Arizona State (4-1, 2-0) at Colorado (1-4, 1-1)
Kickoff: 6:00 p.m. PST / 9:00 p.m. EST
Location: Folsom Field, Boulder, CO
Point Spread: ASU by 23
TV / Radio: ESPN / 620 AM
Weather Forecast: High 50s, partly cloudy
ASU Uniforms: Maroon/White/Maroon
Colorado Last Week: The Buffaloes, like ASU, had a bye week in advance of their match-up this Thursday. They previously took the field on September 29th, when they hosted UCLA. The Bruins jumped out to a 14-0 lead and never looked back, as they piled up 492 yards in a decisive 42-14 win.
ASU on Offense: Anything Fresno State can do, ASU can do better, right? While the Sun Devils certainly have more talent than the Bulldogs, hanging 70 points tonight on Colorado's defense will be tough...but they should at least exceed the halfway mark.
Taylor Kelly will lead ASU's 10th ranked offense against the Buffaloes' 115th ranked scoring defense. Colorado has been using several young players on their base 4-3 unit that has struggled in every facet, especially against the pass. This could be another big statistical game for Kelly, who has had three touchdown passes in each of the last two games. More importantly, he also has not committed a turnover during that span.
The Sun Devil ground game still has yet to get going this season, especially Cameron Marshall. The senior had his most active game of the season against Cal with 17 carries, but managed just 69 yards, but this could be a breakout game for Marshall and the rest of the ASU rushing attack. Colorado gives up over 165 yards per game against the run, and their front seven has been gashed often, a fact illustrated by CU's top two tacklers on the year coming from their secondary. D.J. Foster should be able to find some space along the edges against a unit that lacks the speed to keep up, while Marshall and Grice will attack between the tackles.
Despite the bad rankings, the Buffaloes are not devoid of talent up front. Chidera Uzo-Diribe is a dynamic pass rusher who can wreck havoc along the outside, while freshman tackle Josh Tupou is a 325-pound beast who can collapse a pocket and clog running lanes up the middle. The linebackers are an experienced group led by Jon Major and Derrick Webb, and will be bolstered by the return of Doug Rippy. While they are a sound group, they are not a bunch that makes many big plays.
The Sun Devil passing attack has been much improved lately and should have another big day against Colorado's 115th ranked passing defense. Rashad Ross and Kevin Ozier have been very effective over the last two games, and have helped open things up along the seams for 3-back Chris Coyle. Coyle in particular could be in for a big game, as the 6-foot-3 junior towers over 5-foot-9 strong safety Terrel Smith. Cornerback Greg Henderson is a talented cover man, but the other three corners are all freshman and could be exploited. If the Sun Devil offensive line can hold back Uzo-Diribe and Topou, Kelly should be able to pick apart the Buffalo secondary.
- ASU's Interior OL vs NT Josh Tupou: The Buffaloes are undergoing a youth movement, and one promising youngster is freshman Josh Tupou, a 6-foot-3, 325 pound tackle. He has the potential to clog up the lanes and stuff the run, and will be a load for the middle of the Sun Devil line to push off.
- LT Evan Finkenberg vs. RDE Chidera Uzo-Diribe: The Buffaloes have few defensive weapons, but Uzo-Diribe is one of them. The 6-foot-3, 255-pounder has great strength and speed, and plays from a hybrid "jack" position designed to attack off the edge. Finkenberg has been solid this season and he'll have his hands full in neutralizing the talented Colorado junior.
- ASU's Passing Game vs. Colorado's Secondary: Of all the struggles Colorado has had this year, stopping the pass is tops on the list. The Buffs rank 115th in the nation, allowing over 308 yards per game. They have a good cover corner in Greg Henderson and may get free safety Ray Polk back, but the rest of the unit is very inexperienced. ASU's wide receivers have been good over the last two games, and Chris Coyle is still playing very well. That adds up to a big night downfield for ASU.
- ASU's RBs vs. Colorado's Front Seven: It's never a good sign when a team's top two tacklers are in the secondary. Such is the case with Colorado, a clear indication that their front seven is gashed far too often. The Sun Devil running game has yet to prove to be the strength it appeared to be prior to the season, and this could be a breakout game for the group.
ASU on Defense: This could get ugly.
