Colorado vs. No. 16 Arizona State – A Preview – “T.I.P.S.” for the Buffs’ home opener

Colorado returns to Folsom Field for the first home game of the 2014 season. Had the Buffs won their opener against Colorado State, and were coming into the “Blackout” game against No. 16 Arizona State (8:00 p.m., MT, ESPNU) with a modicum of momentum, talk this week would be about an upset, about a “signature win” in Season Two of the Mike MacIntyre era.

Instead, the discussion is about survival, just trying to get through Saturday night with some semblance of dignity.

Last weekend, the Buffs did post win No. 1 of the year, a 41-38 victory over Massachusetts. In the “beggars can’t be choosers” category, a win is a win is a win, and Buff fans are grateful just to have a “W” posted.

But in the reality of college football, however, there are the just cold hard facts:

– UMass, in two-plus seasons as a FBS team, is 2-25, with its two wins over teams: Akron in 2012; Miami (Ohio) in 2013; teams which went 1-11 and 0-12, respectively, in the years the Minutemen defeated them;

– In the six games against Power-Five conference schools UMass played as a member of the MAC prior to playing Colorado, UMass had never given up more than 13 points in a game (and that was a 63-13 loss to Michigan). In those prior six games, the Minutemen scored a combined 40 points … before scoring 38 in one afternoon against the Buffs.

Enter No. 16 Arizona State.

The Sun Devils are the defending Pac-12 South champions, and have a team which is averaging 51.5 points per game (9th in the nation) and 345.0 yards rushing per game (7th in the nation).

Last weekend, in a 58-23 rout of New Mexico, Arizona State rushed for 423 yards, the most by the Sun Devils in a game since 1986.

Colorado, in five tries, has never defeated Arizona State.

If that number is still five come late Saturday night, ESPN will have a new lead story for its late night SportsCenter.

T – Talent

Senior quarterback Taylor Kelly has yet to put up spectacular numbers in 2014, mostly due to the fact that he has yet to play a full game.

In 45-14 and 58-23 routs of Weber State and New Mexico, respectively, Kelly has hit on 29-of-47 passes for 430 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. He has also posted 98 yards rushing (on only 13 carries). In ASU’s 54-13 rout of Colorado last season, Kelly’s stats were also not overwhelming – nine-of-19 for 233 yards and two touchdowns, five carries for 36 yards and a touchdown – but they were certainly good enough to lead the Sun Devils to a 25-0 first quarter lead.

Kelly has a multitude of talented players to utilize, led by running back D.J. Foster. The junior has 363 yards rushing in the first two games of the season (Colorado, as a team, has 290 rushing yards) and four touchdowns (CU has two rushing scores). When (sorry, “if”) the game gets out of hand Saturday night, look for true freshman Kalen Ballage to get a good number of carries. If the name sounds familiar, it should. Buff fans were hoping that the Peyton, Colorado, star would stay in-state and sign with the Buffs last February. Instead, Ballage went with the Sun Devils, and will probably have plenty of family and friends on hand Saturday night to cheer him on.

The receiving corps for Arizona State is loaded with talent. Junior Jaelen Strong leads the team with 13 receptions for 189 yards and a touchdown (Buff fans might remember Strong as the player who opened the scoring in last season’s rout with a 69-yard touchdown reception in the first 90 seconds of the game).

Buff fans knew that the Sun Devils would present a challenge offensively, but the glimmer of hope was supposed to be that Arizona State was replacing nine starters on defense, and that teams might be able to just outscore ASU. So far, that hasn’t proven to be the case. True enough, Weber State and New Mexico aren’t known as offensive powerhouses.

But then again, neither is Colorado.

The Buffs’ strategy against the Sun Devils is easy to predict – limit big plays by the ASU offense, take advantages of opportunities when the CU offense is on the field, limit mistakes on special teams.

Getting such a game plan to work for sixty minutes, however, appears to be a tall task.

I – Intangibles

The Buffs will be playing their first home game of the season Saturday night. The game is designated as a “Blackout” game, and has a late – 8:00 p.m. – kickoff (on ESPNU). The South Park creators will have a special presentation right before kickoff.

The University of Colorado will be unveiling its new northeast corner seats, with a great deal of time being devoted by ESPN to the new facilities Colorado is putting up to demonstrate the desire of the school to compete with the infrastructure going up around the remainder of the Pac-12.

It will be the first Pac-12 game of the season for both teams, and Arizona State will be playing its second consecutive game on the road.

If there are any huge advantages for Colorado in the above lines, it’s hard to see them.

In the 2011 game against Arizona State, the Sun Devils raced out to a 21-0 first quarter lead at home against Colorado, on their way to a 48-14 rout.

In the 2012 game against Arizona State in Boulder, the Buffs were actually close at halftime, down 20-17, before being outscored 31-0 in the second half.

In the 2013 game against Arizona State, the Sun Devils raced out to a 25-0 first quarter lead at home (and 47-6 at halftime), on their way to another rout, this time by the score of 54-13.

Three games … with an average score of 51-15.

Looking for a glimmer of hope? In six halves of play against Arizona State, Colorado has had one good half, that being the first half of the game the last time the teams met in Boulder.

Folsom Magic, do your stuff!

P – Preparation / Schedule

As noted, Arizona State will be playing its second consecutive road game when it travels to Boulder Saturday, while Colorado will be in front of a predominantly home crowd for the first time (after two basically neutral site games, with CU having a good percentage of the crowd at both venues).

Last weekend, both teams were on the road, and both emerged victorious.

But there was something about how the Arizona State game at New Mexico unfolded which makes me very, very nervous about the final result of Saturday’s contest.

