Colorado at No. 24 Arizona State Preview – “T.I.P.S.” for Mel Tucker’s First Road Game

October 6, 2018 … a/k/a the pinnacle of CU football since the end of the 2016 season.

It was last October 6th that Laviska Shenault ran around, past, and through the Arizona State defense, scoring all four of CU’s touchdowns in a 28-21 win in Boulder. Shenault had 13 catches for 127 yards and two touchdowns, with five carries for 13 yards and two more scores.

“He’s a fabulous player,” Arizona State coach Herm Edwards said. “There were times we had doubled him and he still caught the football. They found a way to get him the football and he made a lot of big plays for them.”

With the win, Colorado moved to 5-0 on the season, and moved up to No. 19 in the polls.

Those were the days.

Since that game, CU has gone 2-8, including last weekend’s 30-23 overtime loss to Air Force.

Will the Buffs be able to recapture some of the magic from last season’s game against the Sun Devils? Will Laviska Shenault be able to have another monster game?

One thing for certain: The Arizona State defense will know where Shenault is at all times Saturday night, and Laviska knows it. “I definitely expect (ASU’s full attention),” Shenault said. “That’s why it is a team sport and not an ‘I’ sport. We have the guys who can do it. Anybody that comes in can get the job done. Everyone has to execute.”

We’ll see if the rest of his team is up to the task …

This week’s “T.I.P.S.” for CU at No. 24 ASU … Saturday, 8:00 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Networks

T – Talent 

This ain’t the Arizona State offense that Buff fans have seen the past few seasons.

Gone is quarterback Manny Wilkins, a three-year starter. Also gone is wide receiver N’Keal Harry, also a three-year starter (and an NFL first-round draft pick).

While Wilkins (Green Bay) and Harry (New England) are plying their trade in the NFL, the Sun Devils are turning the page in Year Two under Herm Edwards.

At quarterback is true freshman Jayden Daniels. The good news for ASU fans is that in three games, Daniels is completing 61% of his passes, and has yet to throw an interception. The bad news? Daniels has thrown only three touchdown passes in those three games, and has been sacked ten times (compare: Steven Montez has completed 64% of his passes, with six touchdowns, two interceptions, and five sacks).

Daniels’ favorite target has been senior wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, who has 13 catches for 301 yards and a touchdown (after gaining 474 yards all of last year). Second on the receptions list is ASU bell cow, star running back Eno Benjamin. In addition to leading the Sun Devils in rushing (Benjamin has 209 yards on the ground – the exact same number, as fate would have it, as CU’s Alex Fontenot), with one rushing touchdown to go with his two receiving touchdowns.

In all, the trio have posted all five of Arizona State’s touchdowns.

… A brief pause to let that sink in …

Yup, five touchdowns in three games … or one touchdown less than the Colorado offense scored in the opener against Colorado State (the Buffs posted seven touchdowns in all against the Rams, but one was by the defense).

The primary culprit for an offense which is ranked 97th in the nation in total offense (355.3 ypg.) and 111th in the nation in scoring offense (19.7 ppg.) is the offensive line. Projected to have five senior starters across the line (including three returning starters), the offensive line has suffered from injuries and poor play.

“It is hard when you are moving pieces all the time”, Herm Edwards said of the shuffling of his offensive line. “But, due to injuries and some other things, we had no choice”.

So, with an offense posting numbers which would have CU fans bringing tar and feathers to the Champions Center, how is it that Arizona State is 3-0 and nationally ranked?

Defense and special teams.

It’s not difficult to figure out the average number of points/game allowed by Arizona State. The Sun Devil defense allowed 7 points to Kent State (30-7), 7 points to Sacramento State (19-7), and 7 points to Michigan State (10-7).

Not a surprise: Arizona State is second in the nation in scoring defense (second only to Wisconsin, which has yet to allow a point after two games).

The defense wasn’t projected to be especially stout this year. The unit was 73rd in total defense last year, and returned only six starters (Athlon, in fact, rated the ASU defensive line the 10th-best in the Pac-12, one spot below CU’s much-maligned unit).

And yet … the Arizona State defense has allowed a grand total of seven points per game to its first three opponents.

This just in … CU’s attempt to better that average will be the key to deciding the game this weekend.