Only one team in the nation has allowed more sacks than Colorado. Only two teams in the nation average more sacks and just one racks up tackles-for-loss at a higher rate than ASU. Put those together and it could be long day for the Buffalo offense.
Quarterback Jordan Webb leads Colorado's 100th ranked offense, which operates a pro-style attack. Part of those struggles have been based on the play of Webb. Despite winning the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week three weeks ago, Webb is a limited player who relies heavily on his weapons to succeed. He is also prone to turnovers, and if ASU can get to him (which they should, see below), he could be in line for several mistakes.
One of the top weapons that Webb has relied upon may be out of action tonight. Running back Christian Powell, a 235-pound converted fullback, is the teams' leading rusher with 294 yards but has been battling a hip injury and his status is still unclear. If he can't go, backup Tony Jones will see a bigger role. Jones is a speedy and shifty back, and is a factor in the passing game out of the backfield. ASU has been merely average in stopping the run, and the Buffaloes will try to establish the run first and foremost. If they can gain some yards on the ground, Colorado could hang around longer than expected.
The receiving corps, like many positions, is very young. Colorado doesn't have much speed, preferring to utilize shorter routes. Redshirt freshman Nelson Spruce runs the underneath routes from his Z receiver spot and leads the team with 24 receptions. Tyler McCulloch is a 6-foot-5 sophomore who could present some downfield match-up issues. Freshman Gerald Thomas is the No. 3 receiver and has 11 catches for 115 yards.
As mentioned earlier, the offensive line has been dreadful, despite the presence of 2011 All-Pac-12 left tackle David Bakhtiari. The unit gets good news with the return of stout center Gus Handler, but the likelihood of the line being able to hold back Will Sutton, Junior Onyeali and company is slim.
- DT Will Sutton, DE Junior Onyeali and Devilbacker Carl Bradford vs. Colorado Offensive Line: As mentioned earlier, few teams give up as many sacks and tackles-for-loss than Colorado. Handler and Bakhtiari are solid players, but inexperience reigns at the other three spots, and the injury to Handler has prevented the line to gel. ASU's potent trio has overwhelmed better lines throughout the season, and there's no reason to think they won't have similar success tonight.
- ASU's Front Seven vs. Colorado's Running Game: If there is one weakness of the ASU defense, it's in stopping the run, where they rank 51st. While it's not a strength, Colorado has some decent weapons to run the ball, but may be without their top back in Powell. Jones has great speed, and if ASU continues to leaves lanes as they have on several occasions, CU could gain yards in chunks and slow down the tempo into their favor.
- SPUR Chris Young vs. RB Tony Jones: Few players in the nation have been as disruptive than Young. From his spur spot, he covers tons of ground and closes with great velocity and intensity. He'll be counted on to stop Jones, a speedy threat who will be used a lot both on the ground and in the passing game. If Powell is out, Jones should see a lot of work, and Young will be a big part in shutting him down.
Special Teams: The big story here is the change at kicker. Alex Garoutte seems to have lost his job to Jon Mora. The Sun Devils have had five years of poor kicking, and Mora will get a chance in the thin air to try to reverse the trend. Josh Hubner continues a strong season, and is among the conference's best at pinning opponent's inside their 20. Jamal Miles has yet to show his dynamic return skills this season, but he's still a threat to take it to the house on any return.
Colorado punter Darragh O'Neill has had plenty of work, and as such, is one of the Pac-12's best. Conversely, kicker Will Oliver hasn't had much work this year, going only one for two on field goals, but had a strong 2011.Cornerback Kenneth Crawley has been ineffective on punt returns, and the team is averaging under 20 yards per kickoff return, despite having so many chances.
ASU's To-Do List:
- Shut down the Colorado run game & force the game on Webb
- Continue the success penetrating opponent's backfields on defense
- Start strong, get a lead and end the game by halftime
- Play a complete, Speaking Victory-style 60 minutes
What It All Means: It may be sad to say (from Colorado's perspective), but the approach this week for ASU against Colorado should mimic that of their game against NAU. The Sun Devils have the vastly superior team in all phases of the game. As such, they must start fast, play sharp and put the game away early. The last thing ASU can do is get caught looking ahead to Oregon and committing stupid mistakes that can quickly even this game up. If they can play the brand of focused and disciplined football that we have seen, they should win this one handily and have the backups get plenty of reps in the second half.
Prediction: ASU wins 52-13