montez, right, the Colorado Buffaloes go into this week trying to stop a two-game losing streak.

After snagging his postgame meal outside the locker room at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore., on Friday night, Colorado safety Mikial Onu vowed to be better.

“We’ve got to learn from this experience,” he said after the Buffaloes’ 45-3 loss to then-No. 13 Oregon. “We’ve got a young team – a good football team, but a young team – and a lot of guys that haven’t been in this kind of situation before. Me as a veteran, I take this upon myself. I want to be better leader, focus more on my leadership.”

Despite spending the first three years of his college career playing for SMU and not arriving in Boulder until late this summer, Onu has already established himself as one of the top players on the CU defense, and his experience and leadership has been valuable.

During his time at SMU, Onu went through losses like this before, but this is his final go-round in college football and the last thing he wants is to see this season unravel for the Buffs (3-3, 1-2 Pac-12), who have lost two in a row. CU will try to stop the bleeding on Saturday when it visits Washington State (3-3, 0-3), which has lost three in a row for the first time since 2014.

“We’ve got to come back better this week and we’ll respond,” Onu said. “We’ll see what our team is made of this week. I know me, personally, come Monday I’m working harder than I’ve ever worked in my life, man, because I can’t let this stuff happen again. I know all the guys are on the same kind of mentality. We’ll come back ready.”

A two-game losing streak, including a humbling defeat such as the one in Eugene, tests the leadership and character of a team. Onu was one of several players outside the locker room on Saturday to talk about the need for leaders to get the Buffs going again.

“Oh, definitely,” linebacker Nate Landman said. “The coaches do a great job and I just think, myself included, we need to get a little more player leadership and then have that come within, the change come within. We’re a great football team and I’m excited to get back to work and prepare for next week.”

Strong leadership isn’t the only requirement for CU to get back on track, however. Onu said the Buffs have to play much better than they did against the Ducks.

“It’s still Xs and Os, but I do think we need better leadership,” Onu said. “I think it’s a little bit of both. We got beat today really bad and leadership will only take you so far.”

The wheels came off for CU in a hurry against Ducks. With 1 minute, 45 seconds remaining in the first half, CU was one yard away from pulling within 17-10. Just 6 minutes of game time later, Oregon turned three CU interceptions into touchdowns and led 38-3.

“It’s the game of football,” junior receiver Laviska Shenault said. “Things happen. Sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it doesn’t.”

The task in front of CU is to make sure that loss doesn’t carry over into this next week.

“We for sure are going to have a little sit down and we’re going to have to talk as a team and get some things straight so we can play our best as possible,” Shenault said.

Quarterback Steven Montez said it’s important for the Buffs to treat this like any other game. Win or lose, the Buffs try to implement a 24-hour rule, meaning they’ve got 24 hours to dwell on the game before looking ahead to the next one.

“I think once we get into film study on Monday, I think we’ll be all right,” Montez said. “A lot of guys are already kind of putting it past them right now, which is good. After we watch that film, break it down, that’s over. We’re not thinking about Oregon anymore.”

Washington State, meanwhile, is reeling, as well, coming into the game with a three-game losing streak. After two disastrous losses to UCLA and Utah, however, head coach Mike Leach came away from Saturday’s 38-34 loss to No. 18 Arizona State feeling encouraged.

“I thought we played extremely hard,” he said. “I thought it was definitely a step forward, no question.”

CU opponent glance

Opponent: Washington State Cougars

Game time: Saturday, 5 p.m. MT at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash.

TV: ESPNU

Coach: Mike Leach, 8th year (52-43; 136-86 career)

Record: 3-3, 0-3 Pac-12

Last week: Lost at Arizona State, 38-34

Notable: The Cougars have not started 0-4 in Pac-12 play since an 0-8 start in 2012, which was Leach’s first year in Pullman. … WSU opened 2012 conference play with a 35-34 home loss to Colorado – the Buffs’ last win in Pullman. CU outscored the Cougars 21-3 in the final 7:06 for what turned out to be the Buffs’ only win of the season. … WSU was ranked No. 19 nationally before its current three-game slide, which began with a 67-63 home loss to UCLA. The Cougars held a 49-17 lead in that game. … In their last 140 minutes of game time, the Cougars have allowed 126 points. … Senior quarterback Anthony Gordon threw for 466 yards and three touchdowns in Saturday’s loss to ASU. A first-year starter, Gordon has thrown for at least 420 yards in five of the Cougars’ six games. He leads the country in passing yards (2,612) and is second in TD passes (25). … The Cougars have thrown the ball on 76.1 percent of their offensive snaps, their highest percentage in five years.