Colorado vs. Arizona State – A Preview … “T.I.P.S.” for CU’s Homecoming

The Buffs have reached the midway point of their 2016 regular season with a 4-2 overall record, 2-1 in Pac-12 play.

Many of us were projecting a 3-3, 1-2 record at this stage, with the win at Autzen Stadium against Oregon being the outlier in the first half of the season.

Six weeks ago, the Arizona State game was seen as a make-or-break game for the Buffs’ season. A win, and the Buffs would have a good chance at a bowl game. A loss, and it might be a struggle to recover.

Nothing has really changed.

With a victory over the Sun Devils, the Buffs will remain in first place in the Pac-12 South division, be one game away from bowl eligibility (with three home games remaining), and will have successfully bounced back from a disappointing loss to USC.

With a loss to the Sun Devils, the Buffs will fall out of first place in the Pac-12 South division, and will be on a two-game losing streak with preseason Pac-12 favorites Stanford and UCLA up next on the schedule.

No pressure.

 

Here are this week’s “T.I.P.S.” for CU v. Arizona State … Saturday, 6:00 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Networks

T – Talent 

Colorado opened on Sunday as an eight-point favorite over Arizona State, with the line moving to 13.5 in the first 24 hours.

Was it because bettors felt that the Buffs improved almost a touchdown in value between Sunday and Monday?

Not really.

The reason for the big move in the line is that no one knows who will start at quarterback for the Sun Devils come Saturday night.

It appeared Monday morning as if Arizona State would be down to its fourth-string quarterback against the Buffs, with three signal callers going down to injury since August. By Monday afternoon, however, the same Arizona Republic newspaper which stated that a true freshman would start in Boulder was reporting that the Sun Devils’ starting quarterback, Manny Wilkins, could be back for the CU game. “I fully intend on Manny being back,” ASU head coach Todd Graham said. “I’m just being honest about that. Our plan is for him to practice by Thursday.”

Wilkins led Arizona State to a 4-0 start before being injured in the 41-20 loss to USC two weeks ago. While specifics on his injury have not been disclosed, there are reports that Wilkins suffered a high ankle sprain … the same injury which has kept Sefo Liufau out of the starting lineup since the Michigan game.

Wilkins is a dual-threat quarterback, and has rushed for over 250 yards this season. In his last full game before the injury, Wilkins threw for 290 yards and a score, while also posting 23 carries for 72 yards and three touchdowns in a 51-41 shootout win over Cal.

It would be doubtful that, owing to the nature of Wilkins’ injury and the perilous status of the ASU quarterback roster, that Wilkins – if he plays – will be carrying the ball all that often. It would make sense to try and limit his exposure to further injury, which translates to more pocket passing.

Whoever plays quarterback for the Sun Devils, there will still be some weapons with which to attack the Colorado defense. ASU has two quality running backs, Demario Richard (436 yards rushing, two touchdowns) and Kalen Ballage (310 yards rushing, nine touchdowns). If ASU is having trouble at the quarterback position, look for Ballage to take a number of snaps at quarterback from the Wildcat position. (Side note: If the name Ballage sounds familiar, it may be because Colorado was in the running for this four-star recruit from Peyton, Colorado, all the way up to Signing Day, 2014, when Ballage chose the Sun Devils over the Buffs).

The main weapon on the receiving corps is Tim White, who has 39 catches for 428 yards so far this season (for comparison’s sake: the leading CU receiver is Shay Fields, with 25 catches for 492 yards).

The Arizona State defense is an odd mix. The Sun Devils held UCLA to minus-one yards rushing (in 23 attempts) in beating the Bruins, 23-20. A combination of tackles for loss and sacks put UCLA into negative numbers on the ground …

… but not in the air. UCLA’s Josh Rosen, before leaving with an injury of his own, threw for 400 yards and two touchdowns. On the season, Arizona State is dead last in the nation – and by a considerable margin – in pass defense. The Sun Devils are giving up an average of 404.3 yards passing per game, with the No. 127 school in the nation, Rice, yielding 355.0 yards passing per game.

And yet, the Sun Devils are 5-1, and are ranked 24th in the nation in the USA Today coaches’ poll this week.

How?

The Sun Devils blitz often, and use any number of packages to try and confuse the opposing offenses.  “They’re aggressive,” CU running backs coach Darian Hagan said. “Their blitz package, their stunts — they disrupt things with their front seven. That’s what they love to do.”