The Sun Devils also have an edge over their opponents in special teams. When forced to punt – which is often for an offense scoring less than 20 points a game – Arizona State calls on Michael Turk, who is third in the nation in punting, at 49.5 yards/punt. Turk averaged 63 yards on five punts in ASU’s season opener against Kent State, besting the NCAA record set in 2018 for a five-attempt minimum by Texas A&M’s Braden Mann (60.8). ASU’s previous record for five punts stood since 1972 (Danny White, 55.0).

So, even when the Buff defense can force a punt – which needs to be often Saturday night – the battle for field position isn’t over.

I – Intangibles 

“What a difference a week makes, right?”, Mel Tucker said at his press conference after the Air Force game.

No kidding.

The CU offense stunk it up for much of the game against Nebraska before staging a furious comeback, scoring a last minute touchdown to send the game into overtime.

The CU offense then stunk it up for much of the game against Air Force before staging a furious comeback, scoring a last minute touchdown to send the game into overtime.

I’ll assume you know how each game turned out.

The Buffs were the toast of the town a week ago, and now are being second-guessed.

Meanwhile, Arizona State stunk it up against Sacramento State, a last-place FCS team from the Big Sky Conference, escaping with a 19-7 win. Then last weekend, the Sun Devils escaped with a 10-7 win over Michigan State, which witnessed the Spartans making a tying field goal in the final minute, only to have it wiped out because MSU had 12 players on the field. Pushed back five yards, the Spartans then missed the next attempt … and were denied another attempt when the Pac-12 officials assigned to the game missed a penalty for leaping over the pile in an attempt to block the kick (an error for which the Pac-12 has apologized).

Such is the razor-thin margin of college football.

Had the Buffs comeback to win in overtime, they would have been, if not ranked, at least very close to being ranked.

Had the Sun Devils been properly penalized at the end of the Michigan State game, and gone on to lose in overtime to the Spartans, there’s no chance ASU is anywhere near the Top 25 this week.

Instead, Colorado is 2-1, with naysayers already circling the Champions Center, while Arizona State rocketed into the Top 25, entering the polls (at No. 23) on the heels of a win over a ranked Michigan State team (the exact same scenario as last year, with ASU dropping right back out of the polls after losing to San Diego State the following weekend).

We’re dealing with 18- to 22-year olds here. How the Buffs react to their first loss under Mel Tucker, and how the Sun Devils play after re-entering the polls for the second time under Herm Edwards … is anyone’s guess.

“We have had a little bit of success,” Edwards said. “How do we handle it? We were in a similar spot last year. We had some success, but we got our nose punched in. So, we will find out. All of the warning signs are there”.

P – Preparation/Schedule

99, 100, 103, 101, 97, 97, 98 …

Test scores for Young Sheldon?

Nope … the high temperatures for Tempe this week, including a high of 97 Saturday, when the Buffs will be in town (with a temperature at the 8:00 p.m., MT, kickoff likely in the low 90’s).

Every team which has to travel to play in the desert in September endures this fate. The last time the Sun Devils played at home, two weeks ago against Sacramento State, the temperature at kickoff was 108-degrees.

Mel Tucker, who actually said during Fall Camp that he wished it was hotter for practices, knows what’s coming. At his press conference Tuesday, Tucker said: “We will make sure we’re well hydrated. That is important. You can’t wait until the morning of the game to start to hydrate.”

Knowing what to do, and living through it, are two different things …

As to the schedule itself, Saturday’s game represents the Pac-12 conference opener for both schools. Colorado, it may surprise you, is actually 2-1 in Pac-12 openers played on the road (defeating Washington State, 35-34, in 2012; losing to Oregon State, 44-17, in 2013; and defeating Oregon, 41-38, in 2016) … not that holds any water for this weekend.

In terms of looking ahead, the Buffs have a bye week next weekend, while the Sun Devils will be on the road with a short week, traveling to Berkeley to face the resurgent Cal Bears.

Not likely that the Sun Devils are looking past the Buffs towards their nationally televised (ESPN) game next weekend, but the Buffs won’t play again for two weeks after Saturday night’s game.

