Colorado (2-2, 0-2 in Pac-12) at Arizona State (3-2, 1-1 in Pac-12)
Kickoff: 7:00 P.M. MST
Location: Sun Devil Stadium
Point Spread: Arizona State (-26)
TV: Pac-12 Networks (Kevin Calabro, Yogi Roth, Jill Savage)
Radio: 620 KTAR AM (Tim Healey, Jeff Van Raaphorst, Doug Franz)
Weather Forecast: 80 degrees at kickoff
Series History: The Sun Devils have defeated Colorado in all four matchups between the two programs. Arizona State took down the Buffaloes in Boulder last season in a 51-17 drubbing. Saturday's game marks the third time the teams will meet in Tempe.
Colorado's Season to Date
The Buffaloes began the season with two straight victories to surpass their win total from 2012. New head coach Mike MacIntyre scored a 41-27 win over rival Colorado State in the season-opener before Colorado took down Central Arkansas in a 38-24 game the following week.
Colorado's win against Central Arkansas was much closer than the final score indicates, but the Bears are considered one of the top FCS teams. After running their record to 2-0, the Buffaloes dropped two consecutive games at the hands of the Oregon schools.
Oregon State defeated the Buffaloes 44-17 before Oregon demolished Colorado in a 57-16 final last weekend. Even though they scored just 16 points, the Buffaloes became the first team to score on four different possessions against the Ducks this season.
Colorado also had a game against Fresno State cancelled due to severe weather conditions which forced the Buffaloes to go three weeks without competing.
Arizona State on Offense
The Sun Devils will try to rebound after putting up 27 points of offense against Notre Dame last weekend (Osahon Irabor scored a touchdown to account for the other seven). Arizona State's offensive line surrendered six sacks and quarterback Taylor Kelly faced pressure throughout the evening.
Kelly threw for 300 yards for the fifth straight time this season and he's had no problem finding receiver Jaelen Strong who has surpassed the 100-yard mark in four consecutive games heading into the Colorado game. Kelly's Achilles' heel this season has been his propensity for interceptions, as he has already tossed six after throwing just nine last season.
The Sun Devils should have no problem finding openings in the Buffaloes' defense as Colorado is allowing an average of 38 points per game this season. Last year, Kelly torched the Buffaloes through the air by using his running backs as receiving targets and he should look to do the same this week.
D.J. Foster set a career-high with nine catches against the Fighting Irish, but look for him to be more involved in the backfield this week. Todd Graham wants offensive coordinator Mike Norvell to mix up the backfield so Marion Grice isn't the only one taking carries the rest of the way. Grice has thrived near the goal-line, but he's faced challenges finding holes on the rest of the field as the Sun Devils rank 96th in the country in rushing offense (130.0 ypg).
The key to springing the Sun Devil backs this week will be an improved effort from the offensive line. The front five have been hot and cold thus far and when the linemen play well, the Sun Devils win. Offensive line coach Chris Thomsen is hoping improved efforts from right tackle Tyler Sulka can jump-start a rushing attack that has underwhelmed so far.
Look for the Sun Devils to get back to the basics of their offense this week. Expect new variations in the running game that help the running backs get to the outside and an intermediate passing attack that takes advantage of personnel mismatches. Both Chris Coyle and De'Marieya Nelson are viable outlets for Kelly and finding them will be a top priority against Colorado.
Arizona State on Defense
After five games, it has become apparent that the Sun Devils are not the same defense that they were last season. Whether opposing offenses have figured them out or the players aren't as effective is still to be determined, but Arizona State isn't going to put up the same sacks and tackles for loss totals as it did last season.
Will Sutton is still one of the best defenders in the country and he'll face consistent double teams all year long. Carl Bradford has been the most dynamic pass rusher this year, but even he has struggled to get to the quarterback with regularity. That should change with the addition of Jaxon Hood in the lineup this week. Hood returns from a hamstring injury that forced the Sun Devils into shifting players around on the defensive line.
With Hood back, Davon Coleman will return to his role as a third-down pass rush specialist which has the potential to make the Sun Devil defense a more frightening bunch. Coleman's presence on the edge forces offenses to account for a better pass rush which translates to more opportunities for Sutton and Bradford.
At the linebacker level, Chris Young will likely stick at the SPUR backer position because of his success in preventing outside running lanes. Young began the season as the WILL backer, but was forced into taking over at SPUR when the Sun Devils realized a deficiency in their contain.
Jones, Salamo Fiso, Steffon Martin and Grandville Taylor will all factor into the rotation at some point this week. Graham is especially high on Fiso because of his youth and his downhill approach to the linebacker position.
The defensive backfield is where the Sun Devils will face the most challenges this week. Colorado is a pass-happy team and receivers Paul Richardson and Nelson Spruce are a formidable 1-2 combo on the outside and Osahon Irabor and Robert Nelson will need to be at the top of their game to prevent big plays. Notre Dame wideout T.J. Jones had a field day running 18-yard comeback routes against the Sun Devils secondary and Colorado will look to take advantage in the same way.
Alden Darby wasn't his usual All-Pac-12 self last week, but playing alongside new starter Damarious Randall at safety probably forced Darby into over-thinking and over-compensating in certain situations. With an extra week of working together, Darby and Randall shouldn't have a problem cleaning things up over the top and playing centerfield on deep balls.
If the Sun Devils can avoid misalingments that have been plaguing them throughout the season, they should be able to handle the Buffaloes offense with ease. Arizona State won't have to blitz as much this week because the Sun Devils have mismatches up front, so the back seven can focus strictly on protecting against the pass.
The Final Breakdown
It's hard to ignore the progress Colorado has made under Mike MacIntyre through just four games. The Buffaloes surpassed their win total from last season before losing a game this year and they even held an early lead before Oregon began an onslaught last week. Colorado has energy and enthusiasm on its side playing under MacIntyre while the Sun Devils are coming off of a disheartening loss on a long-hyped road trip. That being said, it's hard to imagine Colorado hanging with Arizona State for a full four quarters.
The way the Sun Devils perform this week will say a lot about the type of motivator they have leading them. Todd Graham has preached that the conference championship is this team's top goal, and now that the nonconference slate is through, we'll have a chance to evaluate the Sun Devils' chances. A slow start against an overmatched opponent simply won't cut it, so if the Sun Devils really want to contend in the Pac-12 South, we'll know from the get-go.
Taylor Kelly should march this offense up and down the field and Mike Norvell should try to stay out of the way as much as possible. Norvell is a bright offensive mind and he knows the weapons he has at his disposal are more than enough to take care of the Buffaloes. If Norvell allows Kelly to play within the system and dial up intermediate plays instead of taking deep shots, the Sun Devil offense will get back on track. Trying to do too much this week could hurt Arizona State, and Norvell knows this is the week to establish the Sun Devils' plan of attack for the rest of the year.
Defensively, the Sun Devils won't do anything special. The emphasis is on slowing Paul Richardson, and Arizona State already proved it could stop a one-trick pony when it kept Marqise Lee at bay earlier this year. A four-man pass rush involving Sutton and Bradford is more than enough to pressure Colorado. As long as the linebackers don't bite in the play-action game, Arizona State's defense should rebound with a solid effort this week.
Prediction: Arizona State 55, Colorado 13