Arizona State also brings to Boulder the reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player-of-the-Week. Sun Devil linebacker Marcus Ball had ten tackles (all solo) in the 23-20 win over UCLA, also contributing an interception which led to the game-deciding field goal (ASU also has the current Pac-12 Special Teams POTW, kicker Zane Gonzalez, who last weekend established a new all-time FBS record for field goals – 89 and counting).

If the Buffs are going to exploit the Arizona State weak pass defense, they will have to control the line of scrimmage. That didn’t happen against USC, but it must happen Saturday for the Buffs to win.

 

I – Intangibles

Second verse … same as the first.

Tell me if you’ve heard this one: Colorado has never beaten this week’s opponent.

Yup. A week after taking a 0-10 all-time record into the Coliseum to take on USC, the Buffs return home to face another opponent they have never defeated.

Colorado is 0-7 all-time against Arizona State, with five of those losses coming since CU joined the Pac-12. In those five games, the average score has been 48-18, with the Buffs never coming within two touchdowns of the Sun Devils.

Last season, the Buffs traveled to Tempe with a 3-2 record. Arizona State was also 3-2. A chance at earning some respect for the Buffs instead resulted in a 48-23 thumping by the Sun Devils. Said ASU head coach Todd Graham: “We came out and dominated a team we should dominate”.

Not a great deal of respect there.

Coach MacIntyre talked last week about making history against USC. He spoke often about the opportunity to be the first Buff squad to defeat a Trojan team.

The same mantra might not work this week, so MacIntyre is taking a different tack.

Saturday’s game will be the Buffs’ fourth game played in the state of Colorado. The Buffs opened the season with a 44-7 win over Colorado State in Denver, then followed that with a 56-7 home win over Idaho State and a 47-6 home win over Oregon State.

In sum, the Buffs have outscored opponents 147-20 in games played in Colorado this year.

After Saturday’s loss at USC, MacIntyre reminded his players of their play in Colorado this season.

“I told the kids, ‘We don’t lose in Colorado,'” MacIntyre said. “When we play in Colorado, we’ve played really well and I expect us to play well again.”

Whatever works, Coach.

 

P – Preparation/Schedule

If you take away the jerseys and the recent history, and simply match Team A against Team B and Team C, predicting the outcome of the Pac-12 South race might take a different turn.

All three teams sport 2-1 conference records; all three teams have six conference games remaining to be played.

Team A has four road games remaining, including a road tilt against No. 5 Washington, and has to play Team C on the road (but gets Team B at home);

Team B has four road games remaining, with one of the remaining two home games being against No. 5 Washington, and must play both Team A and Team C on the road;

Team C has only two road games remaining, avoids Washington all together, and gets both Team A and Team B at home.

Give this scenario to your average college football “expert”, and they would say that Team C has a decided advantage heading into the second half of the season. That is, of course, until Team C is identified as Colorado, with Team A being Arizona State and Team B being Utah.

Colorado has to deal with a hangover which has lasted a decade … and it will take some victories to persuade the experts to jump on the Buff bandwagon.

There is still a great deal of football to be played, of course, so trying to predict the Pac-12 South winner with six games to go is pure speculation. And it would be foolish to discount USC (2-2 in Pac-12 play) and UCLA (1-2) from the race (Arizona, with an 0-3 Pac-12 record, is likely out of consideration for the league championship game).

Still, looking solely as the remaining calendar, the Buffs, if they can get past Arizona State, will establish themselves as the team to beat in the Pac-12 South race.

 

S – Statistics 

It goes by quickly.

Colorado is already halfway through the 2016 regular season, compiling a 4-2 record along the way.

While an argument could be made that team statistics are still skewed by non-conference play, but, considering that the Buffs had to play No. 4 Michigan along with Colorado State and Idaho State, we’re probably looking at some pretty real world numbers when it comes to the 2016 Buffs.

And they are impressive.

Even after being stifled for much of the game against USC, the Colorado offense is still averaging over 500 yards per game (504.5), ranked No. 17 in the nation. The offense is posting 38.8 points per game (up two touchdowns per game from last season), good enough for a No. 28 ranking.

The Colorado defense is ranked in the top 25 nationally in passing yards allowed (22nd; 185.0 per game), turnover margin (11th, +1.17), and total defense (23rd, 331.8 ypg.).

As for Arizona State, the Sun Devils are ranked in the top 25 nationally in only two categories, albeit important ones. Arizona State is 5th in the nation in rushing defense, giving up only 89.3 yards per game (Colorado, at 198.2 rushing yards per game, is ranked 44th nationally). The Sun Devils are also 24th in the nation in scoring offense, at 39.7 points per game.

