Washington State aims to be less ‘sorry’ vs. Colorado

The Sports Xchange

October 17, 2017 at 8:38 pm.

Oct 13, 2017; Berkeley, CA, USA; Washington State Cougars quarterback Luke Falk (4) passes the football against the California Golden Bears during the first half at Memorial Stadium. Photo Credit: Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 13, 2017; Berkeley, CA, USA; Washington State Cougars quarterback Luke Falk (4) passes the football against the California Golden Bears during the first half at Memorial Stadium. Photo Credit: Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

Colorado is coming off its first Pac-12 victory while No. 15 Washington State is trying to bounce back after suffering its first overall loss, a humbling 37-3 setback at California last week.

The teams play Saturday in Pullman, Wash., with the Cougars (6-1, 3-1 Pac-12) hoping to get back on track toward a league title and a big bowl game.

“We played sorry and got what we deserved,” coach Mike Leach said of the loss to the Golden Bears. “The team is pretty determined to improve, pretty determined to focus in.”

The loss to Cal included five interceptions from senior quarterback Luke Falk, who was sacked nine times. senior analyst Dane Brugler noted: “When in a rhythm, Falk is one of the best touch passers I’ve ever scouted. But when defenses crowd his first read and put pressure on the pocket, he often wilts and makes mistakes. That was the case against the Bears as he was stubborn with his reads and forced throws instead of reading the coverage, coming off his preferred target and finding the open man.”

Falk and the Air Raid offense, which ranks third nationally with 380.9 passing yards per game, will face a less-demanding challenge defensively against Colorado (4-3, 1-3).

Last week, Colorado allowed 33 points to Oregon State, which had only reached 30 points once before this season. The Beavers gained 569 yards in total offense.

“We’re going to have to be all over him,” Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre said of Falk. “He’s going to make some plays. Hopefully, we can slow him down enough and cause enough turnovers to make a difference.

“That’s really how you stop them — you cause a few turnovers and make them kick some field goals.”

Colorado’s defense ranks fifth in the conference against the pass and the run.

“They’re pretty good. They fly around. They’re aggressive,” Leach said.

“They’re big, strong, aggressive guys that bat around everything they see. We have to stay away from them. We have to knock them down, run around them or throw over the top of them.”

How Colorado defends against Falk is one aspect to watch; another is how Washington State will try to contain Buffaloes running back Phillip Lindsay.

The senior has carried 69 times for 466 yards and five touchdowns in his last two games, against Arizona and Oregon State. He has been a focal point of long, time-consuming drives for the Buffaloes.

Lindsay had a 74-yard burst for a touchdown against the Beavers, but a majority of his carries have been consistent, short runs that have kept the chains moving.

“It helps the defense stay off the field and try to stay fresh,” MacIntyre said after Monday’s practice. “We’re not playing a ton of guys on defense and we’ve had some injuries, especially on the D-line.”

The Buffaloes are one of only two programs in the country with four scoring drives of at least 15 plays. That kind of ball control will be essential against Washington State to keep Falk and the Cougars’ potent passing game off the field.

“That’s ball control and that’s being efficient on offense,” Colorado co-offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini said. “The last couple of games we’ve been a lot more efficient. We’ve wasted a couple of drives here and there, but I think we had four drives in the second half against Oregon State and we scored on three of them.

“We had two in the fourth quarter and scored on both of them. That’s being efficient and playing to your strengths.”

Washington State will combat Colorado’s will to run behind Lindsay — mixing in play-action passes from quarterback Steve Montez — with an aggressive front seven.

The Cougars rank fourth in the Pac-12, allowing only 125.9 yards a game on the ground.

Defensive lineman Hercules Mata’afa has been selected to multiple midseason All-America teams. He leads the conference with 12 tackles for loss. He had two of those — occurring on sacks –against the Golden Bears.

He leads active Pac-12 players with 36.5 career tackles for loss and 18.5 career sacks.

Teammates Dale Hunter and Frankie Luvu are among the conference’s leaders in tackles for loss — Hunter with seven and Luvu with 6.5.

Despite Washington State’s productive defense, Cal outgained the Cougars in total yards 365-337. Cal sophomore quarterback Ross Bowers threw for 259 yards while completing 21 of 38 passes with one touchdown and no interceptions.

“Washington State is excellent on offense,” MacIntyre said.

“They had an anomaly last week. On defense, they’re stemming and moving everywhere. They played good defense last year, too. They’re a very good football team and I think they’re better than they were last year (when the Cougars won nine games).”