Colorado Preview: The Laviska Shenault Show Comes to Town

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Colorado won the first five games of the season against relatively weaker competition, but they come into this game on a 6-game losing streak. The losing streak started with USC, the game in which star wide receiver Laviska Shenault left with a toe injury. They then lost to Washington (as then 17-point underdogs), but most shockingly, they lost to the Oregon State Beavers as 24 point favorites. Against Oregon State, the Buffs simply plugged wide receiver KD Nixon into the "Shenault" position, and he responded with a 13 reception, 198 yard game... until he too was injured. Next, they lost to Arizona (as 3 point underdogs), had Shenault (but not Nixon) return for their 24-point loss to Washington State (as 4.5 point underdogs), and most recently, lost a slug-fest in the snow to Utah (as 7.5 point underdogs).

Colorado comes into this game as 12.5 point underdogs. This is the most Cal has been favored by all season (as we were only 7.5 point road favorites to Oregon State), and a big reason why has to be the injury quarterback Steven Montez suffered in the 4th quarter of the Utah game, as the rest of Colorado is finally starting to get healthy (WR Laviska Shenault, WR KD Nixon, future NFL S Evan Worthington, etc).

So let's take a look at that injury and the Colorado offense.


In the 4th quarter of the Utah game, QB Steven Montez was attempting to escape from a collapsing pocket and had 315 lb. DT John Penisini (not WR Solomon Enis, although both names are fun to say) roll up on Montez's ankle.

Here's the play:

Montez ankle injury

And here's a closer look:

Montez ankle injury

Montez has recently been upgraded to probable (he was previously listed as "day to day"), but I would imagine that even if Montez does play, his mobility in the pocket will be limited. Despite the fact that he is a legitimate dual-threat quarterback and a powerful runner, he's had a bad habit of running himself into pressure or sitting in the pocket too long, as the Colorado offensive line has struggled all year to protect him. As we saw with Khalil Tate at Arizona, some dual-threat quarterbacks struggle when you take away one of their favorite options (that is, calling their own number). Not that Montez likes to call his own number, but he is often able to get some positive yards on his feet when the defense isn't giving him anything.

I was reluctant to compare Montez to Tate, because I actually think Montez is a much better passer. Montez has NFL size and arm strength, and in particular, he has an excellent deep ball. Here's the game-winning touchdown from their game against Nebraska (to who else but Shenault):

Montez-Shenault Nebraska game

I mean, look at this pass, what a drop in the bucket from near midfield. Montez consistently makes great passes downfield.

On the flip side, however, I have to mention that Montez struggles with his reads (when Shenault isn't open his first read is not there), and he also has a tendency to stare down his receivers the entire way, which often tips off the defensive backs as to where he's going. In the clip above, you can see that Montez put enough velocity on the ball that the safety didn't have enough time to get over and make a play on the ball. This contrasts with someone like Jake Browning, who lofts passes so high in the air due to his weak arm that anyone can make a play on the ball.

Montez also has trouble with intermediate passes. As a result of this, a large percentage of the Colorado passing game is actually short screen passes to someone like Shenault (and we'll get to him in a minute).

Something like this, an inside screen pass to Shenault:

Montez-Shenault ASU

If you look up Colorado game highlights, the vast majority of them are Laviska Shenault, and it's little wonder why. He has exploded onto the scene this year, and there is little that Shenault can't do. He'll line up at WR outside, he'll line up in the slot (and this seems to be his best position), he'll line up at TE, he'll line up at RB, and hell, he'll even line up at QB.

Shenault has a ton of versatility at wide receiver, and hands-down his best attribute is his absurd lower body strength. I can't stress that enough: he squats with the offensive line. The reason the Buffs turn to him so often is that he can so frequently churn out extra yards even when he's completely wrapped up. Let's take a look at some of my favorite highlights of his (which weren't hard to find, because I wrote down exactly when they happened so that I could come back to them, because I was so impressed with how Shenault can run the ball).

