Eds. We will have another recap with quotes coming soon from players and coaches later tonight. Hopefully with an update on Taylor Kelly's status.
11 p.m. update (9/13): Todd Graham tells Arizona Sports 98.7 FM that Taylor Kelly "will be absolutely fine."
11:10 p.m. update (9/13): Todd Graham in post game press conference: "All I know is he's out for tonight. We'll evaluate tomorrow."
In a game that mirrored last week's victory over New Mexico, Arizona State let Colorado stay in the game through the first half before pulling away early in the third quarter for a 38-24 win. The win puts the No. 16 Sun Devils at 3-0 (1-0) headed into their bye week before welcoming No. 12 UCLA to town on September 25th.
However, it wasn't the win over Colorado or the upcoming matchup with UCLA that was the focus after the game. At the beginning of the fourth quarter it was made known that starting quarterback Taylor Kelly had been taken to the locker room with a right foot injury sustained on a scramble. Kelly later returned to the sideline on crutches, wearing a boot.
"Obviously I'm pretty concerned. Very tough for us tonight but that's part of it, you've got to be able to respond," Graham said. "We've got a lot of confidence in Bercovici as well. He prepares just like he's playing every week."
Before exiting the game, Kelly had little trouble scoring on a solid Colorado defense. After the Sun Devils forced a punt on Colorado's first drive, Kelly led Arizona State on an eight-play, 69 yard drive that culminated in a D.J. Foster 15-yard touchdown scamper.
Colorado's Phillip Lindsay returned the ensuing kickoff to the Colorado 46-yard line, but Buffaloes' quarterback Sefo Liufau threw away the strong field position, as Jordan Simone intercepted him on Liufau's first throw of the night. Getting the ball at the 50-yard line after a Colorado pass interference penalty, Kelly and the Sun Devils made quick work of the Buffaloes defense. Kalen Ballage scored for the fourth time in three games, taking a short screen pass from Kelly and rumbling 38 yards for the score as Arizona State led 14-0 after the first quarter.
Zane Gonzalez added a 31-yard field goal early in the second quarter to stretch the lead to 17-0, but Colorado rallied. Liufau led the Buffs on a ten-play, 77-yard drive that included a fourth-down conversion, ending in a four-yard pass from Liufau to Shay Fields for the score.
After forcing a Sun Devil punt, Liufau led Colorado on another 77-yard drive, ending it with a 15-yard scoring strike to Nelson Spruce that cut Arizona State's lead to 17-14. Colorado forced another Sun Devil punt, but Arizona State's defense robbed the Buffaloes of a chance to tie the game as Simone forced a fumble that D.J. Calhoun recovered. With the ball at the Colorado 9-yard line, Arizona State went to their workhorse back Foster, running the ball to him twice before finding him on a bootleg pass from Kelly.
With a 24-14 lead at halftime and the ball to start out the second half, Arizona State had a chance to put the game out of reach early in the third. A 45-yard pass from Kelly to Jaelen Strong got Arizona State to the Colorado goal line, and Kelly found Strong on a quick bubble screen to take a 31-14 lead. Colorado answered with a field goal, but Kelly came right back to extend their lead again, bursting through the line on a read-option play and sprinting 50 yards for a touchdown.
After the Sun Devil defense staged a goal-line stand, stopping Colorado on a 4th-and-1 from the 3-yard line to take over possession, the game seemed to be in hand for the Sun Devils. Kelly took a third-down and scrambled for a few yards that set up a Matt Haack punt, but he took a harsh fall on the four-yard run and was taken to the locker room as the third quarter ended with a 38-17 Sun Devil lead. Laiu Moeakiola also left the game with what appeared to be a shoulder injury.
"Obviously those guys are very important to us, two team captains that you lose," Graham said. "We've got a week and a half so we've got a chance to get both those guys back. We'll see how it goes."
The two teams traded punts to open up the fourth quarter, and Haack pinned the Buffaloes at their own 1-yard-line with 10-53 left in regulation. Liufau engineered a 7-play drive, ending with a 31-yard Spruce touchdown that pulled the Buffaloes within two scores at 38-24. Backup quarterback Mike Bercovici came into the game to replace Kelly, and he struggled in his first two drives.
Two Sun Devil punts after Bercovici came into the game allowed Colorado a fighter's chance, possessing the ball down two scores. Liufau led the Buffs into Sun Devil territory but Arizona State ended Colorado's hopes as Christian Sam picked off Liufau at the Arizona State 40-yard line. The Sun Devils worked the ground game to close out the clock and ice their first conference victory of the year.
"They don't ever get that game back, but yeah, that's about the last thing you want to have happen," Graham said of the injuries. "There are a lot worse things that could probably happen but that's not good. When that happens to me, my heart goes out to the kids, those two kids are incredible."
Foster led all players in rushing, with 148 yards on the ground to go with 59 yards through the air, scoring both a rushing and receiving touchdown. Kelly left the game with 195 yards through the air and three touchdowns to go with his 70 yards rushing.