Everything you need to know for the Pac-12 title game
The 2016 version of the Pac-12 Championship game features one team we expected to be there and one we didn’t. Washington was our pre-season pick to win the Pac-12 — they’re an elite team that has played like it all season.
We expected the Buffaloes to be a much-improved team with a core of seasoned players, led by senior quarterback Sefo Liufao, but we did not expect them to win the South division. Congratulations to the Buffaloes who have been a great story in college football all year, but now they face an elite opponent in their biggest game of the season.
Here is what to expect when each team has the ball in the 2016 Pac-12 championship game:
When Washington has the ball
Quarterback Jake Browning has played at a consistently high level all season long. Jake Browning’s PFF QB rating of 105.86 ranks No. 2 among all Power-5 quarterbacks and his 50.7 accuracy percentage on deep throws (targeted 20 or more yards downfield) ranks No. 8 among all Power-5 quarterbacks.
The speedy wide receiver trio of John Ross, Chico McClatcher and Dante Pettis can all turn any pass into a long touchdown quickly but have excelled at hauling in Browning’s deep throws as well. Dante Pettis has caught seven touchdowns on deep passes and John Ross has caught six touchdowns on deep throws. Jake Browning’s QB rating when throwing at John Ross is 147.9 and it’s 142.1 when he throws to Dante Pettis, those ratings rank No. 3 and No. 4 in the Power-5 respectively.
Colorado’s defensive players are going to need tackle well to ensure no short passes turn into long passes. Colorado’s secondary is one of the best in the country and is filled with versatile playmakers. Chidobe Awuzie, Ahkello Witherspoon, Isiah Oliver and Tedric Thompson have all taken turns this season breaking up key passes and coming up with clutch interceptions. Jake Browning has gotten away with under throwing some deep passes in recent weeks but the Colorado secondary will make him pay if it happens in this game. Isiah Oliver only allows one reception per every 16.6 coverage snaps which ranks No. 28 among Power-5 cornerbacks while teammates Ahkello Witherspoon and Chidobe Awuzie rank No. 32 and No. 39 respectively in coverage snap to reception ratio. With an opposing secondary as talented as Colorado’s the Huskies will likely turn to their ground game to find advantageous match-ups.
Washington running backs Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman have both had big games for the Huskies’ offense this year. Myles Gaskin has been a very elusive running back for his two-year career and this year he has forced 38 missed tackles as a runner which ranks No. 19 among Power-5 running backs. Lavon Coleman’s elusive rating of 101.8 ranks No. 16 among Power-5 running backs and 55.6 percent of Coleman’s yards come on runs of 15 or more yards. The Huskies’ ground attack could be the difference in this game.
When Colorado has the ball
Quarterback Sefo Liufau and halfback Philip Lindsay’s ground production will be a big key for the Buffaloes’ offensive success. Lindsay is a tone-setter for Colorado and plays a fearless style of ball despite usually being the smallest guy on the field. Philip Lindsay has forced 44 missed tackles as a runner this season and 15 as a receiver. Philip Lindsay is a talented pass-catcher who has never dropped a pass in his entire college career and his 1.68 yards per route run ranks No.10 among Power-5 running backs.
Unfortunately for Colorado the Washington Huskies are built to stop the run and if they succeed then Sefo Liufau will have to try and find his trio of receivers Bryce Bobo, Devin Ross and Shay Fields to make plays. Watch for the head coach’s son Jay McIntyre to move the chains with key third-down catches and then get up and emphatically signal his own first down. However, in addition to the run-stoppers up front the Huskies also feature the best secondary that the Buffaloes have seen this year with Sidney Jones and Budda Baker being two of the best at their positions in the Pac-12. Sidney Jones only allows one reception per every 17.5 coverage snaps which is good enough to rank No. 21 among Power-5 cornerbacks.
The lack of a Washington pass-rush — due to the loss of top pass-rusher Joe Mathis to injury — has been an issue for the Huskies and could be one of the key deciding factors in the game.
Colorado QB Sefo Liufau has quietly had a solid season. Sefo Liufau’s accuracy percentage of 75.6 ranks No. 7 among all Power-5 quarterbacks and Liufau’s deep passing accuracy percentage of 53.7 ranks No. 5 among all Power-5 quarterbacks.
Matchup to watch
Sefo Liufau on designed runs against Vita Vea, Elijah Qualls and Greg Gaines
In previous big games for the Buffaloes they have relied on the running ability of Sefo Liufau to make key plays especially in the low red zone. They don’t simply rely on the threat of Liufau pulling the ball on a read-option but rather call designed power runs for the massive quarterback to run over opposing defenses. As a runner Sefo Liufau is averaging over four yards per carry in any gap he runs through, has 324 yards after contact and has forced 12 missed tackles. Washington has three, 300-pound NFL-cailber defensive tackles which is a luxury that most programs outside of Alabama rarely have. With regards to run stop percentage Vita Vea ranks No. 8, Elijah Qualls ranks No. 28 and Greg Gaines No. 32 among all Power-5 defensive tackles. If Washington’s three-headed run-stopping monster can shut down the designed runs for Liufau that should be the deciding factor in a Washington Huskies Pac-12 championship victory.
Prediction: Washington 31, Colorado 24