The Arizona State Sun Devils will travel to Boulder for their first Pac-12 South matchup as they play the ranked Colorado Buffaloes. We wanted to know more about how the Buffs got off to their hot start, so we asked Jack Barsch of The Ralphie Report.
BV: The Buffaloes have looked like the most consistent team in the Pac-12 South so far, something many didn’t expect. What have been the key factors to the team’s play?
JB: I’ll give you three factors:
- The talent has gotten better across the board. The fantastic 2017 class for CU has grown up, and the JuCo players in the 2018 class have made an instant impact. Combine these factors with a solid senior class and you have a talented roster. Players like Nate Landman and Laviska Shenault have broken out and get a lot of publicity, but there are plenty of young guns that have completely changed the talent level. KD Nixon, Tony Brown, Israel Antwine, Davion Taylor, Jacob Callier, the list goes on. These players didn’t or couldn’t contribute last year, and they have made big contributions this year.
- The team attitude is much better. MacIntyre worked really hard over the summer to change some things he was doing and actively build team chemistry. The result is a team that is much more mentally tough. They ride the ebbs and flows of a game much more handily than they did last year. This leads to calm and collected play, which usually leads to successful drives.
- The changes on the coaching staff. CU needed a new OC, QB coach, and DL coach after last year. All three hires appear to be upgrades so far. Co-OC Darrin Chiaverini is now calling plays, and his simple, fast scheme has really let the Buffs go wild so far. Kurt Roper is one of the best QB coaches in the business, and his work on the mental side of the game with Steven Montez has led to a much more steady quarterback that makes some unbelievable throws. Finally, Kwahn Drake has been a nitrous container to the defensive engine. His energy and passion have resonated with the DL.
BV: In his Monday press conference, Herm Edwards compared Laviska Shenault to Sun Devil star N’Keal Harry. Why are defenses having such a hard time defending Shenault?
JB: It’s probably pretty similar to the same reason no one can stop Harry. Both are physical freaks that also happen to be excellent receivers by trade. Both offenses are also very good at moving this massive chess piece around to cause confusion and get favorable matchups. So, when you have a player, like Shenault or Harry, that almost always wins their 1 on 1 matchup, and an offense that can scheme to give those players consistent 1 on 1 matchups, you get a lot of great plays.
BV: Edwards also mentioned how he’s at a disadvantage against an experienced head coach in the Pac-12 against Mike Macintyre. How would you describe Macintyre as a coach?
JB: MacIntyre has taken a long time to climb out of the massive hole the Buffaloes were in when he arrived. Part of that is how methodical he is. He didn’t take any shortcuts (though he probably could and should have) to change the culture of the program, and he spent a while getting his system and players in place. That’s how a year like 2016 could happen, when his vision was fully realized by some unbelievable player leadership. On the field, he is a defensive guy. He’s a defensive back coach by trade, so the back seven is almost always average to excellent (this year is a bit of a retooling year). Taking the defense as whole, he prefers an aggressive scheme with a lot of blitzing up front and man coverage in the back. Offensively, he largely lets the OC do his thing, which has worked out this year. Darrin Chiaverini prefers up-tempo, Texas Tech style drives, so CU has largely done that this year. Overall, MacIntyre is a control freak coach who naturally gravitates to the defensive side of the ball. This year especially, he has done a great job with halftime adjustments, so expect the Buffs to come out of halftime swinging.
BV: Arizona State will continue to run the ball, and run it a lot. Especially after the performance Eno Benjamin had against Oregon State. What Colorado defenders will have the most impact in trying to stop the ASU run game?
JB: Well, it all starts up front. The Buffs were awful against the run last year, and have been merely below average to average this year. I expect the Sun Devils will have success, but not as much as they did against Oregon State. The names to know are Rick Gamboa, Nate Landman, and Javier Edwards. Gamboa has been a starter since 2015, but it feels like he’s been in Boulder for 10 years. He’s a captain, and the smartest player on the field every snap. He makes up for some pretty serious speed limitations with anticipation and instinct. You’ll often see Gamboa be the guy that fills the gap so someone else can tackle. That someone else is usually Nate Landman. He was pretty quiet against UCLA, but the sophomore has been anything but at the start of the year. Landman flies around the field making plays, and he’ll end up in the backfield more often than not. He can cover, but he’s best against the run when he can go downhill. When he hits you, you’ll feel it. Lastly, Mustafa Johnson has been a revelation at the defensive end spot. He’s quick and powerful, and his short stature is negated by his freaky long arms. He is great at setting the edge and disrupting the outside run, so watch for #34 to blow some plays up.
BV: Score Prediction and why?
JB: Arizona State is the first team with a pulse that CU will play this year, so I expect a rocky start. The Sun Devils are disruptive up front, which could spell trouble for an already shaky offensive line. I think this will be a close game regardless, but the home field advantage gives the win to the Buffs by a field goal.