Preview – Arizona State

“No rest for the weary,” said Colorado head coach Jon Embree of the Buffs’ final game in the October from Hell. “We get to start with the South and we get to start with the team that is leading the South, the Arizona State Sun Devils.”

You can understand Embree’s weariness.

Is there anything worse than having a team with over 20 members on its injured list and having no break in the schedule?

Well, you could have that team, which hasn’t won on the road since Barack Obama was a little known junior senator from Illinois, pack its gear and head out of state.

Oh, and could you make that road game against a ranked team?

And, for good measure, let’s give the ranked team a bye week to get healthy and prepare.

Sound like a recipe for disaster?

Welcome to Colorado Buffaloes’ football, 2011 edition.

Embree would be forgiven if he were to ask for a re-count as to how the Buffs’ schedule worked out this season, but there is no use crying about it now. “We knew coming in what the situation was and why we were going 13 straight. We talked about it with the team, so it was not like something that caught us off guard,” said Embre. “We will have byes in the future, including next year. It ended up just being a perfect storm, moving to a new conference and all of that and Hawai’i.”

This weekend, No. 23 Arizona State will become the third Pac-12 opponent – and third in five weeks – to have the benefit of a bye before playing Colorado.

Is it 2012 yet?


Okay, well then here are this week’s “T.I.P.S.”

T – Talent

When you look at Arizona State, the first place you have to look is up … at 6’8″ quarterback Brock Osweiler, the tallest quarterback in the FBS.

The junior signal caller is ranked 17th in the nation in total offense, generating almost 300 yards per game. Osweiler, in leading Arizona State to a 5-2 record, has completed 66% of his passes, and has thrown for just shy of 2,000 yards. On the year, Osweiler has 15 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

Osweiler already has four targets who have accumulated over 200 yards receiving (Colorado has two – Paul Richardson and Rodney Stewart. Neither is expected to play this Saturday, though Richardson is getting close). Gerell Robinson is the wide out to watch for, as the senior already has 523 yards receiving and four touchdowns. Robinson has gone over 100 yards receiving each of his last two games, with seven catches for 101 yards in a road win over Utah, and six catches for 120 yards and a touchdown in the Sun Devils’ last game, a 41-27 road loss to No. 7 Oregon. Senior wide receiver Aaron Pflugrad is also a chief target for Osweiler, with 28 catches for 389 yards and four touchdowns, while Mike Willie, another senior, has 313 yards on 22 catches.

As you might expect from having three veteran wide receivers, Arizona State is ranked 21st in the nation in passing offense, clicking for 291 yards per game.

This is not to say that the Sun Devils cannot be effective running with the football. Junior Cameron Marshall leads the team in rushing, with 518 yards and nine touchdowns. Marshall has come up big in big games, with 141 yards and three touchdowns in a 43-22 rout of USC, and 97 yards and a touchdown against Oregon.

Even with all of the above talent, a player the Buffs’ defense – and special teams – must really keep an eye on is wide receiver Jamal Miles. The junior this year has returned a kickoff for a touchdown, thrown for a touchdown pass, caught four touchdown passes, and, against Oregon, returned a punt 78 yards for a score.

While the offense has been good for ASU head coach Dennis Erickson, it’s the defensive unit which is the star for the Sun Devils. Over the past five games, Arizona State has forced 19 turnovers. The secondary already has 11 interceptions, after posting only ten in all of last season (Colorado has three interceptions in eight games). Overall, the Sun Devils’ +8 turnover margin leads the Pac-12.

The leader of the Arizona State defense is All-American linebacker candidate Vontaze Burfict. “He is the straw that stirs the drink with them,” said Jon Embree. “He brings the emotional energy. If it moves, he is going to hit it. That will be conveyed to our team so don’t be jogging out there and relaxing and thinking the play is over. He plays to the echo of the whistle. I love his passion, I love his intensity level. You can tell that it is important to him and I think he is a heck of a player.”

Embree was also impressed with defensive lineman Davon Coleman. “I love 43 [Davon Coleman], the defensive end, he is a heck of a player,” said Embree at his Tuesday press conference. Coleman has 25 tackles this season, including 1.5 tackles for loss, and a half sack.

One position in which the Buffs do match up well with the Aztecs is at punter. Arizona State junior Josh Hubner has an average of 41.6 yards per kick, and is 13th in the nation with 15 kicks inside the 20-yard line. Meanwhile, Colorado freshman Darragh O’Neill continues to impress. Against Oregon, O’Neill set school records for most punts inside-the-twenty (with six) and inside-the-ten (with four). O’Neill now has 14 kicks inside-the-twenty this season, with only one touchback.

So the Buffs have O’Neill going for them … which is nice.

I – Intangibles

Anything working here for the Buffs?

Not really.

If there is, it would have to be the potential for overconfidence on the part of the Arizona State players. The Sun Devils are 5-2, 3-1 in Pac-12 play, and are a shoo-in for the inaugural Pac-12 championship game. USC is also 3-1 in Pac-12 play, but is ineligible for the title game due to NCAA sanctions.

The only other school in the Pac-12 South which doesn’t already have four conference losses is UCLA, with a 2-2 record. However, after the Bruins were humbled by Arizona last weekend, there is a far greater likelihood of UCLA looking for a new head coach in five weeks than checking out plane tickets for Eugene or Palo Alto for the Pac-12 title game.

So, any chance Arizona State is looking past Colorado?

