Stagnant offense cripples CU in loss to No. 8 Wazzu

The Buffaloes line up against Washington State (Kelsey Mullins/CU Independent)

Well, it wasn’t exactly the blowout that many anticipated it would be, but either way, the Colorado Buffaloes’ season continued its treacherous slide Saturday afternoon as the Buffs were beaten by the No. 8 Washington State Cougars (Wazzu) by a score of 31-7.

For the fifth consecutive game, the Buffs opened the scoring in the contest. And for the fifth consecutive game, the Buffs lost. Colorado could only muster seven points in the opening minutes and subsequently failed to put any more points on the board for the rest of what was an otherwise uneventful game.

“I thought our guys came out and played extremely hard,” said head coach Mike MacIntyre. “I thought that we did some pretty good things defensively against [Washington State], but we just couldn’t really get anything going offensively like we would like.”

Even the added boost of the Buffs’ best offensive player, sophomore wideout Laviska Shenault Jr., who caught 10 passes for 102 yards in his first game back after a four-game absence due to a toe injury, wasn’t enough to help the lowly Colorado football team.

“It’s in the past now,” said Shenault Jr. of the game. “I am ready to work. I am ready to see this team work. We need to come out with a win next week.”

The Buffs’ seven points scored is the lowest all season and the lowest total since last time CU paid a visit to Washington State, where the Buffs were shutout 28-0 on Oct. 21, 2017. The 297 total yards of offense was the third lowest for the Buffs this season.

This game really came down to a stark difference in the two teams’ abilities to convert on third down. Washington State was 11-of-20 on third downs, while Colorado only completed just 2-of-11 conversions.

“We have to stay on the field and convert on third downs,” said Montez. “I think we are struggling in the third down area. We had opportunities in this game to keep those drives going but we have to do a better job executing.”

With the Buffs going 2-of-11 on third downs, they posted their fewest conversions and their lowest conversion percentage (18.2 percent) all season long.

On the defensive side of the ball, Colorado played a decent game as they have all season long. Colorado contained Cougars running back James Williams to just 60 yards. On the negative side of things, Wazzu’s offensive line came as advertised. In other words, they were very, very good.

“They had a good offensive line,” said junior linebacker Davion Taylor. “We were trying our best to get back there. We made a few mistakes when it came to us rushing…they had a great offensive line, and we just made a few mistakes. That’s the reason why we didn’t record a sack.”

For the first time all season, the Buffs failed to sack an opposing quarterback.

On multiple occasions throughout the game, it felt as if Washington State’s Gardner Minshew had a lifetime and some change to stand in the pocket and wait for his receivers to get open. In the rare event that the grad-student QB was unable to find a receiver, he was able to use his feet to pick up yards, most notably on a 10-yard touchdown jaunt on the first play of the fourth quarter to put the Cougars up 24-7, effectively putting the final nail in Colorado’s coffin.

But the story of this game won’t be how the Buffs allowed 335 yards and three total touchdowns to Wazzu’s Minshew, the nation’s leading passer. No, the story here is the total ineptitude and continuing crippling struggles of the Buffs’ offense.

“It’s been very difficult,” said senior receiver Kabion Ento. “The defense played well today, but the offense has to be able to put drives together. We’ve just got to trust each other and never give up on each other.”

Colorado’s offense possessed the ball for a mere 18:14, and, conversely, the Cougars owned the ball for 41:46, over two-thirds of the game. It’s tough to put up points if the offense can’t move the ball.

After breaking away for a 64-yard touchdown to open the game, fifth-year tailback Travon McMillian only managed nine more yards throughout the rest of the contest. Junior quarterback Steven Montez wasn’t great either, completing just 20-of-35 passes for 199 yards. His 57.1 percent completion rate was his second worst this season.

“I think it’s just on us executing,” added Montez. “I think we have to do a better job executing. I think we had chances and plays that we could have made some things happen, but it didn’t go our way. We just have to keep working and keep getting better.”

The offense can’t continue this abysmal performance if it expects to win another game this season. After averaging 37.8 points-per-game during the team’s 5-0 start to the season, the Buffs offense has regressed to the tune of a 21.6 points-per-game average during this current five-game skid.

With just two games left in the season, and with the Buffs needing at least one more win if they hope to extend their season and end it in a bowl game high note, the clock is ticking and patience is running thin.

Next weekend, Colorado takes on Utah in the penultimate game of the season and what will be the final game at Folsom Field in this 2018 campaign. The Utes own a 7-3 record, good enough for first place in the Pac-12 South, and will be one of the final opportunities for the Buffs to earn a bowl game and for the fading self-proclaimed “Folsom Fast” offense to prove their worth.

“It has been tough,” said sophomore safety Derrion Rakestraw. “We obviously didn’t expect to come out here and lose five in a row. Every week we are focused on turning it around.”

Colorado’s seniors take the field one last time at Folsom this Saturday against Utah. Let’s hope — at least for those few seniors — that the season ends on a high note.

“It gets harder, but we all love each other. The whole team loves each other. We all know what we can do. We know the corrections we need to do to fix our mistakes. We are going to come back next weekend and be ready.” said Rakestraw.

Contact CU Independent Sports Staff Writer Scott MacDonald at scma0899@colorado.edu and follow him on Twitter @ScottTopics

Scott MacDonald

SCOTT MACDONALD IS THE ASSISTANT SPORTS EDITOR FOR THE CU INDEPENDENT. ORIGINALLY HAILING FROM MELBOURNE, FLORIDA, AT THE AGE OF FIVE, SCOTT AND HIS FAMILY MOVED TO COLORADO (BEFORE IT WAS COOL). IT WAS HERE IN COLORADO THAT SCOTT GREW INTO HIS OBSESSION FOR SPORTS, AND HE'S NOW EXCITED TO BE ABLE TO SCRIBE THAT PASSION THROUGH THE MEDIUM OF THE CUI. SCOTT IS MAJORING IN COMMUNICATION WITH A MINOR IN BUSINESS. FOLLOW HIM ON TWITTER @SCOTTTOPICS.

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