If you are looking for encouraging stats when it comes to facing Arizona State, look no further than their passing defense. The Sun Devils are giving up 404.3 yards per game passing, a full 120 yards per game worse than the No. 11 team in the Pac-12, Oregon.

Arizona State is not only last in the nation in pass defense, but are almost 50 yards behind Rice, the team ranked No. 127 nationally. Some perspective? Rice, at 355.0 yards allowed passing per game, has played five games. If Arizona State had a bye this weekend, Rice would have to give up 651 yards passing this weekend against Texas-San Antonio to fall behind Arizona State in the national rankings.

Last weekend, UCLA had 444 yards of passing … and still lost, scoring only 20 points.

So, for those concerned about CU’s play calling (I still haven’t figured out how Darrin Chiaverini was calling all of the plays in the first five games, when the Buffs were successful, but it was Brian Lindgren calling the plays against USC, when the Colorado offense struggled), look for the Buff offense to return to form against the Sun Devils.

Whether its Sefo Liufau or Steven Montez behind center, the Buffs should be successful moving the ball … but need to convert scoring opportunities into points if Colorado is going to break its seven game losing streak to Arizona State

 

Prediction … I took some flak for predicting that USC was going to win last week … which was totally fine (I encourage and appreciate your thoughts and predictions. Keep those comments and emails coming!).

I just wasn’t feeling it last week. The Buffs were going on the road, were swimming upstream against history, and were pitted against a team (with quality athletes) which had its back against the wall.

This weekend, the Buffs are again up against history, facing a team which has never lost to Colorado.

This weekend, though, I’m siding with the Buffs.

This weekend, even though the Buffs need only two wins to reach bowl eligibility, it feels like Colorado has its back against the wall. If the goal of a Pac-12 championship is to remain a realistic goal, then the Buffs have to win this game.

I expect the Colorado offense to have a good game against Arizona State. I expect the Colorado defense to be able to handle the Sun Devil offense, whoever starts at quarterback (though I wouldn’t be surprised if Colorado native Kalen Ballage has a big game).

The time for being satisfied with staying close to Pac-12 opponents is coming to an end.

“We have a lot more at stake right now, we all know that,” linebacker Addison Gillam said Tuesday.

Added teammate Jimmie Gilbert: “I’m tired of these moral victories.”

So are we, Jimmie.

So are we.

… Colorado 37, Arizona State 21 … 

 

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13 Replies to “Arizona State – A Preview”

  1. This is exactly what I am concerned about as Chiaverini’s/Lindgren’s middle names are “Predictable.

    “They’re a very aggressive defense,” Adams said. “We have to make sure that going into the game that we’re in the right sets that give us opportunities to get the ball outside, or to make sure that we’re not just gambling. I think that’s where people get in trouble with them is if you just call a play and hope that it works, because they’re going to be in the right call for them a fair amount of the time. They’re going to play off your tendencies really hard.”

  2. I finally got to watch the ASU UCLA game. Here are some of my thoughts. Asu’s pass defense was not as bad as I was led to believe. Rosen was fitting some passes in in a lot of places that I don’t think Sefo or Montez could. The pass rush was not all that great either but it will probably be better against us as our line is not UCLA’s. That means that the quarterback is going to need to stand in the pocket and deliver even when he feels pressure. Montez pulled the ball and his eyes down way too fast vs USC. Sefo is better at this than Montez so I would go with him this week. I will say there do seem to be some holes in the ASU d at the 5 to 15 yard mark consistently and you should be able to scheme for it. There were a number of times I could look at the ASU defense and predict where a hole would develop.

    On our defense, I continue to believe in Leavitt and his D. ASU has some play makers and if their qb issue can be solved they are going to score some points just like USC. I predict under 28 if they can play Wilkins and he is close to 100%. If they do not have a qb, then Leavitt may treat us to an ASU shalacking.

    My predictions all come down to qb. I believe Sefo starts and shreds the ASU defense, versus a partially healthy Wilkins. Cu 34 ASU 18.

  3. Devin Ross has 32 catches and 412 yards; Bobo has 27 for 351 yds. Buffs have plenty of firepower to put the hurt on asu. And they’ll do just that. Buffs roll CU 38 asu 17

  4. Thanks Stuart,

    As a buff fan who has attended games since the early 70’s, I love your T.I.P.S.

    After the OSU game I remarked that it was the first time in what seemed like ages that I traveled back to CU and actually watched a winning game. Too often of late I planned my vacations around Buff games only to be disappointed. It really resonated with me when you posted a couple years back your feelings of misery traveling all the way to UMass, with the hassles involved, only to see a sub-par team.

