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Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
Colorado safeties Mikial Onu and Aaron Maddox will be challenged by Washington State on Saturday.

Buffaloes scouting report

Head coach: Mel Tucker, 1st season (3-3)

Record: 3-3, 1-2 Pac-12

Last week: Lost at Oregon, 45-3

Cliff Grassmick/Staff photographer
Colorado’s Steven Montez had thrown 10 touchdowns this season. (Photo by Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

Key players on offense

  • RB Alex Fontenot, So., 6-0, 195: 103 att., 463 yards, 4 TD
  • QB Steven Montez, Sr., 6-5, 230: 137-of-210, 1,594 yards, 10 TD, 6 INT
  • WR Laviska Shenault, Jr., 6-2, 220: 21 catches, 296 yards, 2 TD; rush: 9 att., 66 yards, 1 TD

Key players on defense

  • ILB Nate Landman, Jr., 6-3, 230: 76 tackles, 3 TFL, 6 third-down stops
  • DE Terrance Lang, So., 6-7, 280: 18 tackles, 3 sacks, 5 QB pressures
  • S Mikial Onu, Sr., 5-11, 205: 37 tackles, 4 INT, 2 forced fumbles

CU offense: The Buffs were bottled up by the great Oregon defense last week, but they’ve been solid most of the year. Prior to last week, the Buffs were averaging 34.6 points per game. In this game, CU – and quarterback Steven Montez, in particular – have to bounce back and get back to what worked before they went to Oregon. Montez threw a career-high four interceptions last week, but had just two in the first five games. If Montez has time to operate, he’s got enough weapons to lead an efficient performance by the offense.

CU defense: Big plays and inconsistency continue to hurt CU on defense. The Buffs have given up 92 plays of 10 yards or more and 10 plays of 40 yards or more. “Sometimes, we’ll get out of leverage or we’ll be out of alignment,” CU safety Aaron Maddox said. “We’ll be one yard out of our alignment and that can open up the gate easily for an explosive play.” Being sound on defense will be critical this week against a WSU offense that ranks second nationally with 127 plays of 10 yards or more (only 5th-ranked Oklahoma has more). CU has been good against the run at times, but has also given up the most rushing TDs (13) in the conference.

CU special teams: One of the better kicking units in the Pac-12, the Buffs are solid with James Stefanou at kicker and Alex Kinney at punter. Stefanou is 10-for-11 on field goals, but did have his first miss of the season in the fourth quarter at Oregon, hitting a 33-yard attempt off the upright. Kinney is fourth in the Pac-12 in punting average (45.5).

CU keys to beating Washington State

Forget last week: The loss to Oregon was ugly, but it was the first time all year that CU wasn’t competitive. They have to put that game in the rearview mirror and come back ready to fight like they had the first five weeks.

Eyes on Borghi: Cougars’ sophomore running back Max Borghi could be the most dangerous weapon for the Buffs’ defense. His 7.0 yards per rushing attempt ranks second in the Pac-12 and he’s 12th in the conference at 4.5 catches per game. The Cougars will find ways to get him the ball.

Stop the run: Yeah, WSU throws the ball 76 percent of the time and ranks 127th nationally in rushing, at 86.0 yards per game. The Cougars have burned the Buffs on the ground, though. In three of the last four years, WSU’s best rushing total has come against CU. This year, the Cougars’ 5.2 yards per rush is fourth in the Pac-12.

Play smart: In the last two weeks – both losses – the Buffs have penalized 22 times for 199 yards. On the season, the Buffs have had 10 offensive gains, totaling 102 yards and six first downs, wiped out because of flags. CU can’t afford undisciplined play.

Buffs notables

  • Receiver Laviska Shenault is 25 yards away from reaching 1,500 receiving yards for his career, while KD Nixon needs 45 yards to reach 1,000 yards.
  • The Buffs have had 34 different players start this year – 19 on defense, 15 on offense. Only five teams in the country have had more starters.
  • CU has not had a touchdown pass in the last four meetings with Washington State. The last TD pass by the Buffs against Washington State was a 70-yarder from Jordan Webb to Nick Kasa on Sept. 22, 2012.
  • Steven Montez is slated to make his 31st consecutive start, which would tie the school record for longest starting streak by a quarterback. Gale Weidner started 31 in a row from 1959-61.
  • CU has allowed 30-plus points in 11 consecutive games, dating back to last season.

