Colorado at Arizona State – A Preview … Your “T.I.P.S.” for the Buffs trip to Tempe

For the first time in the 2015 season, it’s hard to see the numbers adding up for the Buffs.

Even more than Oregon, which had humbled Colorado to the tune of an average score of 54-10 the past four seasons, the matchups presented by Arizona State don’t point to the Buffs’ first Pac-12 win since November, 2013.

The first two trips the Buffs have taken to Tempe as members of the Pac-12 have resulted in 48-14 and 54-13 embarrassments. It may not get that bad Saturday night (8:00 p.m., MT, Pac-12 Networks), but there are good reasons why the Buffs are double-digit underdogs (the line opened at 12.5-points on Sunday, and has since moved up to 15.0-points).

Last weekend, the Colorado defense was gashed for 537 total yards and 24 second half points, turning a 17-17 tie into a three-score defeat.

It is not a small coincidence that the Buffs played much of the second half without their leading tackler, Kenneth Olugbode.

Now, Olugbode is out for 4-6 weeks, with fellow linebacker Addison Gillam still sidelined.

Buffs … on the road … against a team they have never defeated … without their leading tacklers for the past two seasons.

I don’t like the sound of that.

Here are this week’s “T.I.P.S.” for the Colorado/Arizona State game

 

T – Talent

On Saturday, the Colorado defense will be going up against the reigning Pac-12 Offensive Player-of-the-Week. Last weekend, in taking down No. 7 UCLA on the road, Arizona State quarterback Mike Bercovici completed 27-of-44 passes to seven different receivers for 273 yards and two touchdowns. He added 37 yards on the ground and another score (this just in … CU has a tough time with even semi-mobile quarterbacks), accounting for 310 total yards and 17 of the team’s 25 first downs.

One of the newest arrows in Bercovici’s quiver is running back Kalen Ballage. In case you have forgotten, let’s quickly recall Ballage’s story … Ballage was a four-star recruit out of the Class of 2014. Hailing from Falcon, Colorado, he was sought after by numerous Power-Five schools, with his signing day announcement coming down to Arizona State, Colorado, Washington and UCLA.

He didn’t pick Colorado.

After missing the first three games of the season, Ballage had nine carries in his first game against USC, then had a coming out party of sorts against UCLA. Ballage only had 11 carries for 59 yards, but his 23-yard touchdown run to clinch the victory over the Bruins (you can watch the highlight here), where he carried several UCLA defenders for the final 20 yards, is already a fan favorite highlight for Sun Devil fans.

In case Todd Graham doesn’t want to feature Colorado native Ballage against the Buffs, he has Demario Richard (508 yards, four touchdowns, 5.5 ypc.) at his disposal for the running game. Then there is all-everything D.J. Foster, who had 688 yards rushing and over 1,000 yards receiving last fall … including 206 total yards and two touchdowns in Boulder against the Buffs.

The Arizona State defense was under fire after the Sun Devils’ 42-14 loss to USC two weeks ago, but earned praise after the 38-23 win over No. 7 UCLA.

In compiling a 3-2 overall record, the Arizona State defense has been adequate, coming in at No. 59 in the nation in total defense (369.4 ypg.; CU is 66th, at 380.4), but is 84th in the country in scoring defense, surrendering 26.8 ppg. (CU is 46th, at 21.4). CU wants to get its running game going, but standing in its way are two of the best tacklers in the Pac-12, linebacker Salamo Fiso and safety Jordan Simone. The pair have already combined for 14.5 tackles for loss this season.

The better bet for the Colorado offense – get the passing game going. The Arizona State secondary has surrendered ten touchdowns through the air, with only one team in the Pac-12 (Oregon) having given up more.

Once again, it would be a good time for Sefo Liufau to break out of his season long slump. The game in Tempe brings Liufau full circle, as it was the Arizona State game in Tempe two years ago in which Liufau made his debut, coming in as a sub before making his starting debut against Charleston Southern the following week.

 

I – Intangibles

After the Hawai’i game, the Buffs went all Twisted Sister.

According to the coaches and players, the theme in the locker room in Honolulu and the following week of practice was “We’re Not Going To Take It Anymore”.  The Buffs were tired of losing, and were just not going to accept defeats in games they should win.

The team responded with three straight wins. Granted, the three teams the Buffs have beaten have a current combined record of 3-10, with those three wins coming over Savannah State, UTSA and FIU … but at least the Buffs had some momentum.

After the Oregon game, there was some sense of anger and frustration, but not like that seen after the Hawai’i game. The CU players were given the “moral victory” question time and time again, and while most of the quotes were diplomatic, they certainly weren’t on the scale of “We’re Not Going To Take It Anymore”.

Then, on Tuesday, Coach MacIntyre gave the dreaded “best practice ever” quote. “We had the best Tuesday practice we’ve ever had after a loss,” said MacIntyre at the Tuesday press conference. “That was the best practice we’ve ever, ever, ever, had on a Tuesday with the enthusiasm and the effort”.

Sounds nice, and no, Buff fans wouldn’t expect their head coach to come into the press room and say, “It looks like the team has given up, and has resigned itself to eight more Pac-12 losses”.

