We spoke with Ralphie Report writer Jack Barsch to gain a Colorado Buffaloes perspective on Saturday’s contest. Then, We answered his questions in return.
1. While the Buffs had a pretty big win over California last week they've lost four of their last six. Is this where much of Boulder predicted Colorado to be this season?
Barsch: I would say that CU is a little behind what fans expected this year. The general consensus is that CU should compete in most PAC-12 games, win enough to get to a bowl game, and show progress each week. Well, they've been competitive in almost every game (the Washington schools really worked the Buffs), they are close to a bowl game, but the progress has been hard to find. There are some weeks where the defense has to try to carry the offense and some weeks where the offense has to bail out the defense. There has been no consistent unit on the team (save Phillip Lindsay) and it's been a guessing game to see which team shows up. THis has led to some frustrating losses. I would say that if CU didn't drop two touchdown passes against UCLA or got one stop against Khalil Tate (hard to do), the Buffs would be right on track at 6-3 with three tough games remaining.
2. What is the main difference between Sefo Liufau and Steven Montez? How have you assessed Montez's play thus far?
Barsch: They are completely different players. Both are large, but Montez is a much faster, lighter QB who prefers his runs to be scrambles rather than designs and has a rocket arm. Liufau commanded the line of scrimmage, changed plays often, and kept it simple (at least during his senior year). Simply put, one (Liufau) was a saavy vet who lacked some of the top tier physical tools but had grit and moxie and ridiculous leadership. The other (Montez) is a young gun who has everything you want in QB and just has to put it all together.
As for Montez, he just completed his first twelve games as a starter, going back to last year. And, as expected, it has been an up-and-down ride.. His first start, Oregon, showed all kinds of promise. His game against Washington State this year, however, showed his floor. Inaccurate passes, incorrect reads, nothing was going right, so he got pulled. The fanbase has predictably proclaimed him savior after the good games and trash after the bad games. Not that I'm excused, I've done the same thing. You are seeing Montez after arguably his best game as a true QB. He stepped up in the pocket, something he hasn't done all year, made correct throws at the correct times, hit on a few deep balls, and scrambled for yards when he had to. He only missed 6 passes, including a few drops, and had control over the offense. If he can keep that play up, he will end the season as an upper-tier PAC-12 QB.
3. ASU let up over 300 yards to USC's running backs last week and over 200 to Phillip Lindsay last season. Will the Buffs go run-crazy Saturday night?
Barsch: They absolutely will and should. CU has been run-crazy since they figured out that Phillip Lindsay is taking no prisoners in conference play. He leads the country in carries and is third in yards. He will be the focal point of the offense, as he has been for the past few weeks. The fact that ASU couldn't stop SDSU, USC, or Stanford this year, or Phillip Lindsay last year, only adds to that focus. Expect a lot of runs to the left for Lindsay.
4. Colorado hasn't gave up less than three touchdowns since week two, but the Sun Devils just gave up 48 points... Who is there to watch out for? Why isn't this defense as good as it was last season?
Barsch: I'll answer your second question first. CU's defense was one of the best in the country last season, and a lot of that was due to the eight senior starters who had played four years of PAC-12 football. The Buffs have not been recruiting at a top-10 level, so losing those eight starters definitely took a pretty big toll. But it doesn't end there. The defensive coordinator, Jim Leavitt, moved to Oregon with the CB coach, and another defensive coach, Joe Tumpkin, left due to some well-documented allegations. So this D was basically starting from Square 1.5. Now, that doesn't excuse all of the troubles this team has had. The front seven hasn't performed up to expectations until the Cal game, and the safeties, the only truly experienced unit on the team, have been hit-and-miss. But CU fans knew this year would carry a step back.
Now, to watch out for, the main name is Isaiah Oliver. Back from injury, the CB1 has NFL scouts drooling and will probably match up against N'Keal Harry. He is long, physical, and athletic, and he usually does pretty well against anyone he's matched up with. He will also be well-rested and should be 100%, so he should be good. Another name to look for is Drew Lewis at MLB. He is the leading tackler for the Buffs, as well as the best pass-rusher and a pretty good cover. He is another great athlete and loves to blitz the QB from the A-gap. He will be around the ball a lot for CU.