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Cougars scouting report

Head coach: Mike Leach, 8th season (52-43; 136-86 career)

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

Last week: Lost at Arizona State, 38-34

Key players on offense

  • RB Max Borghi, So., 5-10, 197: 58 att., 407 yards, 5 TD; receiving: 27 catches, 271 yards, 2 TD
  • QB Anthony Gordon, Sr., 6-3, 210: 211-of-296, 2,612 yards, 25 TD, 6 INT
  • WR Easop Winston, Sr., 6-0, 192: 42 catches, 496 yards, 9 TD

Key players on defense

  • DT Will Rodgers, Jr., 6-5, 255: 14 tackles, 3 sacks
  • CB Marcus Strong, Sr., 5-10, 185: 32 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack
  • LB Jahad Woods, Jr., 6-1, 228: 58 tackles, 4 TFL, 1 sack, 3 PBU
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Washington State Max Borghi, left, has scored seven touchdowns this season.

Washington State offense: Buffs head coach Mel Tucker described it pretty well when he said, “They’re just throwing the ball all over the lot.” Anthony Gordon, a first-year starter, leads the country with 2,612 passing yards – 920 more than any other Pac-12 QB. He’s topped 400 yards passing five this year; every other QB in the conference, combined, has done it twice. Seven different receivers have at least 21 catches and nine have caught at least one TD. Gordon gets the ball out quick, which makes it difficult to put pressure on him, and the Cougars are very good when they decide to run the ball. Tailback Max Borghi is one of the most versatile backs in the conference.

Washington State defense: Like the Buffs, the Cougars have struggled on this side of the ball. It’s been so bad that defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys resigned two weeks ago. The Cougars have allowed at least 150 rushing yards in five consecutive games and at least 334 passing yards in the last three. Where they have been solid is on third downs and in the red zone. In the Pac-12, they rank sixth in third-down defense (41.3 percent conversation rate) and fifth in the red zone (78.3 percent rate).

Washington State special teams: It’s been a great year for sophomore Blake Mazza, who is perfect so far (9-for-9 field goals, 33-for-33 extra points). Junior punter Oscar Draguicevich III has been solid, averaging 44.0 yards per kick.

Washington State keys to beating CU

Feed off the home crowd: Riding a three-game losing streak, the Cougars need some positive energy and they are sure to get it from the Martin Stadium crowd. WSU usually plays very well at home, thanks in part to its fan strong fan base.

Exploit the Buffs’ secondary inexperience: CU has struggled all year in the secondary because of injuries, youth and inexperience. Every QB the Buffs have faced has enjoyed some success through the air, as CU has given up at least two passing TDs in every game. Anthony Gordon has been one of the country’s most efficient QBs this season and figures to have a big day.

Pressure on the quarterback: CU hasn’t given up many sacks this year, but in Steven Montez’s two worst games of the year – against Air Force and at Oregon – he spent much of the games under pressure. Make Montez uncomfortable and the Cougars and slow down the Buffs.

Generate turnovers: It’s a key for a lot of teams in a lot of games, but especially for the Cougars. Since the start of 2015, they are 27-5 when forcing two or more turnovers. This year, they are 3-0 when forcing two or more turnovers. They have forced one turnover in their last three games combined (all losses), and none in the last two.

Cougars notables

  • Since 2015, Washington State’s 40 overall wins ranks third among Pac-12 teams (Washington 44, Stanford 43), and their 26 conference wins ranks third (Stanford 29, Washington 28).
  • WSU will be featured on HBO’s 24/7 College Football on Wednesday night. The hour-long show will highlight the Cougars’ preparation for this game against the Buffs.
  • Since the start of 2017, Washington State is 15-2 at Martin Stadium, but 2-2 in its last four home games.
  • According to Pro Football Focus College, defensive end Nnamdi Oguayo has the Pac-12’s best pass rush efficiency for ends, with 15 hurries, 4 QB hits and one sack.
  • The Cougars have not started 0-4 in conference play since an 0-8 start in 2012.