By the same token, a little sense of anger and frustration (Buff fans have plenty of both stored up after the past nine seasons) wouldn’t hurt.

Meanwhile, in Tempe, all is well with the world again, as the Sun Devils are basking in the glow of their 38-23 domination of No. 7 UCLA on the road last weekend.

So, we’re back to familiar territory … the home team gushing with confidence, the Buffs on the road with their fragile confidence built up over the previous three weeks taken down a notch or two by a domination on both sides of the line by Oregon.

 

P – Preparation / Schedule

For Arizona State, the game Saturday night is the classic “trap” game.

The previous two games for the Sun Devils before the Buffs: USC; at UCLA.

The next two games for the Sun Devils after the Buffs: at Utah; Oregon.

Now, if you are an Arizona State player/coach/fan, which of those five games are you marking down as a guaranteed “W”?

Throw in the fact that Arizona State is 6-0 all-time against Colorado, and is a two-touchdown favorite Saturday night, there is every reason for the Sun Devils to overlook the Buffs.

Not much to go on, but it’s something … and the Buffs need all the help they can get.

Counter the above with this harsh reality: The Buffs suck when they play on my birthday.

In my 35+ years as a Buff fan, the University of Colorado has yet to win a game on October 10th.

Witness:

– In 1981, Nebraska set an NCAA record with 42 first downs in a 59-0 blowout of the Buffs (total yards: NU, 719; CU, 146);

– In 1987, Mike Gundy threw for two scores and Barry Sanders ran for two more in leading Oklahoma State to a 42-17 win;

– In 1998, CU rallied from 16-0 to 16-9 in the final six minutes against Kansas State. The Buffs would have gotten the ball back – with a chance at a last minute victory – but had 12 men on the field for a KSU punt, allowing the Wildcats to keep the ball and run out the clock;

– In 2009, the Buffs hung tough for awhile against No. 2 Texas in Austin, but mistakes led to a blowout in the end, 38-14 (the day wasn’t a total loss, though, as I did get to celebrate my birthday at the Bikini Bar just off campus).

There you go … 0-4 on my birthday. Average score in those four losses: 38-10. (Now, to be fair, in 1992, the undefeated and 9th-ranked Buffs were supposed to play Missouri on October 10th, but ESPN thought it would be fun to move CU’s first trip back to Columbia since the “Fifth Down” game to Thursday night, so the Buffs’ 6-0 win was actually recorded on October 8th).

So, if you are looking for good karma for Saturday night, hope that Arizona State players are looking past Colorado … and that the Buffs don’t look at a calendar.

 

S – Statistics

Simple math:

– Colorado is 3-0 so far this season when games are played at a reasonable hour; 0-2 in games when the games stretch into the wee hours … Advantage, Arizona State, as the game Saturday won’t start until 8:07 p.m., mountain time;

– Arizona State is 21-1 under Todd Graham when holding its opponents scoreless in the first quarter;

– This season, the Sun Devils are 3-0 when scoring first, 0-2 when the opponent scores first;

– The 38-24 score last season was as close as the Buffs have been to the Sun Devils in the six all-time games played between the two teams (all since 2006). The average score in the first six games: 41-16;

Statistical categories in which Arizona State ranks 100th or worse nationally:

– third-down conversion defense (100th);

– quarterback sacks allowed (108th);

– punt returns (105th);

– punt return yardage defense (120th).

So, the math is easy for the Buffs … keep the chains moving by converting third downs, get to the quarterback, and return a punt or two for a touchdown.

Let’s do it!

 

Prediction … If you have made it this far in the article, thank you and congratulations! If you have been getting down to the end of the “T.I.P.S.” the past few weeks, then you know that the predictions have been getting closer and closer. After bombing on the Hawai’i game (foolishly picking a CU win), my predictions have been as follows:

– Prediction: CU 42, UMass 27 … Final score: Colorado 48, UMass 14

– Prediction: CU 24, Colorado State 21 … Final score: Colorado 27, Colorado State 24 OT

– Prediction: CU 49, Nicholls 10 … Final score: Colorado 48, Nicholls 0

– Prediction: Oregon 41, Colorado 24 … Final score: Oregon 41, Colorado 24

Yes, for better or worse, I not only had the winner and the spread last week, but the exact score of the game.

That being said … I hope I’m wrong this week.

A week ago, the Buffs were riding high on a three-game winning streak, with hopes of defeating an Oregon team which had been ranked No. 7 in the country just three weeks earlier. Meanwhile, Arizona State was reeling with a 2-2 record, licking its wounds after a 42-14 home loss to USC.

A week ago, there were thoughts that Colorado could not only stay with Arizona State, but take down the Sun Devils in Tempe.

Seven days later, we are looking at a CU team which was gashed by Oregon, with its third year starting quarterback outplayed by a quarterback playing in his first game before a visiting team. Now the Buffs, who have had trouble stopping the run against Oregon, will be try and stop the Arizona State offense while their top two tacklers – Kenneth Olugbode and Addison Gillam – sidelined with injuries.