Time to let it all hang out …

S – Statistics

— Colorado has out-scored its opponents, 51-24, in the fourth quarter so far this season, with the 51 points already more than the Buffs scored in the fourth quarter of all of the 2018 season (39). Buff fans had better hope that that domination continues, because Arizona State has not only allowed just 21 points all season, in each game, the opponent’s touchdown came in the fourth quarter. The Sun Devil defense has pitched a shutout through three quarters of each of its first three games;

— Laviska Shenault had 11 touches against Air Force, with nine of those touches going for first downs, with a tenth touchdown going for a touchdown (from two yards out, no first down awarded). Translation: Get Laviska the ball!;

— Arizona State entered the polls this week as the nation’s No. 23, which is significant for the Buffs historically. Colorado hasn’t beaten a ranked team on the road since defeating UCLA, 31-17, in 2002. That’s 29 straight road losses to ranked teams, covering the last four years of Gary Barnett’s tenure, and every game coached by Dan Hawkins, Jon Embree, and Mike MacIntyre. Mel Tucker gets opportunity No. 1 in his first road game as CU’s head coach;

Oh, and this just in … CU is 0-6 all-time in games played in Tempe against Arizona State;

— In defeating Michigan State 10-7 last weekend, Arizona State kept an impressive streak going, but just barely. The Sun Devils have scored in double digits in 122 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the FBS.

Something’s gotta give … Arizona State can’t run the ball (109th nationally), while CU can’t stop the run (112th nationally). The Sun Devils struggle to move the ball (97th in total offense), while the Buffs struggle to stop the opposition (117th in total defense);

What to watch for … Star running back Eno Benjamin has played 81 snaps in pass routes this season, the second-highest total for any running back in FBS. His 137 receiving yards rank 5th among running backs nationally. Look for Benjamin to be the target of multiple passes this weekend, exploiting CU’s inability to handle plays to the outside.

Prediction … The Air Force game was a tough reality check.

The Buffs were outplayed at home by Nebraska for three quarters … but got away with it.

The Buffs were outplayed at home by Air Force for three quarters … and didn’t get away with it.

If the Buffs are outplayed on the road by Arizona State for three quarters … it could get ugly.

Yes, it was tough preparing for a gimmick Falcon offense that the Buff players are not used to seeing. Yes, it was a tough piece of scheduling to have three straight emotional games to open the season. Yes, the game meant more to the Mountain West Falcons than the Pac-12 Buffs … and it showed.

But, here’s the thing: For much of the Air Force game, the 2109 Buffs looked all too much like the 2018 Buffs, the team which lost seven straight games to end the season. The 2018 Buffs couldn’t get on track on offense, and often looked over-matched on defense. The Air Force game had much the same feel … and Air Force was supposed to be the easiest game remaining on the schedule.

Arizona State has played three games in which it hasn’t allowed a point until the fourth quarter, and the Buffs have gotten off to slow starts in its first three games. This could prove to be a lethal combination Saturday night.

Can the Buffs go three quarters against Arizona State, and just hope to turn it on in the final stanza, and pull off an upset (CU is a 7.5-point underdog)? Not likely.

I have great faith that Mel Tucker will turn the CU program around. I have great faith that the 2019 Buffs, even with losses like the one suffered against Air Force, will not give up on themselves or the season (as certainly felt to be the case as the losses piled up last October and November).

I would like to believe that this team can take advantage of a fair-to-middling Pac-12 South, and raise some eyebrows nationally with some unexpected wins. Arizona State is ranked, but, as was the case last year, is likely to be exposed as a pretender, and will likely end up with another 7-5 season. The Buffs, as was the case last year, could help expose the Sun Devils as a fraud.

However … The lackluster performance against Air Force, coupled with a decade-plus of disappointment, have left Buff fans wondering if this team is up to the challenge.

Prove me wrong, Buffs!!

Prediction … No. 23 Arizona State 27, Colorado 17

Previous predictions … 

Colorado 38, Colorado State 20 … Actual: Colorado 52, Colorado State 31

Colorado 37, No. 25 Nebraska 31 … Actual: Colorado 34, No. 25 Nebraska 31 (OT)

— Colorado 34, Air Force 24 … Actual: Air Force 30, Colorado 24 (OT)

—–

18 Replies to “CU at No. 24 ASU – “T.I.P.S.” for Mel Tucker’s First Road Game”

  1. I won’t venture a score prediction except to say the Buffs somehow find a way to win and get the Tempe winless monkey off their back. The defense MUST find a way to halt all of the big plays that have dogged them. I also hope that OLB Carson Wells (concussion I believe-unless I’ve missed something) can get back into the fray, as he’s been needed ever since logging 61 plays against CSU.

