Pac-12 Championship Preview: #8 Colorado vs #4 Washington
Pac-12 Championship Preview
On Friday night at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, history will be made. Washington and Colorado – two teams making their debut in the Pac-12 Championship – will clash to decide the conference title. It’ll be the first time since 2008 that a Pac-12 football champion will be someone other than Stanford or Oregon. Oh, and the Pac-12 North is currently 4-0 in the conference title game.
The Huskies haven’t brought home a conference championship since 1999, while the Buffs haven’t even had a winning record since joining the Pac-12 in 2011. But both programs and coaches committed to a rebuilding process and the reward for that commitment has led to a trip to Santa Clara.
Date: Friday, December 2
Game Time: 9:00 pm
Venue: Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, CA
Why Washington will win
Washington allows only 3.5 yards per carry and ranks 23rd in FBS in run defense, at 127 yards allowed per game, but those numbers are partly affected by how frequently its opponents take to the ground. Most teams abandon the run early, either because the Huskies have built a lead and forced the issue or because that approach isn’t producing the necessary big plays.
And that’s by design, as the Huskies want teams to throw the ball since that means testing out the strongest part of their defense. This has become the case even more than earlier with injuries to some notable players in Washington’s front seven.
Washington’s pass defense numbers are strong across the board. It has intercepted 16 passes, tied for 10th-most in the country, and has picked off at least one pass in 10 of 12 games. The Huskies allow a passer rating of 111.32 with only one quarterback—USC’s Sam Darnold—registering a rating over 150, and that’s the game they lost.
If the Huskies can stop Colorado RB Phillip Lindsey it will put a lot of pressure on QB Sefo Liufau. Yes, Liufau can make defenses pay through the air, but the Buffs offense flows better when they get the run game working, causing holes to open up in the secondary.
Offensively, the Huskies will be taking on the No.1 defense in the Pac-12 and converting in the red zone will be key. Can Washington score TD’s or have to settle for FG’s?
Washington has a 94.1 percent red-zone conversion rate, which ranks sixth in FBS. It’s only failed to score three times in that scenario this season—two coming in the season-opening blowout of Rutgers and the other against USC when a 38-yard field goal was blocked. Every other time has resulted in points, with 39 of 51 possessions ending with a touchdown.
Colorado is stout when its defense is backed up against the goal line, allowing just 17 TDs in 36 red-zone trips. In clinching the Pac-12 South Division last week, the Buffaloes held Utah to short field goals on three of five red-zone possessions in a five-point victory.
Why Colorado will win
The Buffaloes average 201.8 rushing yards per game, running nearly 46 times per contest when sacks are not included in the tally. That’s the most of any team in the conference and among the highest nationally for teams that aren’t option-based. Colorado isn’t particularly explosive on the ground, averaging 4.18 yards per carry, but it’s scored 28 times on run plays, and sticking to that approach has paid dividends.
Colorado’s two losses—at Michigan and USC—saw it run the ball only 33 and 29 times, respectively. It gained a mere 160 yards in those games and didn’t rush for a TD, while in its 10 wins, it had at least one rushing score in nine contests and averaged 49.5 carries.
Phillip Lindsay has run for 1,136 yards and 15 TDs this season, Colorado’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2010. The Buffaloes are 10-0 in games when he gets at least 12 carries, and he’s been particularly strong of late with all four of his 100-yard games and nine of his scores in the last six weeks.
Facing one of the toughest rushing defenses will be a challenge, but if the Buffs are going to win they need to stay committed to the running game.
Quarterback Sefo Liufau has been a huge part of the Buffs’ success – as Sefo goes in a game, so goes the Buffs’ offense. Colorado’s two losses came in games that Liufau got injured (Michigan and USC) and couldn’t play the entire game.
On the other side of the ball, the Buffs’ defense has shown that it can be just as valuable on the scoring front when the team needs it. CU leads the conference in defense, surrendering just 323.8 total yards per game. Right on the Buffs’ heels – Washington with 328.9. Colorado is also No. 1 in passing defense, allowing 187.8 yards in the air on average.
Will Washington’s tough line be able to stop Colorado’s run game? Will the Buffs be able to contain Browning? Whatever happens, it’ll be a fight to the finish between two teams who haven’t seen each other yet this season, and a new Pac-12 champion will be crowned on Friday night at Levi’s Stadium.
The Buffs miracle season continues with a hard-fought game throughout. Colorado 23 Washington 21.
Latest posts by Dan Schalk (see all)
- West Region: Murray State vs Florida State Prediction - March 22, 2019
- West Region: Florida vs Michigan Prediction - March 22, 2019
- Midwest Region: Wofford vs Kentucky Prediction - March 22, 2019