Arizona State knows all about the dangers of playing against a team like the Colorado Buffaloes. Under first-year head coach Mike MacIntyre, the Buffaloes are playing inspired football and appear poised to make serious improvements in the program. Sound familiar?
Todd Graham has changed the culture of a few programs around the country and he has the utmost respect for the way MacIntyre is operating in Colorado. The Sun Devils were in a much more stable position when Graham took over last season, but that doesn't mean the Buffaloes should be overlooked.
Colorado plays to win and the Buffaloes won't back down. Paul Richardson, a wide receiver, tossed a 75-yard touchdown pass against Oregon on Saturday and the Buffaloes even tried an onside kick early against the Ducks. The results of the gambles gave the Buffs a lead, but Oregon recovered quickly en route to a 57-16 victory.
The point in telling the story of the Buffaloes' risky ventures is that Mike MacIntyre plans to put his team in a position to win every week. The Buffaloes are no longer looking to make it through the season without getting embarrassed, they're looking to do the embarrassing. Arizona State better come to play, because Colorado will have plenty of tricks up its sleeve on Saturday.
The First Look
Season to Date
The Buffaloes opened the season with a true test against in-state rival Colorado State. The Rams may be just 2-3 this season, but they're victory against Colorado last season marked the biggest win of the year for the program and Colorado had to right the ship. Mike MacIntyre earned the respect of the fans, his fellow coaches, and most importantly his players by leading the Buffaloes to a 41-27 victory.
The following week, Colorado hosted Central Arkansas, a prominent FCS team considered one of the best bets to upset an FBS squad. Though it came down to the wire, Colorado escaped with a 38-24 victory and improved to 2-0 just a season after finishing at 1-11.
After floods postponed (and ultimately cancelled) a duel against Fresno State, the Buffaloes began conference play with a trip to Corvallis to take on the Oregon State Beavers. Since losing their first game, the Beavers offense has looked unstoppable and it went for 44 points in a 44-11 win against Colorado.
Last weekend, the Buffaloes took on the Oregon Ducks at home and kept the fans engaged for the better part of the first quarter. While wildly overmatched, gutsy play calling helped the Buffaloes jump out to a 10-8 lead. Oregon romped to a 57-16 victory, but Colorado became the first team to score on four separate possessions against the Ducks.
Nationally, Colorado ranks 110th in rushing yards per game and 114th in scoring defense, yet there are some facets of the game where the Buffs have made definitive improvements. Colorado is 26th in passing yards per game and wide receiver Paul Richardson is among the best receivers in the country with 621 yards through just four games.
Head Coach: Mike MacIntyre
Career Record: (18-23)
At San Jose State: (16-21)
At Colorado (2-2)
Colorado on Offense
Quarterback Connor Wood leads an improved Buffaloes attack and has already surpassed the 1,000-yard mark in his four games as the signal-caller this season. Wood has thrown eight touchdowns and six interceptions while completing 54 percent of his passes. The Buffaloes are willing to air it out more this season with a solid wide receiving corps and Wood has done his best with the limited amount of time he's had to throw the football.
Colorado has a great 1-2 punch at wide receiver. All the hype and talk surrounds Paul Richardson who is averaging a ridiculous 20.0 yards per reception, but fellow wide out Nelson Spruce deserves some love as well. Spruce has 16 catches and 206 yards and three of his catches have gone for more than 20 yards. Tyler McCullough has provided a valuable third option in the passing game with nine catches but tight end Scott Fernandez has yet to get going this year.
The Buffaloes' running game is their biggest concern offensively as neither of their top two running backs are averaging above 3.5 yards per carry thus far. Christian Powell has taken the lion's share of the carries with 51 and he has just 170 yards to show for it. Backup running back Tony Jones has had similar struggles as his 32 rushes have amounted to just 120 yards.
It's not that the Buffs running backs don't have talent, it's that they don't have great running lanes. One of the hardest groups for a new head coach to overhaul is an offensive line and the Buffaloes have had their greatest difficulties up front. Four of the five offensive line starters are upperclassmen, but they were recruited to play for some of the worst Colorado teams in program history.
Right tackle Stephane Nembot has an impressive 6-foot-7 frame and is just a sophomore and the Buffaloes will count on him to lead the offensive line into the future. Right guard Daniel Munyer is the best offensive linemen the Buffaloes have, so when they need yards, they'll likely run behind the 290-pound junior.
Colorado on Defense
The Buffaloes were the nation's worst defense last year and surrendered a mind-boggling 46 points per game. Colorado was plagued by inexperience and injuries and this year, the Buffaloes have shown a fair amount of seasoning even though they are still allowing 38 points per game.
Inside linebacker Addison Gilliam is the Buffaloes' top defensive standout with 53 tackles through four games and a team-high two sacks. Gilliam is a freshman who wanted to play for Mike MacIntyre and the Buffalo coaching staff is thrilled with his progress and leadership so far.
Fellow inside backer Derrick Webb is a fifth-year senior tasked with showing Gilliam the ropes, and he's actually turned into Gilliam's best sidekick. Webb is an effective run-stopper and already has 23 solo tackles to his credit this season.
The Buffaloes' are also much better at the defensive end spot this season where Chidera Uzo-Diribe and Juda Parker hold down the fort. Uzo-Diribe was one of the few defensive menaces last season for the Buffaloes and he leads the team with six tackles for loss. Uzo-Diribe is also a ball hawk and has forced four fumbles so far. Parker isn't as stout of a run defender, but he's notched a serviceable 12 tackles and one sack.
In the secondary, the Buffaloes start just one senior but he's a good one. Parker Orms is third on the team in tackles with 30 and a leader in calling out coverages from his strong safety spot. Orms starts alongside free safety Jered Bell who has 20 tackles and a pair of pass breakups.
The Buffaloes are a bit susceptible at cornerback, but that could be a result of the team's failure to rush the quarterback. Sophomore corner Kenneth Crawley was a highly touted recruit who's been thrown at a lot this season and he's responded with a two pass breakups. On the opposite side of the field, corner Greg Henderson leads the Buffaloes with three pass breakups and he's also been efficient in stopping the run. Henderson has seven third down stops this year which is the sign of an aggressive tackler in the secondary.
Overall, the Buffaloes will still struggle to contain Arizona State's weapons. Putting up 51 points as they did last year against Colorado might be a stretch for the Sun Devils because of the improvements the Buffaloes have made. Offensive coordinator Mike Norvell will definitely have to put on his thinking cap this week to come up with ways to beat the Buffs.