“T.I.P.S.” for Colorado v. Arizona State

After a disasterous September, the Colorado Buffs – and their fans – needed a break before launching into what could become an even more disheartening October. Colorado plays only three games in the month of October, with two of those games being on the road against USC and Oregon. The “easy” game is against an Arizona State team which is 4-1, and has already been ranked this fall.

Before taking a few days off at the end of last weekend, Colorado ran a few practices, and did so without a dozen players who were nursing injuries. All 12 players, including senior linebacker Doug Rippy and senior safety Ray Polk, are in line to return to the field. The leadership and talents of Rippy and Polk, who have both missed the past three weeks, will be sorely needed. Colorado’s best chance at victory will lie in keeping the game low scoring, and a “bend but don’t break” defense will not work against the Sun Devils.

Colorado was a three-touchdown underdog to Washington State three weekends ago, but manufactured a 21-point rally in the fourth quarter to pull off an upset.

Colorado was a three-touchdown underdog to UCLA two weekends ago, and stayed relatively close through three quarters, before falling apart late in a 42-14 defeat.

Colorado will be a three-touchdown underdog to Arizona State.

How will the Buffs respond?

Here are this week’s “T.I.P.S.” …

T – Talent

Arizona State had a dilemma this off-season. With the surprising early departure of quarterback Brock Osweiler to the NFL, the Sun Devils had a hole at quarterback. Sophomore Mike Bercovici and red-shirt freshman Michael Eubank were the leading candidates to replace Osweiler, at least according to the preseason magazines. “Sophomore Taylor Kelly”, wrote Athlon this past summer, “likely won’t challenge for the starting job.”

So who is the starter for the 4-1 Sun Devils?

Taylor Kelly, of course.

The sophomore has completed 92-of-136 passes (73.5%) for 1,292 yards, nine touchdowns and only two interceptions (compare Jordan Webb, who has completed 89-of-152 attempts (65.7%) for 961 yards, seven touchdowns and four interceptions. Kelly has also been a threat on his feet, with 143 yards rushing (even after discounting for sacks).

When Kelly throws the ball, his main target has been junior tight end Chris Coyle, who has 26 catches for 338 yards and two touchdowns. Arizona State is averaging almost 300 yards passing per game, but its reception by committee, with four receivers averaging over 40 yards receiving per game (Colorado has two – Nelson Spruce and Tyler McCulloch).

Arizona State also has a number of weapons in the running game, with D.J. Foster, Marion Grice, and Cameron Marshall all averaging over 30 yards per game.

While the Sun Devils have been very good on offense (38.4 points per game – 32.2 points if you don’t count the 63 put up against Northern Arizona), it is the Arizona State defense which should keep Buff coaches up late watching film.

Colorado is 119th in the nation in sacks allowed (only Cal has a worse average than CU’s 4.4 sacks allowed per game), while Arizona State is third in the nation in sacks … not a good combination. Leading the charge for the Sun Devils is junior defensive tackle Will Sutton, who already has six sacks and ten tackles for loss in the young season. Last week, Colorado head coach Jon Embree joked that he thought Sutton would be playing on Sundays next year … and wished that Sutton was already playing on Sundays.

Figure out a way to block Sutton? Well, sophomore defensive end Carl Bradford already has 4 1/2 sacks, while junior defensive end Junior Onyeali has four. Yuck.

Throw over the top of these fast rushing lineman?

Um … nope. Arizona State is fourth in the nation in pass defense, allowing just 137 yards passing per game.

So, Arizona State is efficient on offense, dominant on defense.

Welcome, Buff fans, to October, 2012.

I – Intangibles

Anthing out there for the Buffs?

Well, there is the bye week.

True, both teams have had a bye since their last game, but Colorado needed/wanted the bye, while Arizona State was probably more than willing to go at it again this past weekend. The Sun Devils opened Pac-12 play with a 37-7 romp over Utah, followed by a 27-17 road win over Cal. After finishing a 6-7 2011 season with five consecutive losses, opening Pac-12 play with a pair gave Arizona State some much desired momentum.

