Saturday night showdown with Washington marks a first for Montez

Scott Hood, Staff Writer
CU Sports Nation

USA Today Sports

Going into Colorado’s fourth game of the 2017 season, sophomore quarterback Steven Montez ranks seventh in the Pac-12 in passing yards per game (286.0) and passing efficiency (153.3 rating).

Of course, the El Paso, Tex. native is tied for first with six other Pac-12 quarterbacks in the most important category of all – victories.

However, Saturday night’s showdown with Washington (8 p.m. MT, FS1) in the Pac-12 Conference opener at Folsom Field marks a first for Montez, 5-1 as a starter in his brief tenure with the Buffaloes.

In addition to being the biggest stage of his career, the matchup with the Huskies is the first time Montez has faced a nationally ranked opponent as Colorado’s starting QB. Oregon and USC fell out of the national polls before they faced the Buffs last season, and none of the first three opponents this season were ranked either.

Based on how he has performed in the first three weeks, Mike MacIntyre sounded confident Montez is ready for the challenge of facing the Washington defense, which ranks second in the Pac-12 in four major defensive categories - total defense (261.7 ypg), scoring defense (12.3 ppg), rushing defense (93.7 ypg) and passing defense (168.0), albeit against a lightweight schedule consisting of Rutgers, Montana and Fresno State.

Through three games, Montez has completed 68.3 percent of his passes (69-101) for six touchdowns and three interceptions. Saturday, he threw four touchdown passes to four different receivers. On one of those throws, Montez slid to the right along the line of scrimmage, motioned to wide receiver Shay Field to get deeper downfield and fired a laser beam for a TD.

Montez’s duel with Washington QB Jake Browning, the Pac-12 leader in passing efficiency, is definitely one of the best storylines for Saturday night’s showdown in Boulder.

“He sat in the pocket very well,” MacIntyre said of Montez after Saturday’s win over the Bears . “When he had to get out of the pocket, he had a sixth sense to stay behind the line of scrimmage. His pass to Shay (Fields) was a big-time play. He ran the ball well too. He played much better. I thought Steven took a step forward (Saturday). We were throwing the catching the ball. Steven made some better reads, even on the run.”

Colorado won’t be nationally ranked going into Saturday night’s rematch of last December’s Pac-12 Championship game, but the Buffs are banging on the door of the Top 25. They are No. 27 (second team in ‘Others Receiving Votes’ category) in the latest weekly AP poll and No. 28 in the Coaches poll.

Beat Washington - ranked No. 7 in AP and No. 6 in the Coaches poll - in front of a national television audience and the Buffs will surely be ranked next week.

For that to happen, Montez must stay healthy. He was seen grabbing his hip after taking a hard hit, but shrugged his shoulders after the game when asked about the severity of the injury.

“I’m fine, I was able to finish the game,” Montez said. “It’s football. Grown men are running into each other and hitting each other real hard. Bumps and bruises are going to happen.”

Besides throwing for 357 yards, Montez carried 10 times for 68 yards against Northern Colorado. Too often, he demonstrated a willingness to take on would-be tacklers. Concerned, MacIntyre has told him to slide more often.

“I know the coaches don’t like me finishing runs the way I did (Saturday) a little bit,” Montez said. “They lean towards more of me sliding. But it’s football. Dudes are talking a whole bunch of trash out there and things are getting a little hot. So, I get a little fired up and amped up. I like to hit people too and be physical. The run game makes us a little more dynamic when the quarterback is a running threat. It helps because then those (defensive) ends can’t just peel off and tee off on you.”

Running the football and gaining four or five yards consistently on the ground is going to be vitally important. Workhorse back Philip Lindsay amassed 151 rushing yards and 1 touchdown on 26 carries against Northern Colorado, and heads into the highly-anticipated Washington matchup as the Pac-12’s third leading rusher with an average of 126.0 yards per game (378 yards on 71 carries).

His number of carries are second most in the Pac-12 behind Oregon’s Royce Freeman (84). They are the only two ball carriers in the conference with 60 or more rushing attempts.

After Saturday’s win Montez offered a shout out to the Buffs offensive line.

“Our offensive line just took the game over and we were just riding them,” Montez said. “I was just handing it off to Phillip and we were getting big chunks of yardage. Those big boys up front were working real hard. They played a very good game.”

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