Arizona State opened up with a 22-0 first quarter lead against the Lobos – not unlike the 25-0 lead ASU had in the first quarter against the Buffs last season.

But then something happened … Arizona State let New Mexico back into the game. Fifteen minutes of game time after it was 22-0, it was 29-21, with the Lobos back in it.

In the second half (not unlike the second half in Boulder two years ago), Arizona State put the pedal to the metal again, out-scoring New Mexico 26-2 the rest of the game (with the Lobos only score a two-point defensive conversion after an extra point attempt was blocked).

You can just hear the Arizona State coaches this week preaching the gospel: “Don’t let up when you get a big early lead! Keep pushing! Keep scoring! Don’t let the Buffs back into the game!”.


The only – slight – scheduling advantage for Colorado comes from looking at the next game on the calendar for both teams. The Buffs will stay home next week to face Hawai’i, while Arizona Sate will be taking on UCLA at home in a game which will go a long ways towards deciding which team will representing the Pac-12 South in the title game.

The next game will be important for both teams. Hawai’i represents perhaps the only remaining game on the Colorado schedule in which the Buffs will be favored. Meanwhile UCLA, which has struggled so far this season with two lethargic opening season victories, may be ripe for the plucking by the Sun Devils.

Will the Sun Devil players be looking past the Buffs, and not be as prepared as they might otherwise be for the game at Folsom Field?

Will the Arizona State coaches keep the game plan vanilla, in hopes of saving the “good stuff” for the showdown against UCLA?

Grasping at straws, but that’s about all the Buffs have to grasp for at this point.

S – Statistics

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

The Good:

Colorado is much improved – through two weeks of the season – in many statistical categories. After languishing in the 100’s in most important offensive and defensive rankings for most of 2013, the Buffs are making some headway.

Rushing offense – 145.0 yards per game (85th in the nation; 9th in the Pac-12)

Passing offense – 279.5 ypg. (45th; 9th)

Total offense – 424.5 ypg. (72nd; 12th)

Rushing defense – 185.0 ypg. (96th; 12th)

Passing defense – 200.5 ypg. (45th; 5th)

Total defense – 385.5 ypg. (67th; 8th)

The Bad:

– Colorado is (after playing two of the least prolific offenses they will play this season) 101st in the nation, and last in the Pac-12, in scoring defense, at 34.5 point per game;

– Colorado is dead last in the conference in kickoff coverage – and by a wide margin. The Buffs are averaging 31.4 yards per kickoff, a full eight yards behind the 11th place team in the conference. The remaining teams in the conference are bunched between 44.5 and 39.8 yards per kickoff … with Colorado another eight yards back;

– The Buffs are 116th in the nation in penalty yardage, giving up 94.5 yards per game to the officials. Combine penalties with poor special teams coverage and a banged up defensive line, and you get … well, you know what you get.

The Ugly:

– While Colorado is racking up penalties, Arizona State is amongst the nation’s leaders in fewest penalties and penalty yardage;

– Arizona State has had 16 scoring drives in their first two games this season. All 16 of those drives have come in less than three minutes of game clock;

– Arizona’s red zone offense is 12-for-12 this season, with ten touchdowns. Colorado’s red zone defense is 0-for-10 in stopping the opposition, with nine touchdowns.

Every kickoff begins a new game. The scoreboard always reads 0-0 at the opening, and it’s up to the players and coaches on each sideline to determine the final outcome.

That being said, there does not appear to be a scenario in which Colorado can out-score Arizona State. The Buffs are improving on offense, and it would not be a surprise for CU to break the 20-point barrier for the first time in four tries against Arizona State as a member of the Pac-12. Meanwhile, the trend for the Sun Devil offense has been trending up against the Buffs, with ASU scoring 48, 51, and 54 points the last three times the teams have played.

Arizona State defeated Colorado 54-13 last season.

Arizona State defeated New Mexico 58-23 last week.

A score in that range is to be anticipated Saturday night.




4 Replies to “CU vs. No. 16 ASU – A Preview”

  1. hope your right jhenry ,I feel the same about being to get the point even if they play tuff and take a loss but by a whew points . always going to bea buff fan no matter ,come on Buffs surprize us all ,go Buffs

  2. Boulderdevil,

    Spot on; a program turns a corner at some point, might as well be now. Same was thought of Oklahoma, West Virginia and Georgia games in recent years. All were at Folsom and all COULD have been turning points.

    This can be too. Would love to see the Buffs finally ‘get it’ and be able to celebrate on their home field.

    As a Buff fan of 25 years, Ill never give up on the team. What a sweet victory it will be when they finally do take that next step. Here’s hoping that it is THIS Saturday.

  3. There isn’t much mention this week that CSU only managed 28 yards rushing vs. Boise St last week, which doesn’t bode we’ll. I really hope the Buffs can turn it around on the ground and keep the ASU offense off the field.

  4. Yo Stuart,

    Just for chuckles, take a look back at the 1986 season. The Buffs started off 0-4, including losses to non-powerhouse schools CSU and Oregon. In fact, Oregon lost its next SIX games after defeating Colorado in 1986. After the horrible start to the season, the Buffs managed to win six of the next seven, including the 20-10 win over Nebraska that was twenty years in the waiting.

    One of the great things about college football is that when teams finally turn a corner, they can get better quickly. Arizona State will likely win the game this weekend. But they certainly are no more likely than Nebraska was back in 1986 when they came into Folsom undefeated at 6-0 and ranked #3 in the country.

    I’m hoping that the fans get out for the game and root the Buffs to an unlikely victory.


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