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ASU Football: Sun Devils overcome sluggish first half to beat Colorado

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Jayden Daniels and Rachaad White each score twice in victory

Zac BonDurant

The Arizona State Sun Devils (3-1, 1-0 Pac-12) prevailed over the visiting Colorado Buffaloes (1-3, 0-1) by a score of 35-13 Saturday in Tempe, helping to atone for the self-inflicted errors that cost them their previous game against BYU.

ASU’s offensive effort lacked consistency, but its overall output, paired with a masterful showing on defense, proved to be more than enough to triumph over the offensively impotent Buffaloes.

Quarterback Jayden Daniels passed for 236 yards and led the Sun Devils in rushing with 75 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Rachaad White accounted for 107 all-purpose yards and two scores of his own to bring his touchdown total up to 6 on the season.

“Our offense got off to a pretty good start,” Sun Devil coach Herm Edwards said. “We kind of got a little sluggish there at times but we kept our momentum. We never lost momentum in this game.”

At first blush, it seemed as though the Devils might author another mistake-laden performance. D.J. Taylor stumbled and fell at the 15-yard line on the opening kickoff return bringing back memories of Geordon Porter’s untimely fumble at the start of the prior week’s game.

Taylor held onto the ball, but the Sun Devils’ opening drive sputtered before they reached midfield. Although ASU rebounded with a 45-play touchdown drive on the ensuing possession, capped off by a 7-yard run by Jayden Daniels, the Sun Devils’ inability to finish off drives was a constant throughout the first half.

Taylor’s fall and the two drives that followed it almost perfectly foreshadowed how the rest of the contest would play out. The Sun Devils flirted with disaster on multiple occasions, nearly falling victim to the same penalty issues and lack of consistency that plagued them on their trip to Provo. Ultimately, however, their defense granted them second chance after second chance, and the offense eventually found its rhythm.

ASU led by an uncomfortably close score of 14-10 early in the third quarter, and the Sun Devil offense finally came to life when faced with the possibility of relinquishing the lead. Three of ASU’s four second-half possessions that featured the first-team offense ended with touchdowns, including a 30-yard strike from Ricky Pearsall to White that sealed the victory for Edwards and company.

“There weren’t really any adjustments made (at halftime),” Daniels said. “In the first half we had sustained drives but we just didn’t capitalize. After halftime we just went out there and executed.”

Contrary to ASU, the Buffaloes’ offense epitomized consistency. Colorado came up empty-handed on its first four possessions and managed only 36 total yards in the first quarter. The Buffs finally got onto the scoreboard with a 51-yard field goal in the dying seconds of the first half, but did not find the end zone until four minutes into the third quarter, when Alex Fontenot’s one-yard run mercifully brought and end to their streak of nine consecutive quarters without a touchdown.

The Sun Devils were especially effective at subduing Colorado’s passing attack. The Buffaloes contributed a measly 67 yards on the night, 26 of which came on a shovel pass from quarterback Brendon Lewis to Ty Robinson in the third quarter. Even in the absence of stalwart senior cornerback Chase Lucas, ASU’s defensive backfield prevented Colorado from making any plays down the field.

“We didn’t back off,” Edwards said. “(Defensive coordinator Antonio Pierce) makes me nervous when he’s putting these guys in there, I’m like ‘okay,’ but they held up for the most part. We had a couple of fouls, we got two holding calls... but for the most part I felt like we did a good job of covering.”

While it took Arizona State three quarters to put the game away, it played with far more discipline and appeared more focused than in weeks past, which seems to represent progress. As they head back out on the road to face 24th-ranked UCLA, the Sun Devils will have a chance to claim sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 South, and Edwards says that the team still has work to do if they hope to capitalize on that chance.

“It was good to bounce back after (last week),” Edwards said. “We got better this week. We still had seven penalties, and that’s too many. You’d like to keep it to five or less, and if you can do that, you’ve got a shot. Now we’re going on the road again and that can’t be part of our personality when we go on the road.”