Colorado vs. Arizona State: Complete Game Preview
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The Arizona State Sun Devils are coming off a disappointing performance in Arlington but have a chance to rebound against a struggling Colorado Buffaloes team.
The theme of the Sun Devils season thus far has been inconsistency.
Every time ASU has worked their way into the Top 25, they have lost and found themselves on the outside looking in. That's exactly the case this week.
Unfortunately for Sun Devil fans, a win against Colorado won't be enough to put them back into the national spotlight, but it would give the team a nice confidence boost before they take on a high-powered Washington Huskies squad the following week.
Colorado comes into Tempe looking for its first conference win and hopes to pull off the upset to show it can compete in the Pac-12. Dating back to last year, the Buffaloes have only won one conference game.
Here is all the information you need to know about Saturday's matchup.
Time: 10 p.m. ET
Place: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.
TV: Pac-12 Network
Radio: Sun Devil IMG Sports Network, 850 KOA
Spread: The Sun Devils are favored by 25-26 points (courtesy of Vegas Insider).
All stats from ESPN.com unless otherwise indicated.
Arizona State Keys to Victory
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Get Taylor Kelly's Confidence Back
Quarterback Taylor Kelly didn't have the best outing against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Saturday night. Kelly threw two interceptions, both coming when ASU needed a scoring drive at the end of the game.
He was also sacked six times and looked uncomfortable most of the night. Saturday night in Tempe, Kelly should be able to get his confidence back against a Colorado defense that has allowed teams to throw for almost 300 yards per game.
Stop the Run and the Pass
ASU's struggles against the run have been well documented this year, but against Notre Dame, ASU's secondary was also exposed. Now this key seems silly and simple, but for anyone who has watched ASU this year, it's really been one or the other, and at times neither. It would be nice for the Sun Devils to have their first good defensive outing since their season opener.
Establish the Run
Running back Marion Grice leads the nation with 13 total touchdowns, and Saturday night he should be able to pad that lead. ASU needs to establish the run early and often to take pressure off of Kelly and give their offensive line some extra work. Against Notre Dame, ASU's offensive line never allowed Grice or D.J. Foster to have running lanes and, moving forward, that is a major concern.
Colorado Keys to Victory
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Run the Ball
The Buffaloes haven't recorded a rushing touchdown this season, but it's safe to say they could change that Saturday night in Tempe. Colorado needs to use Christian Powell, Michael Adkins II and Tony Jones heavily on offense to move the ball.
ASU should pressure quarterback Connor Wood often, which could open up running lanes for the Buffaloes running backs. Once those guys are in space, they could take it to the house as the Sun Devils have struggled with tackling all season.
Capitalize on Mistakes
This is pretty standard for any four-touchdown underdog trying to pull the upset, but ASU has been mistake-prone lately. Taylor Kelly has thrown at least one interception in four of ASU's five games this year, and the Sun Devils special teams have been terrible this year. ASU has shot themselves in the foot more than a few times this year. For Colorado to win, they need to capitalize on those Sun Devil mistakes.
Win the Battle in the Trenches
For the first time since the first week of the season, ASU will have a size advantage in the trenches. The Sun Devils have gone through a gauntlet of large, powerful lines and should be able to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball against the Buffaloes.
If Colorado wants to win though, they need to dominate the trenches and control the line.
Players to Watch for ASU
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The JUCO transfer has recently been added to the Biletnikoff Watch List, and for good reason. The wide receiver has had at least 100 yards receiving in his last four games and has become the go-to guy for Taylor Kelly. The Buffaloes have allowed opponents to throw for almost 300 yards per game and that means Strong should be able to put up some big numbers Saturday night.
Randall got the start last Saturday in Texas and finished the game with 17 tackles. He had some mental lapses that hurt the Sun Devils, but it's hard to argue that anyone who accounts for 17 tackles, nine of which were solo, didn't have a good game.
ASU coach Todd Graham told azcentral.com's Doug Haller he was more than impressed with Randall's performance against Notre Dame:
That’s as good as I’ve had a free safety play ever for me in his first game. He did some great things. Made a big-time tackle in the kickoff return that could’ve gone to the house. He made a lot of tackles all over the field in the run game and did a great job in one-on-one coverage.
Randall should have another good game against Colorado.
Players to Watch for Colorado
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Michael Adkins II
Adkins gained 98 yards on just 14 carries in his first collegiate action against the Oregon State Beavers a few weeks ago. He didn't fare as well against the Oregon Ducks, but he could cause ASU's defense some issues.
Head coach Mike MacIntyre talked about his running back's play of late with John Henderson of the Denver Post, saying, "Michael's been running good. He's so fast. You see how he gets on the sideline, how he makes yards when you think he's down."
If Adkins gets touches and makes it to the edge, he will have plenty of running room and could make an impact.
ASU's secondary will have its hands full with Richardson. The wide receiver has recorded a touchdown grab in every game this year except one and has had two 200-yard receiving games already. The Sun Devils struggled last week to stop T.J. Jones and DaVaris Daniels of Notre Dame, and Richardson could pose similar issues.
What They Are Saying
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Jeff Metcalfe of azcentral.com has reported that ASU defensive tackle Jaxon Hood participated in practice on Tuesday and is expected to play on Saturday. Hood hasn't played since the game against the Stanford Cardinal.
Sun Devil fans chose a maroon helmet, maroon jersey and gold pants jersey combination for Saturday's matchup. Here is the voting breakdown, per azcentral.com:
The final voting looks like this:
Maroon helmet, maroon jersey, gold pants - 3,465 votes.
Black helmet, maroon jersey, black pants - 2,780 votes.
White helmet, maroon jersey, white pants - 1,644 votes.
Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti praised the performance of Colorado's Paul Richardson following their game last week, per the Daily Emerald: "[I]t’s such a spread game that all it takes is one great athlete beating another great athlete, and that Paul Richardson was a really good football player. He had a really great game and he played well.”
Todd Graham told ESPN's Ted Miller this week that his team needs to stay focused and not overlook the Buffaloes:
Obviously, the caliber of teams we have been playing and where [the Buffaloes are] at right now is a little different. Guys think that this will not be as big a challenge and you can’t do that. You have got to bring it because they can definitely beat you. There is not anybody in the Pac-12 that can’t beat anyone. There is great parity in this league. The danger is not taking a team seriously.
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Arizona State 48 Colorado 28
ASU has more size, speed and skill than the Buffaloes and should score its second Pac-12 win over Colorado.
Don't expect the Buffaloes to lie down, though, as they have a chance to keep this game close if they can expose ASU's defensive weaknesses. Paul Richardson will force ASU's secondary to keep its heads on a swivel, and Colorado's running game could help it control the clock.
At the end of the day, though, ASU is just a better football team and should be able to overcome its weaknesses. The only way ASU losses is if it overlooks Colorado and fails to play with intensity.
Since the Sun Devils are home that shouldn't be a problem.