  2. Sounds like a perfect game for CU. Start slow and finish strong in the 2nd half. It’s been their calling card for the first three weeks. Hopefully they actually win unlike last Saturday. I like the Buffs in a close game. CU 19 ASU 14 GO BUFFS !!!!!

  3. Too much head not enough heart in the prediction….That is what Tuck is bringing to us…heart, toughness. We’ll see it on display this Saturday’s Buffs WIN.

  4. Can we contain the ASU quarterback? Remains to be seen. Can Montez be consistent? Remains to be seen. Our weaknesses seem to over shadow their weaknesses.
    CU 21 ASU 24

  5. Long drive Buffs. I’d like to see that. Like 4 scoring drives, and I mean drives in the first half.
    The offense has looked out of rythym/sinc/planning/attitude all three games. Very poor looking offense, very poor. The offense has been the problem the last 3 years. (never was an air raid offense ep) A couple of common denominators………………..oh wait it has to be because of 3 different offensive coordinators during that time . Has to be. …………ignore the other common denominators……………..

    The Air Force game was lost because no matter what the coaches and players said…………….both were a bit lethargic…………………..players were………………….coaches didn’t see it until they watched the tape…………………..Miscue……………coaches

    Let that be a lesson…………………you all believing your own BS……………..unfortunately there are a lot of us believing it as well.

    Road Trip…………………….Buffs win:

    31 to 17

    1. never said it was just using the term as an example that we need to pass to open up the running game. I will try and be more specific for those who have a tough time grasping the overall point

      1. I grasp it, I grasp it. Look up in the air it’s a pass, and another pass, and another pass, because that is the strength of this offense……….qualifier…….if the Oline can protect the QB with a little blocking. Actually I kind of got the idea that the passing game with the players on this team was the strength for this year. Use it and just as the old saying goes “Build it and they will come,” …….another old saying or at least a new made up saying for this CU team……”Pass the ball successfully and the run will come.”

  6. Not sure what to think of this game. ASU appears overrated but last weekend’s Buffs felt like the Buffs of the last two years. This feels like a pivotal game to see how the new coaching staff gets the players to respond and believe that they can get it done. My heart says yes. My head says no with the downward trend line of the offense and a decent ASU defense. ASU 17 CU 14.

  7. Please give us some offense early. Hopefully ASU will be taking Mel’s word that we are going to try and establish the running game first and we come out with some air raid first instead. Start out with some easy throws to get Montez in a rhythm (which hasn’t happened yet) move on to a couple more down field and then let Alex and Jared try and pop one up them middle. KEEP THEM OFF BALANCE PLEASE. I appreciate Mel’s wish to make the opposition bend to our terms but unless you have 4 and 5 star guys all across the O line (like he has at Georgia and Alabama)beating the other team down is way harder.
    If we dont make a bowl this year, when other teams in the South are down, we may never. The more years that go by without one the, worse the schools rep becomes and the harder it is to recruit the players you need….a downward spiral and we have been spiraling too long already.

  8. I’m not a believer in ASU whatsoever. There was an article on USA today (https://spartanswire.usatoday.com/2019/09/18/crunching-the-numbers-michigan-state-loss-to-arizona-state-was-weird-as-hell/) about how just hilariously inept and anti-clutch the MSU offense was against ASU and how by almost any metric they should have put up like 30 points on ASU.

    Plus, ASU is starting a true freshman QB and a 17-year-old true freshman LEFT TACKLE. Good luck against Mustafa Johnson to that guy.

    All CU has to do is not give up huge TDs due to silly mental errors. Easier said then done, but they’ve basically been spotting opponents 21 points a game due to broken coverages so far. I think they get their shit together for the first time this year and expose ASU as the pretenders they are.

    CU 24 ASU 13

  9. Yo Stuart,
    I’m thinking that it might be closer than that, if not a Buff win. I warned about the danger of Air Force before that game. After two big rivalry games, it was certain that the Buffs might not come out with a full on head of steam.

    It’s conference season now, the Buffs know that can’t take a game off. If the Buffs were going to lose a game in non-conference, Air Force was the best option. The loss last week makes sure that Tucker and the coaches will have their players attention this week.

    I’m excited enough to be going down to Tempe for the game. Hoping my Buffs come through.

    GO BUFFS!
    Mark
    GoldenBuffs.com

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