Colorado, meanwhile, limped through to the end of September. What had looked like – back in August – to be a promising first month of the season quickly disintegrated after losses continued to pile up early on, with each succeeding loss more disheartening than the last. The high generated by the last minute victory at Washington State evaporated against UCLA, as the Bruins slowly – but quite surely – pulled away from the Buffs.

Jon Embree, as noted above, might have been without 12 players had the game been played last Saturday. Most, if not all, will be back for the Thursday night game.

It may not help, but it certainly can’t hurt, to have as many healthy Buffs on hand as possible.

Then there is the Thursday night effect.

Remember 2008? A Thursday night blackout against No. 21 West Virginia? A 17-14 Colorado upset.

This week’s game will be the Buffs’ first Thursday night home game since the West Virginia game (last season’s blowout loss to USC was on a Friday night). Another blackout is planned, with the Buff players going not only with black pants, but also black helmets.

Hey, it can’t hurt …

P – Preparation/Schedule

Colorado has a real advantage here.

Yes, both teams will have had 12 days to prepare for one another by Thursday.

But a look at next week’s schedule gives the Buffs an edge in preparation … at least mentally.

While Colorado will play next Saturday on the road against USC, Arizona State will play another Thursday night game … at home against No. 2 Oregon. Arizona State is 2-0 in Pac-12 play, the only unbeaten team in the Pac-12 South. While a date with the Trojans in Los Angeles looms in November as a potential Pac-12 South division deciding matchup, Arizona State’s first real opportunity to demonstrate that it is a force to be reckoned with in the Pac-12 will come next Thursday at home against the Ducks.

Arizona State has had extra time to prepare for what is – arguably – the worst team in the Pac-12. The Sun Devils will then only have seven days to prepare for what is – without argument – the best team in the Pac-12. All while Oregon has 12 days to prepare for Arizona State.

If you were the Arizona State players and coaches, wouldn’t you spend a little extra time during the bye week preparing for Oregon, even at the expense of preparing for Colorado?

Me, too.

Meanwhile, Colorado has no such issues. After taking on Arizona State, the Buffs take to the road to face USC and Oregon in succession.

If you were the Colorado players and coaches, wouldn’t you spend a little extra time during the bye week preparing for Arizona State, perhaps the best opportunity for an upset over the next month?

Me, too.

S – Statistics

This area of the “T.I.P.S.” is ugly … and will continue to be ugly until there is production by the Buffs on the field.

Arizona State had a very good September, and the statistics reflect that. The Sun Devils, particularly on defense, look dominant. Arizona State is first in the Pac-12 in pass defense, total defense, scoring defense, sacks, and tackles for loss.

The only areas in which the Sun Devils rank in the bottom half of the conference – net punting and kickoff returns – can largely be forgiven as ASU hasn’t had the opportunity to build up a resume in those areas.

Colorado, menwhile, has fallen below the college football Mendoza line (100th or worse) in no fewer than eight categories, including rushing offense, total offense, scoring offense, pass defense, total defense and scoring defense.

Ouch.

So, from where will the upset spring?

It has to come from balancing out just one statistic.

Colorado, on the season, is a minus-four in turnovers.

Arizona State, on the season, is a plus-four in turnovers.

Even that out on Thursday night, with Colorado going a plus-four in turnovers against Arizona State (with hopefully one or two of those being returned for touchdowns – I don’t trust the CU offense to take advantage of good fortune consistently), and Colorado will have a decent chance at an upset.

Barring that, however, and it could be a long night for the Buff Nation.

Arizona State 35, Colorado 14.

Note: You can now follow CU at the Game on twitter … https://twitter.com/cuatthegame1.  Look for your first tweets during the game this Thursday night!

 

 

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