Meanwhile, on the other sideline, Arizona State is rejuvenated, having dominated UCLA on the road. The Sun Devils are back in the Pac-12 South race, and will be oozing confidence at kickoff Saturday night.

Will the roles reverse again? Buff fans can only hope so, with CU getting a good game out of its offense, and Arizona State reverting back to how it played against USC.

It would be nice, but I doubt it.

The average score of the Arizona State/Colorado games, as the Sun Devils have built up a 6-0 lead in the series, is 41-16. While I can see it getting that out of hand Saturday night, I’m willing to give the Buffs of 2015 more credit.

A little more credit.

Arizona State 38, Colorado 20

—–

 

 

11 Replies to “CU at Arizona State – A Preview”

  1. Stuart,
    To reach my preseason prediction of a 7-6 Buff “bowl season”, it is looking like the Buffs will need to turn a predicted L into a W. Unfortunately I doubt that this is the year we break the ASU curse. If we are to pull this off then the O can help out the D by executing,holding possession and put at least 34 pts. on the board.

    I really think the score will be closer than the game, with some red zone stops by the Buffs D and we actually score a TD after a ASU turnover. Prediction ASU 34 CU 23

    AS always, as USC just found out, rep is all smoke, if you don’t do it on the field GO BUFFS !!!

  2. I really try hard to feel that on an given date or time that the Buffs can do this and really believe they can ,thats what makes the game fun to watch . so here we go get mad that many think you don`t have a chance ,prove them wrong and do it win by one or six just do it ,Go Buffs !!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Stuart, I agree with everything you said above. If our offensive line was playing better, I would make this a much closer game but…. ASU 42 – CU 28.
    GO BUFFS!!!!

  4. Looking like another long night for the BUFFS.Hope they prove me wrong and get the big upset. GO BUFFS !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    ARIZONA STATE 52 COLORADO 20

  5. Sefo made his debut two years ago. I remember it well. You either have it or you don’t. Like true frosh Rosen. He has it. Sefo came in against ASU number “2” after it was 25-0. The number 2;s weren’t all that good. Sefo promptly had two lost fumbles and a pick in three quarters of play. Enough said. He’s 1-14 as a Pac 12 starter since. Enough said again. ASU 49 CU 17.

    1. Yo Scott,
      Cut the kid a break and start putting the blame where it belongs. Highly paid offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren is 1-18 against Pac-12 foes. He calls the plays and his failure to develop the CU quarterbacks and to stretch the field with deep balls (and work on QB skills in general) are the reason the Buffs are almost always on the short end of the stick in Pac-12 play. To say the least, Lindgren is the least feared offensive coordinator in the conference. I fear that things won’t get much better until Mac either starts calling the plays or assigns someone like Troy Walters, Gary Bernardi or Klayton Adams to the job. Lindgren has had 2 1/2 years to prove himself and has failed to win against conference competition. My vote off the top of my head would go to Walters. He’s a real smart guy who went to Stanford and knows what it’s like to take on Pac-12 defenses. As for Lindgren, this ain’t Northern Arizona anymore.

      1. Boulderdevil, I could not agree more. We finally have a big time defensive coordinator, it’s time for an upgrade on the offensive side of the ball. I see so many other teams putting up “Star Wars” offensive numbers with no better talent than we have, simply through scheme and deception. We run the same garbage week in and week out. Occasional flashes, little creativity and no consistency. Sefo has enough talent and more than enough moxie to get it done, we need to get him in better situations.

      2. Mark I understand where you’re coming from about Lindgren. Things are not going to get better because coach Mac will not change. That will most likely lead to one or zero PAC12 wins this year and a new coach next year. Of course Sefo still needs to execute better regardless of the plays being called. It seems to me the coaching staff knows his limitations and that’s why they have taken the ball out of his hands a bit this year by running more. SEFO is still having the same issues as he has had in the past. Under and over throwing receivers as well as missing wide open receivers and poor decisions. So he is either that bad or these coaches are in capable of teaching him and bringing more out of him. I again say if the latter is the case this will be coach Mac’s final season at Colorado.
        GO BUFFS !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. Stuart, I agree with pretty much everything you say here. The stars are definitely not aligned in a way that gives the fans much hope for a victory (or even staying within 2 TDs) in Tempe. However, I still see some little ray of hope that our players are gaining the confidence and camaraderie that will lead them to at least a few more victories this season. Last week I think there may have been so much talk of an upset that it almost seemed like it was expected. This week is truly an opportunity to come in under the radar and “shock the world.” Go Buffs!

  7. I’ve been optimistic on all games to date but have a bad feeling about this one. Part of it is the linebacker situation. The Buffs did not seem all that upset about their loss to the Ducks. At this point, I feel the Buffs have less of a chance upsetting the Sun Devils than anyone else (other than perhaps red hot Utah) left on their schedule. I really hope I am wrong as upsetting the Devils would be a season changer.

    ASU 49 CU 28

  8. Yo Stuart,

    Does that “reasonable hours” stat mean reasonable for fans? The game in Hawaii may have been late for those of us watching back here but was a 7 o’ clock game in Hawaii. Hardly the wee hours and fully expected since it was played on a Thursday and thus had to be a night game.

    Mark
    Boulderdevil

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