BOULDER — Travon McMillian had Folsom Field rocking on the Colorado Buffaloes’ second drive Saturday, when the senior — following the defense’s fourth-down stop of Washington State in the red zone — gave the home team a 7-0 lead with two straight runs totaling 67 yards and a touchdown.
But there was little reason for hype on the Buffaloes’ sideline from there. CU sputtered on offense, wasting the few chances it did have, and the team’s containment of the Cougars’ air raid proved moot as Washington State won 31-7 to send the Buffs to their fifth straight defeat in a game which epitomized the opposite trajectories of the two teams.
Colorado started Saturday just as it did its season — with an edge and a 5-0 mark for the first time since 1998 — but the battle against Washington State went south, just as 2018 has, for what was once the Pac-12’s last remaining undefeated team.
Following McMillian’s touchdown, Colorado (5-5, 2-5 Pac-12) punted four straight times to end the half as the Cougars (9-1, 6-1) paired a Blake Mazza 39-yard field goal with a Max Borghi 28-yard touchdown reception to take a 10-7 lead into halftime.
All the while, the Colorado secondary did its part to keep the Cougars’ well-mustachioed quarterback, graduate transfer Gardner Minshew, from settling in. Previously at East Carolina University, WSU coach Mike Leach convinced Minshew to flip his commitment from Alabama after graduating from ECU with the sales pitch of leading the nation in passing.
Minshew has done just that with 3,517 yards through the air coming into Saturday, but CU’s secondary held tall amid the Cougars’ various downfield strikes, with some of those misses coming due to a lack of accuracy on Minshew’s part. Minshew had connected on 70.7 percent of his passes coming into the game, but was only 17-for-33 (51.5 percent) for 157 yards through the first two quarters.
And even as the Cougars’ passing success picked up in the third, progress remained non-existent for CU. Star wideout Lavis Shenault Jr., back in the lineup from injury for the first time in four games, provided some spark by finishing with 10 catches for 102 yards. But quarterback Steven Montez struggled to find a rhythm while lacking two other top targets in sophomore K.D. Nixon (toe) and senior Jay MacIntyre (concussion).
The energy in the stadium — and the Buffs’ chances at upsetting the Cougars — were later put to rest for good when Colorado, down 17-7 late in the third, elected to punt on 4th and 11 from the Washington State 36 yard line.
Washington State put together a seven play, 88-yard drive the next possession to make it 24-7 before a Shenault fumble a few minutes later — the lone turnover for either side — ended another CU push. James Williams added a late rushing touchdown to extend the score to 31-7.
The Buffs, still needing one more win to become bowl eligible, host Utah at home next week and then close the regular season at Cal.
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