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ASU Football: Colorado Film Breakdown

Let’s take a look at the Buffaloes.

NCAA Football: Colorado at Southern California Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona State Sun Devils will participate in their biggest game of the season thus far when they face the Colorado Buffaloes on Saturday.

The stakes are high—both teams enter a part of a three-way tie atop the Pac-12 South. Arizona State head coach Todd Graham was sure to tip his cap to his opposing coach, Mike MacIntyre, by recalling previous encounters.

“We’ve been fortunate enough to win but it’s been a challenge,” Graham said of the Sun Devils’ past tilts with the Buffaloes. “He’s done a lot to get those guys going. I think he’s a guy that gets his team to play at a high level.”

That effort and ability to draw the best out of his players has put MacIntyre’s current unit in position to potentially represent the Pac-12 South division in the conference title game. But what has he done to get them this far? Let’s take a look.

Schematics Summary

Head Coach: Mike MacIntyre

Offense: Pro-Style, Spread

Key Players: Devin Ross (No. 2, WR), Shay Fields (No. 1, WR), Phillip Lindsay (No. 23, RB), Sefo Liufau (No. 13, QB), Steven Montez (No. 12, QB), Bryce Bobo (No. 4, WR)

Defense: Base 3-4

Key Players: Tedric Thompson (No. 9, S), Chidobe Awuzie (No. 4, CB)

Overall Breakdown

Colorado Offense

Consider this: the Buffaloes are the only offense to score three touchdowns in a single game against No. 4 Michigan’s defense in 2016. All three scores came through the air, including play-action passes of 37 and 70 yards.

The unit’s consistency has been key to the team’s success to this point.

The Buffaloes offense thrives through its passing attack, but the rushing game—headed by Phillip Lindsay—is of equal importance in creating opportunity to work through the air. As a result, Colorado offers a more balanced approach than other pass-heavy teams in the conference.

This is especially true when Steven Montez is under center. Despite being 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, he’s a better athlete than listed starter Sefo Liufau, enabling the incorporation of zone-read option to be utilized a bit more.

As of last weekend, Liufau was deemed not fully healthy by MacIntyre despite declaring himself so. We’ll see whether or not that remains the case ahead of this weekend’s game.

Where ASU needs to be careful

Graham noted the Buffaloes’ speed at wideout on Monday. “They have three receivers that are legitimate playmakers,” he said. Those three players are juniors Devin Ross, Shay Fields, and Bryce Bobo.

The 5-foot-9, 180-pound Ross is lined up just about everywhere—on the outside, in the slot, and out of the backfield—and poses a threat to score any time he touches the football. Fields (5-foot-11, 180 pounds) is used as more of a flanker who will line up in different receiver alignments, while Bobo (6-foot-2, 190 pounds) represents the lone true outside target. The personnel groupings the Buffaloes use almost always include some combination of the three, with four-wide doubles pairings and out of 11-personnel packages featuring one flankered opposite of two.

Keeping the three from stretching the field vertically is the key, particularly over the deep middle of the field.

Highlights: Colorado football dominates rival Rams with offensive barrage
Highlights: Colorado football can't sustain early momentum at No. 4 Michigan
Highlights: Colorado football can't sustain early momentum at No. 4 Michigan
Highlights: Colorado 41, Oregon 38

The Sun Devils secondary may not be facing a pass-heavy Air Raid attack or a receiving corp with the talent of USC or the quarterback play of UCLA, but this week’s opposition will beg the question of whether or not the group is capable of stopping the pass.

Where ASU has the advantage

Graham and defensive coordinator Keith Patterson have said before how appreciative they are of the schedule which pits the Sun Devils defense against similar schemes in succession early on in the season. It’s true once again this week, as the Buffaloes operate out of an offensive scheme that implements a more pro-style, spread approach—similar to both USC and UCLA.

Offensively, the personnel and play-calling of the Buffaloes resembles that of the Bruins more so than it does the Trojans: smaller receivers on the outside, a decent offensive line, and a quarterback who can sling the ball around and attack the perimeter. The only added element is Montez’s ability to run with the ball himself (should he start).

Colorado Defense

The unit has obviously improved from its play from that of past seasons. The hiring of defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt ahead of the 2015 campaign was completed with the intention of being more complex defensively, and the Buffaloes do in fact incorporate a nice variation of looks on that side of the ball.

Where ASU needs to be careful

Although former Buffalo defensive back Ken Crawley has moved on, Chidobe Awuzie is certainly holding things down on the outside with safety Tedric Thompson patrolling the middle of the field.

If Manny Wilkins is unable to go this week, Dillon Sterling-Cole would be assuming the starting job, and facing a veteran unit like Colorado’s could prove costly.

Where ASU has the advantage

Colorado’s defense has whiffed on some tackles this year.

Highlights: Colorado football can't sustain early momentum at No. 4 Michigan
Football: USC 21, Colorado 17 - Highlights 10/8/16
Football: USC 21, Colorado 17 - Highlights 10/8/16

With playmakers on the outside like Tim White, N’Keal Harry and Jalen Harvey, it won’t matter who’s throwing the ball so long as they can get the ball out and into their hands to challenge defenders to make plays in space.

In fact, the uncertainty of who will be lining up under certainty can also serve as an advantage for the Sun Devils.

Sterling-Cole has only thrown one pass. Should he make the start on Saturday, there’s no real scouting report to be had on the freshman other than the fact he has a big arm and isn’t quite as mobile as those ahead of him on the depth chart.

Games Viewed: Colorado vs. Colorado State (2016, Highlights), Colorado @ Michigan (2016, Full), Colorado @ Oregon (2016, Highlights), Colorado @ USC (2016, Highlights)