5. Who is the most underrated player on the Buffaloes?
Barsch: That's an interesting question. I'll say Derek McCartney due to his play in recent weeks. The 6th year senior has been forgotten because of his year off and his slow start to this year. But it seems that he's played his way back to form and he is now the smart, aggressive player that he can be. He's seen it all, so he is usually one of the quickest to snuff out screens or misdirection plays. That is invaluable for such an inexperienced defense. He also holds the edge well for an OLB, and has started to rush the passer much better than he was previously. If he can have a big game against ASU, it will change the entire complexion of the game.
6. What has been the most surprising part of this season?
Barsch: I would say the inconsistency of the offense. The Buffs had some experienced firepower coming back at almost every position, but for some reason the O has sputtered at times. There was no staff changes either, so it wasn't like there was a new scheme to learn. It just seems like not everyone is on the same page at times. They have definitely improved in conference play (save for the abysmal performance against the Cougars), but it has taken fans off guard to see this hyped unit struggle at times.
7. Score prediction?
Barsch: I think ASU plays angry in this one and wins by a score. I'll go 31-24 Sparky
Ralphie Report asks House of Sparky
1. Before last week’s game, ASU’s defense looked completely different than the defense of last year. How have Phil Bennett and Todd Graham changed that unit? And what makes them so susceptible to the run?
Destin: If you ask any defender on that team about Bennett, he’d say the guy is the reason why this defense looked like a Pac-12 championship contending force for two straight games. The issue is that there is only one reliable unit on the defense: the linebackers. When the defensive line collapses, the secondary starts to miss tackles and that’s how teams get so many rushing yards.
Madden: It’s still kind of a mystery, both how they turned everything around so quickly and whether or not it’s gonna stick. The cornerbacks were a key component of the transition to an above average defense, as both first year starters Kobe Williams and Chase Lucas were outstanding. Josiah is spot on with the linebackers being the most consistent unit, though.
2. Manny Wilkins is a tough SOB who can run the offense. Are fans happy with him at QB or do they want to see Blake Barnett out there?
Destin: Indeed, he is. Fans are still skeptical of Wilkins’s play, but have definitely gained loads of respect for him. After Barnett threw a pick-six against USC, fans are pointing fingers at injured Brady White.
Madden: Any fans who are still pointing fingers at Manny Wilkins look beyond foolish. His efficiency and ability to move the offense down the field while negating turnovers is what has kept ASU in a lot of games this year.
3. Arizona State lost one of my favorite PAC-12 players of all time in Zane Gonzalez. How is the kicking game going without him and should CU be prepared for any long bombs?
Destin: He made that 59-yard field goal last season against the Buffaloes, but freshman Brandon Ruiz, who de-committed for Alabama, has made from 50-plus twice and have made a 78-yard field goal at a (very windy) practice.
Madden: The kicking game is in good hands in Ruiz. There may even be higher expectations because of both Gonzalez’s legacy and Ruiz’s clear potential. The coaching staff has demonstrated the utmost faith in him and that should continue down the stretch.
4. Who is the player to watch on offense? Defense?
Destin: Watch for Demario Richard to have subtle, but big gains. He’s been the lead rusher on the team the past two weeks and averaged nearly five yards per carry in those two games. Defensively, check out Kobe Williams and Chase Lucas (starting corners). Both had their worst games of the season last week against an incredibly skilled set of USC wide receivers. Their play this week is what determines an ASU win or not.
Madden: N’Keal Harry demonstrates week in and week out that his days in college football are numbered. He’s a tremendous, game-changing receiver who presents a nightmare matchup for any defense in the conference. Defensively, Renell Wren has been a force on the defense line while replacing Koron Crump. He’s also a huge mismatch.
5. How do you see this game playing out?
Destin: ASU takes it, 27-21.
Madden: ASU 33-20