Colorado, Washington St. racing to escape nosedive

Back in September, a primetime matchup between Colorado and Washington State would have been off the charts.

The Buffaloes, under first-year coach Deion Sanders, won their first three games of the season and were ranked 18th in the Top 25.

The Cougars opened with four straight victories and reached No. 13.

Those good times are long gone and Friday night in Pullman, Wash., the Buffaloes and Cougars meet to see who can escape the Pacific-12 Conference cellar.

Colorado (4-6 overall, 1-6 Pac-12) has lost four games in a row and six of seven, the lone victory in that span a 27-24 decision against Arizona State.

Washington State (4-6, 1-6) has dropped six in a row.

Both teams came close to snapping out of their downturns last week but couldn’t eject the continued nosedive.

The Buffaloes took a seven-point lead into the fourth quarter at home before losing 34-31 to Arizona.

“We’re so close is what I told the team, but yet so far,” Sanders said. “We just simply, truly don’t know how to win yet and it’s not for lack of effort, not for lack of coaching with the staff and the support staff. … Everybody around is doing a phenomenal job. We just can’t get over that hump.”

Quarterback Shedeur Sanders, the coach’s son, was 22 of 35 for 262 yards and two touchdowns and also ran for a score.

Despite being banged up often while being sacked 48 times this season, the younger Sanders has thrown for 3,144 yards and 26 touchdowns, just shy of Sefo Liufau’s school records of 3,200 yards and 28 TDs set in 2014.

But he seems more focused on helping the Buffaloes win their final two regular-season games to become bowl eligible.

“You can’t go in a dark tunnel when you’re having a season like this because nothing will ever be perfect in life,” said Sanders, who was 23-3 as the starting QB at Jackson State before transferring to Colorado. “So you’ve got to take the good, you’ve got to take the bad. So that’s what I take from all this … is just keep being consistent, keep playing the game, keep doing my job, keep doing everything we could do to be able to have success.”

The Cougars nearly rallied from an 18-point deficit in the fourth quarter against host California on Saturday, but kicker Dean Janikowski missed a 48-yard field-goal attempt with 50 seconds remaining in a 42-39 defeat.

“Saturday was just another snapshot into our season and the past six games,” Cougars coach Jake Dickert said. “We haven’t won the ball battle, the turnover margin. When you don’t do that, it’s hard to win games in this league. … It’s a conglomerate of things. Unfortunately, finding different ways to lose is very frustrating. We’re still working on getting that corrected.”

WSU quarterback Cameron Ward threw for 358 yards and three touchdowns but lost three fumbles – two of which were returned for scores.

“I feel like I’ve grown in ball security, especially these two years once I first got here to Washington State,” Ward said, “but it showed up again (Saturday) that it’s something that I gotta continuously work on. Any time you put your team in a situation like I did, it’s hard to fight out of, and we did. We did end up doing that. But we didn’t execute enough plays as a whole to win this game.”