    I’ll be traveling to Boulder again for ASU, but it feels different now. I haven’t looked forward to a game like this in years. We suffered through the back times, now it’s time to enjoy again!

    Go Buffs!

  5. I really felt that last Saturday would be the day the Buff’s would break through the Coliseum/USC WALL. Southern Cal has a lot of talent in all phases of the game and despite their record we were going to need a near perfect game to get that one. Didn’t happen!!

    The reason for SC prelude !? I can not see any reason for this Colorado squad to keep ASU’s win streak vs the Buff’s alive. Our O will be able to score on their D and our D is better than their O. That takes us to the Intangibles, both of these teams will want/need this one to control their way to the PAC 12 South Championship another gut check game! This will be a BUFF victory, but feel a lot closer than the final score. CU 34 – ASU 20

  6. A win is required to continue the rise and prove it is just more than a slogan. Like WB and BD, I am hoping the go back to the Chev offense and get away completely from the Lindgren/Mac2 offense. The Lindgren/Mac2 offense is predictable, weak and not adjustable. Same stuff over and over. The conservative, non-flexible,repetitive offense and playing not to lose almost always ensures a loss.

    At some point the Mac2 reign has to get to the next level. Nice program, nice wins against weak teams and losses against better teams. Can it/he/they win the required games?

    It should be expected/demanded they do. No more “I think they will” or “I think they can” or “I think they will make the adjustments” blah blah blah from some corners in Cali.

    Lose this game and The Rise is just like a small time loan guy. Phony.

    Go Buffs and continue The Rise

    Note: Some special recruits here this weekend.

    Note 2: I hoped Leavitt worked em hard on tackling cause it was weak last game. Not as weak as the predictable offensive game plan, play calling, and adjustments. But close.

    This is the year to prove it. Year 4.

    1. The rise is very real, VK. Mac and Co. are putting the lost decade of CU football behind us. Come along for the ride. It’s going to be a lot more fun than the last ten years or so.

      Go Buffs!

      PS- CU 41 ASU 31 (All because of Chev and Leavitt. Or something like that)

  7. USC was a tough loss. Very tough. But the team is resilient, plays well at home and will treat it as a necessary wake up call. Buffs win 3 of next 4 games, starting this week with a packed Folsom, Homecoming crowd.

    I didnt travel 1600 miles to see anything other than a Buffs win……31-20 home team.

  8. I feel the Buffs will win if for no other reason than the Buffs let one get away last week which felt all too much like last year’s close losses. This senior and junior led team will be focused, fired up, and determined.

    CU 42 ASU 24

  9. Yo Stuart,

    MacIntyre, Lindgren and Chiaverini are all to blame for not adjusting to USC stacking the box until late in the game. The Buffs have to be ready for whatever Graham throws at us. I’m quite sure ASU will stack the box and blitz early to see if Colorado adjusts.

    The best thing Colorado has going for it in this game is that the Sun Devil QB position is suffering. Graham can “intend” all he wants for Manny Wilkins, but high ankle sprains can drag on for weeks. Ask Sefo, who still looked gimpy for his spot duty last week.

    Defensively, the Buffs have to tackle better. I expect them to force a turnover to two, but they can’t expect another four. If we give up more than 500 yards again, ASU can certainly win this game.

    Also defensively, Leavitt and company have to be ready for the tight ends. The Devils have two TE’s with one catch apiece, both for touchdowns. Their main receiving threat at TE has 4 catches and no TD’s. Collectively, they average more than 20 yards a catch from the TE position. It may not seem like a lot, but USC tight ends had only 4 catches, but three of them were for touchdowns.

    I expect Colorado to protect Folsom field this week. But the Buffs really have to be ready to play. They can’t be overconfident or taking this ASU team lightly.

    Fortunately, I think the USC game was a wake-up call. Buffs 45-28.

    Mark
    Boulderdevil

    1. Have to agree with both Stuart and you Boulderdevil! I also hope that ASU has to prepare for our TE’s, but I am guessing no. Wish they would find at least one play per game to include them. “Sort of like the old hey diddle diddle, FB up the middle” that the Holers used with such effectiveness against us over the years. They never ran it much, but when they did it usually was effective.

      CU 45 – 24

    2. The Tight End. Interesting how teams use the tight ends to whip the Buffs. And whip the Broncos too.

      Buffs don’t use the tight ends as an offensive weapon. Neither do the Broncos.

      Must be a reason there somewhere?

      Maybe it is being saved for the“BIG GAME”

      Go Buffs. Gotta win this one. No question.

      Win it and then the Buffs only need to win 1 out of the next 5 to be bowl eligible.

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