By Brent Stecker
Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau may be a freshman, but he won't be unfamiliar to the surroundings of Husky Stadium when his Buffaloes play Washington Saturday evening.
That's because Liufau is a product of Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma and was recruited by Huskies head coach Steve Sarkisian. But instead of staying close to home, Liufau headed to Boulder, and now will look to lead Colorado (3-5 overall, 0-5 Pac-12) to its first conference win of 2013.
Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau, a true freshman from Tacoma, has increased his passing yardage in each of the four games he's started this season. (AP)
"We're obviously very aware of their young quarterback – we recruited Sefo coming out of here out of Bellarmine Prep," Sarkisian said Monday. "He comes from a really good program here in-state and we know he'll be ready to play, for sure. He's been coming to games here at Husky Stadium for a long time, so he'll be fired up."
The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Liufau has progressively improved his passing yardage since taking over the Colorado offense four games ago. He threw for 169 yards in his college debut on Oct. 12 against Arizona State, and last Saturday had 247 yards and a touchdown on 25-for-36 passing against UCLA.
"He's improving weekly, so it should be a great ballgame here," Sarkisian said. "(Liufau has) really good command for a true freshman kid out there. It's not easy, especially in some of the games that they've been behind in since he's been in. But he doesn't panic, he competes, he plays hard and I've been very impressed."
He's also shown an ability to pick up yardage on the ground, registering 33 yards on eight carries against Arizona on Oct. 26.
"He's an athletic kid, for sure. Sefo is an athletic kid, highly competitive," Sarkisian said.
Colorado boasts the 54th-best passing offense in the nation (249.1 passing yards per game), and though Liufau has held his own, the biggest reason is star junior wide receiver Paul Richardson, who ranks seventh in the FBS with 984 receiving yards on 57 receptions.
"Obviously the wide receiver, Paul Richardson, is one of the premier guys in our conference, if not the country," Sarksian said.
The good news for Washington (5-3, 2-3) is that the Buffaloes' defense doesn't rank as highly as their offense. They've struggled throughout the season, yielding 38.1 points per game, which is 117th in the nation. It looks like a good matchup for the Huskies, who rank in the Top 25 in both rushing and passing. And as the first of their final four games of the regular season, this contest could set Washington up for a strong finish to Pac-12 play.
"We've got four football games ahead of us that we think are very winnable if we do it the right way, if we prepare the right way, and it starts this week with Colorado, a team in my opinion that's getting better," Sarkisian said.
Coming off their second and final bye week, the Huskies were able to take extra time to examine what parts of their gameplan have and have not been working.
Leading the positives, Sarkisian said wide receiver John Ross (13.8 yards per catch) deserves more attention in the offense, especially with Kasen Williams out for the season with a leg injury.
"I think that we have to find a way to continue to get John Ross the football. You just look at sheer numbers – when he has the ball in his hands, he creates big plays," Sarkisian said.
In addition to Ross, fellow freshman receiver Damore'ea Stringfellow will see an increased role in Williams' absence. Sarkisian also said more catches for tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins would only help the team's two leading receivers, Jaydon Mickens and Kevin Smith.
On defense, Sarkisian identified younger players as vital in the Huskies' improving pass rush.
"I think the reality of it defensively is continuing to incorporate some of our young pass rushers – JoJo Mathis, Marcus Farria," he said. "I think incorporating Kevin King, when he's on the field he does good things for us. That side of it has been great."
Sarkisian also mentioned that a few tweaks should help the kick-return game break through.
As for what hasn't been working, Sarkisian wants to see the run defense and tackling shore up.
"I think defensively some of our stuff in the run game hasn't been exactly where we want to be," he said. "I thought we'd be a little bit better at just sheerly stopping the run with some of the guys we have. It's been good in some games, it's been OK in others. And then the tackling thing defensively – we've had some games here this season where we haven't tackled great. It's a point of emphasis for us, and it'll continue to be."
• Sophomore starting LG Dexter Charles (shoulder) returned to practice Monday, Sarkisian said. Charles missed the past two games, including the 53-24 loss to Arizona State where the Huskies allowed seven sacks and were held to minus-5 yards rushing.