Colorado at Arizona State – Preview – “T.I.P.S.”

Two weeks ago, Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion threw for over 400 yards and six touchdowns against the Buffs … and was named the Pac-12 Offensive Player-of-the-Week.

Last weekend, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota threw for over 400 yards and five touchdowns against the Buffs … and was named the Pac-12 Offensive Player-of-the-Week.

This weekend, the Buffs face Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly, one of just three quarterbacks in the nation to throw for over 300 yards in every game this season.

Anyone guessing Taylor Kelly is looking forward to becoming the third consecutive opposing quarterback to have an award-winning game against Colorado?

If we’re being honest, the numbers don’t stack up well for the Buffs against the Sun Devils. But this is a new week, and a new opportunity for Colorado to demonstrate to the Pac-12 that they are ready to compete … and not just for a quarter or a half.

Here are this week’s “T.I.P.S.” for Colorado at Arizona State (8:00 p.m., MT, Pac-12 Networks):

T – Talent

The numbers don’t look for a Colorado defense which has given up acres of yardage through the air the past few weeks.

Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly is 8th in the nation in passing yards (1,732) and 7th in passing touchdowns (14). In his last eight games, dating back to last season, Kelly has thrown 22 touchdown passes, with only six interceptions, completing two-thirds of his passes and averaging over 300 yards passing per game. Kelly will square off against a Colorado defense which is giving up an average of 326.8 yards per game through the air (121st out of 123 teams nationally).

Whether handing off or throwing the ball, look for Marion Grice to have his name called numerous times Saturday night. This season, Grice is fifth in the nation in rushing touchdowns, with eight scores on the ground (CU, as a team, is still looking for rushing touchdown number one for the season). Grice is also 13th in the nation in receiving touchdowns, with five.

If Kelly is going deep, look for wide receiver Jaelen Strong. In his first five games in a Sun Devil uniform, the junior college transfer has 39 receptions for 569 yards (CU’s one man gang, Paul Richardson, has 31 catches for 621 yards). An interesting stat … of Strong’s 39 receptions, 25 have resulted in first downs, with another four pass interference penalties going his way, giving Strong 29 of ASU’s 126 first downs (23%). Seven of his first down receptions have come on third or fourth down (Richardson has only two such receptions).

When the Sun Devils are on defense, the cameras will focus in on defensive lineman Will Sutton. On the preseason watch lists for no fewer than six major awards (Outland, Nagurski, Maxwell, Bednarik, Walter Camp, and Lombardi Awards), Sutton has been fairly quiet to date (16 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, one sack), but he has the Buffs’ attention. “I think some of the teams that they’ve played have run away from him some,” said coach MacIntyre. ” Then some of the teams, it’s been such a scoring fest that it’s just been basically a passing game and when you pass rush it’s kind of like a wrestler, you get worn out so he has to get substituted in for … He’s an intimidating force, I will say that.  He’s a good player.”

Backing Sutton up is linebacker Carl Bradford, who has led the team in tackles (20) and sacks (2.0) the last four games, and defensive back Osahon Irabor. Irabor has started 38 consecutive games, and has interceptions in his last two games – including a pick six against Notre Dame last Saturday.

I – Intangibles

It would be nice if the Sun Devils were looking at Colorado’s school-record string of ten consecutive conference losses in preparation for Saturday’s game, instead of game film.

But it doesn’t sound like that’s the case.

“They got their guys playing with a spirit. You can tell that they’re playing hard and that they’re passionate about what they’re doing,” Arizona State coach Todd Graham said at his Monday press conference. “I think they’re playing a lot better defensively. Their defensive coordinator’s doing a great job with their defense and varying what they’re doing and being sound about what they’re doing.”

In the Buffs’ locker room, coach MacIntyre, despite the results on the field, sees progress being made.

“Well I do think they have resiliency”, said MacIntyre when asked about the team’s reaction to the two lopsided conference losses. “That’s one thing that I wasn’t sure they had.  To me, at this point, they’ve shown a lot of resiliency and a lot of heart as far as coming back and practicing and improving and working hard and getting better.  I know we got beat bad Saturday but I think we were a lot better than we were the first week.  I really do”.

Here’s hoping the improvement continues, because it looks like the Buffs’ resiliency will again be tested this weekend.

P – Preparation / Schedule

Almost every week, this section gives an edge to the Buffs.

It would be nice if at some point they would take advantage.

Arizona State and its fans could – rightfully – be looking at Colorado as almost a bye week in the schedule, which has been brutal to date.

The Sun Devils have yet to have a bye, and their last four games have been Wisconsin, at Stanford, USC, and v. Notre Dame in Dallas (their first game was a 55-0 blowout of Sacramento State in the opener. Yeah, that Sacramento State).

