Faced with a trap game on Saturday night in Tempe, the Arizona State Sun Devils jumped out to an early lead and never looked back in a 48-23 win against the Colorado Buffaloes. The Sun Devils now sit at 4-2 heading into next weekend's huge divisional showdown at Utah.
Here are my takeaways from the victory:
1. Kody Kohl, X Factor: It's becoming more and more apparent that tight end Kody Kohl is one of the most important players in Arizona State's offense. I don't know if anyone saw this coming back in August, but Kohl's play down the stretch will be just as important as whatever D.J. Foster, Demario Richard, and Kalen Ballage do in the race for a Pac-12 title. Not only did the junior prove his worth last night by being in the right spot at the right time for a 28-yard fumble recovery that led to the game's first touchdown, but he also had three receptions for 32 yards and a more usual touchdown later on in the contest.
Kohl now has 19 catches and four total touchdowns on the season and is quickly becoming Mike Bercovici's most reliable target in the downfield passing game. He's no longer a secret though, and it will be interesting to see how he performs next week against an elite Utah defense. If he puts together an effort similar to Saturday's, the Sun Devils have a good shot at escaping Salt Lake City with a win.
2. No traps for Todd Graham: Graham is now 6-2 in games following wins against ranked opponents since he took over in Tempe, a testament to how focused his team's stay approaching possible trap games. While the Buffaloes aren't going to be a major competitor in the South by any means, they are an improving football team that competed with Oregon last week deep into the fourth quarter. With this game landing between two big contests against UCLA and Utah, it had trap written all over it.
Graham and his players came out well prepared, however, quickly putting any thoughts of an upset to rest. The defense looked alive from the outset, only giving up one big play on a strange completion in the first quarter. Despite a lapse in ball security on their first drive of the night, the offensive unit picked up right where they left off last week in Pasadena.
3. Right on schedule: Performing well in trap games isn't the only reputation that Graham has earned in his tenure in Tempe — his teams generally begin to pick up steam and play their best football at this time every year. That seems to be happening again in 2015.
Arizona State rolled off eight straight conference victories in 2013 after an early loss at Stanford, and then won seven of its next eight games after a demoralizing loss against UCLA last season. The Sun Devils now have won two straight since an embarrassing performance against USC and seem to be finding an identity on both sides of the ball at just the right time.
The upcoming slate of games certainly isn't murderers' row, but will require that the team stay focused week in and week out in a parity-filled league. This Saturday's game against the Utes will be the ultimate test, but back-to-back games against Washington State and Washington to open the month of November all of the sudden look much tougher than they did a few weeks ago.
4. Receivers rounding into shape: It's taken six games, but quarterback Mike Bercovici has finally started to develop some chemistry with his new receiving corps. The signal caller tied a career high with five touchdowns against the Buffaloes, and he did it by spreading the wealth. Tim White had seven receptions and two touchdowns, while Devin Lucien was hit four times and found the end zone as well.
Then, as we mentioned above, Kohl had a big game with three catches and two scores. It is important to not put too much stock into 60 minutes of football, but this offense is going to be lethal down the stretch if it continues to perform like that.
5. Not the time for a blackout: The all-black look is one of the sharpest Arizona State has, but it needs to be saved for bigger games. The athletic department has done a good job on this issue in the past, saving the blackout game for Wisconsin in 2013 and UCLA last year. But the Colorado game, which was on a weekend with the majority of students out of town for fall break, didn't bring the same effect as the annual game has in year's past.