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ASU Football: Takeaways from loss at Colorado

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It was the worst case scenario.

Arizona State v Colorado Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Phillip Lindsay had more space down the field during the game than Ralphie the Buffalo did before it.

Coming off of their their fourth-straight home victory of the season, the Arizona State Sun Devils fell to the Colorado Buffaloes 40-16 in Boulder Saturday night.

Here’s what we learned this weekend:

  1. The Devils’ defense has found a new way to implode. For the majority of the 2016 season, ASU’s secondary has been the most frustrating thing about this team. Saturday night, however, the university ranked #1 in innovation found yet another way to gift opponents yards. Colorado running back Phillip Lindsay had 26 rushing attempts, almost all of them down the throat of the Sun Devils’ front seven, for 219 yards and two touchdowns. The Buffaloes would finish with 315 total yards on the ground, 226 more than the Devils have allowed per game on average. The numbers alone do not tell the entire story, however, as anyone watching Colorado’s offensive possessions could tell that the Sun Devils refused to wrap up and finish tackles. Co-offensive coordinators Darrin Chiaverini and Brian Lindgren forced the ball up the middle on draws, keepers and options for all four quarters, keeping the Sun Devil defense on the field, and wearing them out with up-tempo drives. Keith Patterson’s previously solid-looking front-seven appeared absolutely useless against the rush, and that will have to change next weekend as the Washington State Cougars will bring their revamped rushing scheme to Tempe.

2. Manny Wilkins is not the long-term option at QB for this team. Yes, the offensive line gave him little time and Colorado defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt was creative with his late blitzing schemes, but when given more than a few seconds in the pocket, Wilkins consistently faltered. The redshirt sophomore seemed indecisive at best, often forcing throws into double coverage, overthrowing receivers N’Keal Harry and Cameron Smith on deep routes, and rolling out of the pocket only to toss the ball out of bounds. While he was recovering from a right ankle injury, Wilkins really didn’t show any ill-effects when moving around on the field, and it was his decision making that really hurt the Devils offense. It is unclear what options head coach Todd Graham has at the quarterback position at this point, but it might be time to begin the development of freshman Dillon Sterling-Cole, who appears to have much more athletic upside.

3. Zane Gonzalez is somehow better than we could have ever imagined. The senior kicker and all-time NCAA scoring leader added to his legacy Saturday night tallying three 50+ yard field goals, with the last one at 59 yards, just a yard short of the all-time record set by Mason Crosby in 2004. Gonzalez has now made six of seven attempts from beyond 50 yards this season (86%), and to put that into perspective, NFL kickers are 61.9% from 50+ yards since 2010. Watching the Deer Park, Texas native kick in Boulder’s thin air was easily the most enjoyable part of what turned out to be a dreadful game for the Devils.

4. Despite all of this, the Sun Devils’ Pac-12 South chances are still technically alive. ASU will surely struggle on the road at Washington and Oregon, but have decent matchups at home against Washington State and Utah, and the game in Tucson is sure to be a toss-up. If they can steal a game on the road in Eugene and win out at home, the Devils could still fight for the top spot, although they have many difficult questions to answer after an embarrassing showing in Boulder on Saturday.