Time for a breather … enter Colorado.

And it’s not like Arizona State doesn’t have another tough game on the immediate horizon. Next weekend, the Sun Devils will be facing off against Washington. The Sun Devils and the Huskies are both 1-1 in Pac-12 heading into the weekend. Both teams fancy themselves as division title contenders. With Arizona State taking off to play three of its next four games on the road after hosting Washington, a win against the Huskies next weekend will be crucial in establishing the Sun Devils amongst the elite in the conference.

Meanwhile, the Buffs have a winnable game to look forward to next weekend against Charleston-Southern. True, the Buccaneers are a FCS power (hey, they are ranked this week – for the first time in school history). It is also true that the Buffs, with their recent issues against 1-AA teams (2-2, with Colorado trailing in the fourth quarter in both victories), next weekend’s game should not be a distraction for the Buffs this Saturday night.

Advantage, Colorado.

S – Statistics

Damn. I thought we were past this.

Remember last year (even as you try to forget), when every week this section was a recitation of how many categories had Colorado listed in the 100’s in the national rankings?

Well … they’re baaaack.

This week, Colorado is in triple digits nationally in several significant statistical categories (out of 123 teams), including:

– Rushing offense, 110.3 yards per game (111th);

– Passing defense, 326.8 yards per game (121st);

– Scoring defense, 38.0 points per game (112th);

– Third down conversion offense, 23.3% (120th);

– Punt return yardage defense, 13.4 yards per return (106th); and

– Kickoff return yardage defense, 27.1 yards per return (116th) .

These are not good numbers, especially when faced with an Arizona State offense which has played some decent teams (see list, above), and is still in the top 25 nationally in passing offense, total offense, and scoring offense.

Any positive numbers for the Buffs?

Well, Arizona State is susceptible to the run, giving up 182.8 yards per game on the ground (86th nationally), and have given up a fair number of points – an average of 30.0 per game.

So, the game plan would be control the clock and the game by establishing a rushing attack, which is something the Buffs have been unable to muster in the first four games of the season (witness the 111th-ranked rushing attack and exactly zero touchdowns rushing). The Buffs need someone – Christian Powell, Michael Adkins, Tony Jones, somebody! – to have a break out game.

It would also help to start fast – Arizona State is 9-0 under Todd Graham when holding the opposition scoreless in the first quarter, and 10-0 when leading at halftime.

Turnovers, of course, are always required when you are the underdog. Colorado is doing much better in that category this year, having already forced 11 turnovers (after picking up only 15 all of last season). It’s going to take several turnovers to help mitigate the offensive success the Sun Devils are bound to have Saturday night.

Colorado is a 24-point underdog, and, oddly enough, has had no success against Arizona State (in the four games the teams have played, Colorado has scored fewer points – 48 total – than the Sun Devils scored in last year’s 51-17 contest in Boulder).

There will be a time, perhaps as early as next year, when this game will be a contest in which the Buffs will be competitive, and have a better than even chance at winning.

But the numbers are saying that time has not yet arrived.

2 Replies to “Arizona State – Preview”

  1. Stuart,
    I was supposed to go to this game, but a wedding for a friend tomorrow is keeping me in Boulder. Oh well, at least the game is late enough that I will be back home before kickoff.

    This game is very intriguing, mostly because ASU is so unpredictable as to which team will show up. Although they are 3-2, they should really be only 2-3 with only a bonehead play by the Wisconsin QB allowing them to over .500 at this point of the season. Even so, the general consensus around the country is that Graham’s Sun Devils are pretty good as they flit in and out of the top 25.

    Will it be the team that smoked USC for 62 points that shows up? Or the team that was behind by 29 to Stanford at halftime?

    The big difference between ASU and CU right now is that, by and large, the Sun Devils expect to win most weeks and that expectation extends outward from the program. The Buffs need a big win or two over clear favorites to bring that attitude to Boulder.

    Mac has done it before, and when it finally happens here it will be a great time in Buffland. Firstly, though, the Buffs gotta get better and moving the chains and holding on to the ball. They really need to start converting on third down. The other offense cannot score on us if they are standing on the sideline.

    Who will win? If the Buffs convert on 3rd down at a 40% clip like the first two games, they will have a chance. IF they convert at a 6-7% pace like the last two weeks, it will get ugly in the desert.

    Bittersweet all around. I grew up a stone’s throw from Sun Devil Stadium and was attending games there from before I started kindergarten. But through travels and marriage I ended in Boulder and became a Buff for life… but I still root for the Sun Devils in everything except when they play Colorado.

    Let the game begin!

  2. Coach, don’t let the guys treat this as a trap game. I know they may be looking at the CSU game as a target date but let’s concentrate on ASU.

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