“I think in the game of football, sometimes you’ll see a team looking past another team,” Sun Devils quarterback Brock Osweiler said. “[This week] it will be a good test for us.”

Sounds like the Arizona State coaches are not allowing their players to look ahead.


In fact, the Sun Devils may be more likely to run the score up on the Buffs than were the Ducks or the Cardinal.

Oregon and Stanford were already ranked in the top ten when Colorado played them. Stanford just needs wins to assure its position amongst the national elite. Oregon is the top-ranked one-loss team in the nation. The Ducks and Cardinal were more concerned about avoiding injuries than earning style points … and still won handily.

Arizona State, meanwhile, is not on the nation’s radar. The Sun Devils were the trendy pick at the beginning of the season to make the Pac-12 title game, but were not considered an elite team. With 26 seniors returning, and USC on probation, the Sun Devils looked the part of a title game participant – by default.

Doubts lingered, however, keeping the Sun Devils from national acclaim. Arizona State was only 6-6 in 2010, and has had a bad habit of fading late in the season the past few years.

Now, with a trip to the Pac-12 championship all but assured, it’s time for the Sun Devils to rack up some style points in the second half of the season. In order to climb into the minds of the pollsters, the 23rd-ranked Sun Devils need to do more than just win 35-7.

Posting a 70-3 score, they might be thinking, would catch people’s attention …

… uh-oh.

P – Preparation/Schedule

Want to know what it’s like to have a bye week?

According to ESPN, Arizona State used its bye week to get healthy. For one, defensive end Junior Onyeali, only the team’s best pass-rusher, is expected to play against Colorado, his first action since hurting his knee at Illinois on Sept. 17. Offensive tackle Evan Finkenberg (knee) could be back this week but more likely will be ready for the trip to UCLA on Nov. 5. Further, running back Cameron Marshall and offensive tackle Aderious Simmons, who both have ankle injuries — Marshall has continued to play through it; Simmons returned for the Oregon game — used the bye week to get healthier.

Finally, there’s the Omar Bolden question. Bolden, perhaps the best defensive back in the conference, who has not played this season after tearing his ACL in spring practice, has been cleared by doctors to practice.

Not to worry, Buff fans, Colorado may be getting back a few players of their own.

A few players on the injury list – defensive back Jason Espinoza (concussion), linebacker Josh Hartigan (stinger), and free safety Ray Polk (concussion) – are listed as “probable” for the Arizona State game.

On the “day-to-day” list is quarterback Tyler Hansen (concussion), offensive lineman Shawn Daniels (calf), defensive back D.D. Goodson (concussion), and cornerback Travis Sandersfeld (leg), with several, if not all, on the list to be cleared to play later this week.

And then there is wide receiver Paul Richardson.

The sophomore star hasn’t played since suffering a severe knee sprain in practice on October 5th. In the official injury report for the Arizona State game, Richardson is listed as “Out/1-2 weeks”, but the player isn’t so sure. “Is it 100 percent certain right now? No. I’m pretty much just going through the motions right now to see how my leg feels,” Richardson told the Daily Camera. “Right now the decision is that I’m not playing. That’s pretty much the closest to a set decision that there is.”If I do get the opportunity to compete, I’m going to try to have fun, but I don’t think I am.”

At the very least, the Buff Nation can hope to see Richardson back on the field against USC next week.

S – Statistics

– In 2010, the Arizona State defense was one of the top teams in the nation in forcing opposing offenses into three-and-out possessions. That trend has continued in 2011, with the Sun Devils forcing 18 three-and-outs;

– Against Oregon, Colorado used ten different offensive linemen. Three players – red-shirt freshman Daniel Munyer, freshman offensive tackle Alexander Lewis, and senior guard Sione Tau – saw their first action since the third game of the season (v. CSU). Two other players continued to see their playing time increase. True freshman guard Paulay Asiata was first inserted into the lineup against Stanford, getting in for ten plays. The following week against Washington, the number bumped up to 11, with Asiata on the field for 16 plays against Oregon. Red-shirt freshman Kaiwi Crabb has also seen his playing time increase over the past three weeks, from six plays, then to 11, then to 24 last weekend. (Only one offensive lineman, senior guard Ryan Miller, has been on the field for all 517 snaps on offense in 2011);

– Colorado has 28 seniors on its roster, while Arizona State has 26. Both totals are amongst the highest in the nation;

– Arizona State head coach Dennis Erickson is one of two head coaches (South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier being the other) who have won conference Coach of the Year honors six times. Erickson won the honor three times at Miami, and has won it once each with Washington State, Oregon State, and Arizona State. Erickson is 13th all-time in terms of winning percentage (.661, with six different teams);

– Arizona State defensive coordinator Craig Bray spent two years in Boulder as the defensive backs coach under Gary Barnett. Bray was a member of the CU coaching staff when the Buffs won the Big 12 championship in 2001;

– Colorado, in eight games, has lost 70 games to injury by players in the two-deep roster. This works out to be about 20% of the available 352 games (eight games times 44 positions). In only one other season (2008) since 1984 have the Buffs lost 20% of available games to injury. In the last 25 seasons, only eight times (including last season), have the Buffs lost as many as five percent of the “man games”;

– Through the first eight games of the 2011 season, 33 players have seen their first action as Buffs. No other season since 1984 has seen that many new faces on the field in a Buff uniform. Of the 33 players, 25 are freshman (15 true/10 red-shirt), with the 15 true freshman also a single season high dating back to at least 1984.

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