First, here's him injuring the CSU defensive end with the unfortunate task of trying to tackle him:

Shenault vs. CSU 1

Here's my absolute favorite play, Shenault trucking the 200 lb. CSU safety:

Shenault vs. CSU 2

And here's Shenault falling forward with, I don't know, 5 USC players on him?:

Shenault vs. USC

You're going to see missed tackles on Shenault, and it's because he is very tough to bring down. Continuing with the Buffs offensive game plan of "get the ball to Shenault," let's watch as they decide to cut the middleman and just give the ball directly to him. Note that the following plays in the below videos are consecutive, I only edited out some of the downtime between snaps (split into 2 because they exceed the 15 second GIF limit).

Here's Shenault technically taking a forward pass for a run, and then a wildcat snap in their game against ASU:

Shenault ASU1

Shenault ASU2

And here it is again against UCLA:

Shenault UCLA1

Shenault UCLA2

Okay, I think you get it, Shenault is pretty good at running the ball. Do you remember in that clip from the Nebraska game above, how the corner had safety help over the top (that happened to be late getting there)? Well, let's take a look at the time when UCLA decided they didn't need safety help over the top for Laviska Shenault.

I'll give you a hint: he made 5-star CB Darnay Holmes look like Darnay Who?:

Shenault vs. UCLA 2

There's a similar play against ASU where the corner tried to play press coverage on Shenault, ASU safety Jalen Harvey was late getting over, and Shenault again took it to the endzone, but I think you get the point.

Laviska Shenault is a beast.

It's almost sad that I have to mention the rest of their receiving corps almost as an afterthought. KD Nixon is a speedy receiver, and clearly the #2 target assuming he's back to full speed. Juwann Winfree is a reliable possession receiver, particularly when Colorado is in need of a first down. Kabion Ento has seen some increased playing time and frequent targets from Montez in Shenault and Nixon's absence, but otherwise Colorado struggled with WR drops as we get further down the depth chart. Notably absent recently is (former) coach's son Jay MacIntyre, who is a pretty talented WR in his own right, but he has struggled the past few games after multiple concussions. He has shown some trick play potential as he's the WR they'll use when they run the double pass.

Their running back is Virgina Tech transfer Travon McMillian, and McMillian has struggled against some of the tougher run defenses of the Pac-12. If he is able to pick up yards on the ground, it'll be a long day for Cal, as I expect most of the defensive focus will be on Colorado's wide receiver(s).


The two anchors of this defense are inside linebackers Nate Landman and Rick Gamboa. Nate Landman will be all over the field, as he leads the team in both tackles and interceptions, and is second in sacks. Defensive tackle Mustafa Johnson is also a pretty good pass rusher, as he picked up sacks on elusive QBs such as Nebraska's Adrian Martinez and ASU's Manny Wilkins.

The strength of this defense, however, has been the secondary. I've already mentioned that we'll be seeing strong safety Evan Worthington on Sundays (although he's questionable for this Saturday, as he's still suffering concussion-like symptoms), but I've also been impressed with free safety Nick Fisher, particularly in their games against Washington and OSU. He had a rough game against Utah last week, however. Similarly, CB Trey Udoffia has also been hit or miss with his pass coverage.Their other corner, Delrick Abrams, has also shown great improvements this season, with impressive showings against ASU and Washington State.

Special Teams

Colorado has the oldest active player in the FBS in 31 year old kicker James Stefanou. Stefanou is a good kicker, but like many other Buffs recently, he too is returning from injury (he returned against Utah for just one PAT). Kick returner Ronnie Blackmon has muffed a couple punts throughout the year (as well as a few near-muffs as well).


Colorado defensive end Chris Mulumba grew up in Finland, as his parents were refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He was the national champion in judo, and even played football in Finland (Suomen Amerikkalaisen Jalkapallon Liitto, literally "Finland's American Football Association"), which I had no idea was a thing, so that's probably the coolest thing ever. He obviously speaks Finnish but I haven't been able to find any video interviews with him. Who would have guessed that players growing up in small European countries would come to the US to play football?

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