SEATTLE — University of Washington football coach Steve Sarkisian looks at the Colorado Buffaloes and sees a number of things to like.
Their two defensive ends. Their freshman linebacker, Addison Gillam, who ranks second in the Pacific-12 Conference in tackles. Their star receiver, Paul Richardson. And their freshman quarterback, Sefo Liufau, a Tacoma native who took over the starting job a few weeks ago.
“They play hard,” Sarkisian said. “I think Coach (Mike) MacIntyre has done a good job of changing the culture there and getting those kids to play hard. They have some good football players.”
They do, and that’s nice of him to say. But these are the facts:
w The Buffaloes are 3-5 with their three victories coming against non-BCS schools.
w They haven’t beaten a Pac-12 opponent since Sept. 21 of last year.
w No matter how much the Huskies’ coach wants to pump up the Buffaloes, the oddsmakers aren’t buying it. Washington is a 28-point favorite to beat Colorado in today’s 5 p.m. game at Husky Stadium.
Washington (5-3, 2-3 Pac-12) has struggled some this year, but the Huskies have a much better football team than Colorado, and so UW fans likely expect nothing less than a convincing victory.
If they do win, the Huskies will attain bowl eligibility for the fourth consecutive season. But that’s the minimum expectation now, and UW isn’t thinking bowl-picture quite yet.
Sarkisian wants the Huskies to play faster against Colorado, and they should be able to move the ball well enough to rack up some yardage. The Buffaloes rank 98th nationally in rushing defense — good news for UW running back Bishop Sankey — and 109th in total defense. And they’re last in the Pac-12 in total offense (though in the Pac-12 this season, lack of offense is somewhat relative; Colorado still gains 377.8 yards per game).
UW has totaled 600 yards or more in three games this season. And if the Huskies are as efficient and balanced as they were while beating California 41-17 two weeks ago, they could hit that number again.
Sarkisian said he thought his team was lethargic in a loss to Arizona State on Oct. 19, after the offense moved a little slower than he would have liked in a loss to Oregon the week prior.
As UW approaches “the fourth quarter” of its season, as Sarkisian has labeled it, he wants them to return to their go-go-go ways that helped them to a 4-0 start.
“I want to make sure this final month here that we’re playing really fast football, and that starts with our pace,” Sarkisian said. “That starts with our tempo and how we’re running plays, and so it’s a little bit of a unique challenge when you start losing a couple guys at key positions, but I think our guys are really excited about the opportunity.
“We’re going to go as fast as we can go but yet be efficient and execute really well and do things the right way.”
One of those key losses is junior receiver Kasen Williams, who broke his leg against California and will miss the rest of the season. After using the bye week to prepare younger receivers to fill Williams’ role, UW now plays its first game without him.
“I’m ready for it,” freshman receiver John Ross said, “but I don’t feel like it just means something for me. It means something for all the wideouts. We all have to step up as a unit because we’re all a group. We’re just one. We’re not one person. We’re a whole unit.”
And they won’t look past Colorado.
“We know they are going to come in and try to win a game,” senior quarterback Keith Price said. “It’s how Cal was. They came in ready to play. … (The Buffaloes) are going to come in, they are going to play hard and fight to the finish.”
Which is exactly what Sarkisian wants Washington to do over the next month.