Just a few days after the departure of Gary Andersen, Oregon State hosts the Colorado Buffaloes on Saturday at 1 PM. The 3-3 Buffs are coming off a close loss to Arizona where running back Phillip Lindsay further proved he is one of the nation’s best. To learn a bit more about the Beavs’ opponent this week, we asked a few questions of Jack Barsch from Ralphie Report: SB Nation’s Colorado Buffaloes community.
1. What's the biggest difference between this team and the one that won the PAC-12 south a season ago?
That's a very good question. There are obviously plenty of differences, but the main difference seems to be leadership. Before the season, I would have answered this question with the defense, but the defense has actually played better than expected (save one nuclear level meltdown against Khalil Tate). Last year, CU won many games based off of one play or one bounce. The Stanford game, UCLA game, and Utah game in particular could have been lost if not for some luck or pure effort. Every senior put unreal effort into every play until the postseason came. This year, it seems like those bounces aren't coming. In fact, it seems like CU is swatting away chances at times. You get one stop against Arizona, you catch one of the balls in the end zone against UCLA, and this team is 5-1 and doing just fine. But the team just doesn't have the same level of intense focus, it seems. No one should have expected them to, but the level of sloppy right now is also unexpected and indicative of the lack of focus.
2. The Buffs started the year with 3 wins, but have since lost 3 straight times. Was it simply an upgrade in competition or something else?
Simply an upgrade in competition. The Buffs did not dominate in any of the non-conference games, so it should be expected that as the teams get harder, the wins get harder. I would argue that the offense has actually played better since conference play, and the defense has been OK until the Arizona game.
3. What's your biggest concern with this team right now?
Running quarterbacks? Athletes of any kind? Players with the last name Tate? All of those are options. But I would have to say that the sloppy play is definitely my biggest concern. CU has been one of the most penalized teams in the country, especially on the lines, and a lot of that is due to undisciplined play and effort. Both lines are just underperforming right now. If the Buffs can clean up the penalties and play their assignments, this team looks much better than it has. It's no coincidence that the best drive all year, for either side of the ball, was the 19 run demolition of the Arizona defense. It took 10 minutes off the clock, and required almost no pass plays, largely because the OL had very simple jobs the entire drive: Hit the guy in front of you. They seem to be able to do that well. But when their job involves any kind of movement or coordination, the penalties start flying and Steven Montez gets sacked. CU NEEDS to play so much smarter to win the games that they should.
4. What's your assessment of sophomore quarterback Steven Montez's year so far?
Well, it started off shaky, as it is wont to do with young QBs, but he has really settled in. Even though he is running for his life on about half of the passing plays, he has been accurate, explosive with his legs, and quick on his throws. He threw to the tight end last week, something that hasn't happened at CU since 2013. He pulled some magic against UCLA and was the best player on CU's side of the field. Now, that all sounds great, but what is he struggling with? He has the normal struggles of someone who hasn't started a full year. He is slow to go through all of his reads, looks long before he looks short (even on short passing plays) and almost criminally avoids dump-offs to Phillip Lindsay. His timing on the deep balls has been off, which has resulted in plenty of near misses.
5. What have been some of the highlights from Phillip Lindsay's impressive season so far?
Well, start with last week and just watch that. It was an all-time performance for a CU RB. He set a record for carries, was close on yards, and passed Rodney Stewart for the all-time leader in all-purpose. It was a mesmerizing performance. I have not seen someone so consistently get 4 or 5 yards in a long time. He put the entire team on his back, and they still let him down, and then in his press conference he teared up defending the defense. He's just unreal and I could gush about him for a long time. He will go down as one of my favorite Buffs of all time, as he should. As for the whole year, he has been used like we expect. He runs the ball well outside of the tackles and finds holes well on the inside. He is the best pass-blocking running back in the country and one of the best pass-catching backs (though he has been underutilized there), and he's an ever-present threat when he's on the field.
6. Who in particular should we watch out for on the Buffs' defense?
Another good question. Isaiah Oliver is my copy-and-paste answer, as he is a true shutdown CB and a legitimate 1st round NFL prospect (forgive me for being excited, CU hasn't had one of those in a while). But given that OSU's best receiver appears to be the tight end, watch for Drew Lewis in the middle. He is the leading tackler, pass rusher, and run stuffer on this defense, and he will most likely draw the assignment of covering Togiai. CU may be down to their 3rd string NT in Jase Franke, so watch to see how he does in the middle.
7. Final score prediction for the game?
I'm picking a CU win because it has to happen. My confidence has been shaken this season, but at some point, the Buffs will make the plays they need to win. Also, I watched the OSU-CSU game in person, and that team was not very impressive on D. I am terrified of the interim coach bump, but I think the Buffs pull out a 24-20 win.