Pac-12 Championship: Washington Steamrolls Colorado with Dominant Second Half

Dec 2, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Washington Huskies tight end Darrell Daniels (15) celebrates with wide receiver Aaron Fuller (12) and offensive lineman Jake Eldrenkamp (52) after scoring on a 15 yard touchdown reception against the Colorado Buffaloes during the Pac-12 championship at Levi
Dec 2, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Washington Huskies tight end Darrell Daniels (15) celebrates with wide receiver Aaron Fuller (12) and offensive lineman Jake Eldrenkamp (52) after scoring on a 15 yard touchdown reception against the Colorado Buffaloes during the Pac-12 championship at Levi /

In the Pac-12 Championship, the Washington Huskies took complete control in the second half and gave the Colorado Buffaloes no chance at a comeback.

Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California played host to the culmination of the Pac-12 season on Friday night, the Pac-12 Championship game. To call the season weird and unexpected would be something of an understatement.

The Colorado Buffaloes were picked to finish last in the Pac-12 South. They had won 10 games in the past three seasons combined, and had 10 straight losing seasons. This year was completely different. In the fourth season under coach Mike MacIntyre, the Buffaloes matched that three-year win total by coming out in top 10 times, their first double-digit win season since 2001. They entered the Championship game ranked eighth, their first top-10 ranking since 2002. They represented the Pac-12 South in the Championship for the first time since joining the conference back in 2011.

On the other side, the Washington Huskies lived up to big pre-season expectations. They opened the season ranked 14th, and jumped into the top-10 for the first time since 2002 after an opening week win. They finished the regular season 11-1, their first 10-plus win season since 2000. Since the implementation of the Pac-12 Championship Game in 2011, this is the first time a team not named the Stanford Cardinal or Oregon Ducks represented the Pac-12 North.

No matter which team won, they would be the first conference champion other than Stanford or Oregon since 2008. The USC Trojans won the Pac-12 crown that year.

But this game saw the top-two defenses in the conference square off. Washington entered the day as the stingiest scoring defense, allowing just 17.8 points per game. Colorado was second at 18.8 points. The Buffaloes owned the stingiest defense in terms of yardage, giving up 323.8 yards per game. The Huskies were right behind them at 328.9 yards. Colorado owned the best pass defense, allowing 187.8 yards through the air. Washington had the best run defense, giving up just 127 rush yards per game.

After taking the opening kickoff, Washington stayed away from the pass completely. All 50 offensive yards were picked up on the ground, including a big 26-yard gainer from Lavon Coleman. The junior followed with a one-yard run to put the Huskies on the board first.

Colorado looked to answer, and a 25-yard run by senior quarterback Sefo Liufau had them in Husky territory. A sack from senior linebacker Psalm Wooching stopped that momentum, and left Luifau on the ground in pain. Freshman Steven Montez took over, but the offense turned the ball over on downs.

Colorado’s defense returned the favor, forcing a turnover on downs, and went back to work offensively went Montez back under center. The frosh led his team down the field quickly, showing great athleticism as he moved in and out of the pocket and hit receivers downfield. Junior running back Phillip Lindsay finished the drive, powering his way into the endzone to tie it up just before the end of the first quarter.

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After a pair of punts, Washington got back to the ground game. Coleman and Myles Gaskin toted the rock and ate up chunks of yardage, and Browning was able to take advantage. He completed just one of his first six passes on the night, but hit tight end Darrell Daniels for a 15-yard score to put the Huskies back in front.

The defenses stepped up, each holding their opponent scoreless on two drives before the end of the half. Despite a terrible first half from Browning (4/12, 38 yards), the Huskies went into the break with the 14-7 lead. They were powered by the running game, with Gaskin gaining 78 yards and Coleman picking up 68.

Luifau was back on the field to begin the second half, but things didn’t go quite the way he planned on his first throw. He sailed a pass over receiver Jay MacIntyre‘s head, which he tipped right into the hands of Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year, Taylor Rapp. After getting a few blocks, Rapp ran it back 35 yards for the pick-six.

Four plays later, Rapp jumped in front of a route to pick Laifau off again. Washington turned that into a field goal, extending their lead to 24-7.

Colorado could do nothing offensively. They were forced to watch as the time on the clock got smaller, and the deficit on the scoreboard got bigger.

As they looked at a 24-point hole, their special teams came to give them a spark. Anthony Julmisse took a kick return 46 yards, but fumbled. The ball took a fortuitous bounce to Lindsay, who ran it another 46 yards to give the Buffs a first-and-goal from the two. Instead of taking advantage of the opportunity, Colorado could only move backwards. They were forced to settle for a 24-yard field goal.

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The wheels continued to fall off for the Buffs. Luifau’s final pass of the third quarter was his third interception, this one landing in the hands of Ezekiel Turner. The ensuing Washington field goal made it 34-10. A touchdown run by Chico McClaster was the final nail in Colorado’s coffin. Washington ran away with it in the second half, winning 41-10.

Browning went through the worst game of his career, completing 37.5 percent of his passes for 118 yards, both the lowest totals in his two years as starter. Still, the sophomore threw a pair of touchdowns to bring his season total to 42, one behind the conference record of 43, set by Jared Goff of Cal last season.

The run game powered Washington’s offense the entire way. Gaskin ran for 159 yards, the fifth time in two seasons he’s gone over 150 on the ground. Coleman also crossed the century mark, finishing with 101 yards for his third 100-plus-yard game this season.

The defense was as stout as advertised. They held Colorado to 163 yards and nine first downs, while allowing 3.2 yards per pass and 2.8 yards per run. Laifau completed just three passes against the Huskies, and matched his season total entering the game with three interceptions. Rapp, with two interceptions and a touchdown, was given MVP.

Washington is Pac-12 Champion by themselves for the first time since 1991, which is also the last time they won 12 games in a season. They were “co-national champions” that year along with the Miami Hurricanes. The Huskies also shared the Pac-12 crown in a three-way tie in 2000.

Next: Rabb's Big Game Leads Cal to OT Win

For the Huskies, the next logical step is the College Football Playoff. Assuming nothing changes in the rankings between now and the selection on December 4th (let’s face it, something probably will change), the Huskies would join Alabama, Ohio State, and Clemson in the tournament. Being the fourth-ranked team, Washington would take on top-ranked Alabama in round one.