By James Romo for DieHardDevil.com
The Sun Devils are in Boulder, Colorado tonight for a prime time match up in front of a national audience on ESPN. This is the type of exposure that a team on a hot streak can, and should capitalize on. On paper, the Buffaloes are outmatched in every facet of the game. But here’s the thing…Football is not, and never has been, played on paper. Coach Graham’s team will still have to execute their schemes, and maintain discipline and focus on both sides of the ball to come away with a win. Here are the keys to an ASU victory:
- Just do what you do – The CU defense is allowing 165.6 yards per game on the ground, and 308.8 yards in the air. Even worse, they are giving up 6.8 yards on opponent’s first down plays. If ASU can get themselves into second down and short yardage situations, it should really open up Coach Norvell’s playbook for big play opportunities. Ultimately, CU just doesn’t have the personnel to play ASU straight-up with a base defense, and expect to stay in the game due to mismatches all over the field. I predict that they will attempt to take away what has been the strength of the ASU offense – the intermediate passing game. That means that Taylor Kelly may see a ton of nickel packages, or at the very least, a heavy emphasis on dropping players into coverage. Kelly is going to have to make the proper reads and let the ground attack take over and exploit what the defense gives them. If the Buffs decide to play the run in their traditional 4-3 defense, then TE Chris Coyle and DJ Foster must continue their receiving production in the space between the linebackers and secondary. A much improved ASU receiving core could have a break-out vertical receiving game if the running game can gain some steam. It really is a “pick your poison” situation for the Buffs defense.
- Don’t give up momentum – Nothing gives an outmatched and struggling team hope like allowing their defense to make plays against you. The Devils have gone two straight games with what Coach Graham calls “100% ball security”, meaning they haven’t committed a turnover. CU is getting some key cogs in their defense back tonight after recovering from injuries. It’ll be very important to put that “High Octane” offense on display and keep the pedal to the metal and put this thing away early. The weather in Boulder at kickoff is forecast to be 58 degrees and partly cloudy. The elements will not come into play, and should allow for ASU to have their full playbook at their disposal.
- Stay focused – Again, there is no better way to lose a game that you are supposed to win than by letting your opposition hang around. Look no further than the heavily favored Florida State team that got upset at NC State this past Saturday as a perfect example of dominating the first half of the game, but allowing the opponent to keep the score close and ride their home crowd to a win. The ASU defense should be able to create enough pressure on CU quarterback Jordan Webb without heavy blitz packages that can lead to giving up game-breaking plays. The ASU secondary, who are allowing a Pac-12 Conference best 137 yards per game passing will have to be solid in coverage, and I expect the Devils to focus their attention on CU running backs Tony Jones and Christian Powell. The Buffs are thin at receiver, which should allow ASU to bottle up the CU run game and force second and third down and long yardage situations forcing Webb to beat them with his arm.
- Get out of town intact – There is a fine line between playing “loose” and playing “relaxed”. What I mean by that is that a player can play loose while still maintaining intensity and adrenaline. Those two factors help players avoid getting injured while playing in the controlled and violent environment that is college football. Whether it’s coming out with a lack of intensity, or losing intensity throughout the course of a lopsided game, it’s just way too physical of a game to participate in without a player having a fair amount of adrenaline pumping through his veins, and at the same time, allowing his body to absorb the brutality of it. The ASU depth chart is just too thin to overcome injuries at any position. This defensive unit will have to escape Boulder unscathed if the Devils have any hopes of maintaining their grip on the top spot in the Pac-12 South.
On Special Teams
- This should be a perfect opportunity to break in a new kicker. Coach Graham stated after the Cal victory last week that the place-kicking job was up for grabs going into tonight’s game. All indications are that Jon Mora has won (at least for FG’s) the job. In what Sun Devil Nation is hoping will be a decisive victory, it would be a chance to get Mora some still meaningful reps, but in a low-pressure situation. The best case scenario for the Devils is that this game does NOT come down to a game-winning field goal, regardless of who gets the nod.
This game sets up as prototypical “trap game” that many pundits believe will have ASU vulnerable to an upset as they look ahead to another Thursday night match-up next week against 2nd ranked Oregon. However, Coach Graham and staff have placed a heavy emphasis on fundamentals in practice this week, and have proclaimed that they are not looking beyond tonight’s match-up with Colorado. I suspect that the ASU players and staff won’t be satisfied unless they leave Folsom Field tonight with more momentum heading into the teeth of the conference schedule, and without any significant injuries. A strong contingency of DieHard Devils have invaded Boulder for the game, and should provide a big lift for the team.
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