Colorado Preview

Saturday in Boulder will mark the Pac-12 opener for both Arizona State and Colorado. Both teams experienced different starts to the 2014 season but who has the advantage in this match up? Joe Healey analyzes ASU’s next opponent

Colorado Offensive Personnel

Last season, injuries forced then-true freshman Sefo Liufau into game duty for the first time at Arizona State but now the Sun Devils face a more seasoned passer than the wide-eyed rookie that took his first collegiate snaps last year in Tempe.

Through two games in 2014, Liufau has completed 50-of-81 passes (61.7%) for 559 yards with five touchdowns and one interception while collecting 60 net rushing yards on 12 carries. While still far from an elite quarterback, Liufau has bonded well with his receivers this season and can exploit openings in the air or on the ground when presented to him.

At running back, Colorado platoons four backs starting with Christian Powell, whose 24 carries for 88 yards resemble team-highs for the year. Michael Adkins II, an Honorable Mention All-Pac-12 selection last year, is second behind Powell with 73 yards on 21 carries, while Tony Jones (11-58) and Phillip Lindsay (9-41) have also seen action in the season’s first two games.

Prior to the 2014 season, without a doubt the biggest hole to fill on the entire Colorado squad was that of departed receiving sensation Paul Richardson, but through two games Nelson Spruce has played at a Richardson-like level. In total, Spruce has caught 17 passes for 249 yards with four touchdowns, ranking him second in the nation in touchdown catches while also placing him in the nation’s top-10 in receptions and receiving yards. Spruce has topped 100 receiving yards both games as he had seven catches for 109 yards in the opener against Colorado State and 10 receptions for 145 yards last week at Massachusetts.

Spruce hasn’t been the only contributor at wide receiver, as true freshman Shay Fields is off to an excellent start with 14 receptions for 139 yards and one touchdown through two games.

D.D. Goodson is listed as the third starter at wide receiver and has caught two passes for 60 yards. Bryce Bobo ranks third on the team with five receptions totaling 54 yards.

Sean Irwin is slated to start at tight end and has hauled in a pair of receptions for 19 yards.

From left-to-right, the Colorado offensive line consists of sophomore tackle Jeromy Irwin, senior guard Kaiwi Crabb, sophomore center Alex Kelley, senior guard Daniel Munyer and junior tackle Stephane Nembot.

This group has started both games this year and played every offensive line snap of the season so far.

Colorado Offensive Summary

Aided by the emergence of Spruce and Fields, Liufau has improved from his freshman season; however, he still is a far cry from being considered among the better quarterbacks in the Pac-12.

Colorado’s rushers have shown promise at various points of their careers but lack the game breaking skills to be regarded as truly dynamic options. Also, Colorado’s top two rushers—Powell and Adkins—both average under four yards per carry on the year, so the Buffs have struggled mightily moving the pile on the ground thus far in 2014.

Spruce and Fields truly are the main areas of concern for the Sun Devil defense that was caught off guard a few times last week against a mega run-heavy New Mexico attack that took to the air more than usual.

Colorado Defensive Personnel

Up front, the Colorado line features a pair of freshmen ends in redshirt frosh Derek McCartney on the left side with true freshman Christian Shaver on the right, with junior Josh Tupou and senior Juda Parker between them at defensive tackle.

McCartney and Parker both have totaled six tackles, With Tupou chipping in three and Shaver two. Among the four projected starters, the only tackle-for-loss recorded thus far on the season has come from McCartney’s one sack.

Jimmie Gilbert (five tackles, one TFL), Timothy Coleman (four tackles, one sack) and Justin Solis (four tackles) have contributed as reserve linemen.

MIKE linebacker Addison Gillam is the clear-cut leader of the defense, as the First-Team Freshman All-American and Honorable Mention All-Pac-12 selection from 2013 remains a tackling machine as a sophomore with 22 stops including 4.5 for loss in two games.

Kenneth Olugbode joins Gillam in the starting lineup as the WILL ‘backer, with Woodson Greer at SAM. Through two games, Olugbode has totaled eight tackles while Greer has five.

In the secondary, a pair of sophomores in Tedric Thompson and Chidobe Awuzie are listed as first-stringers at strong and free safety, respectively. Senior Greg Henderson and junior Ken Crawley are slated as the team’s top cornerbacks.

On the season, Thompson ranks second on the team with 19 tackles with the Buffs’ lone interception, while Awuzie has been active in the pass game with his team-best five pass breakups and he also ranks third on the team with 12 tackles. Henderson ranks fourth on the team with eight tackles and Crawley has added six.

Colorado Defensive Summary

Collectively, Colorado allows 34.5 points per game despite its first two games coming against Colorado state and UMass, a distinct indicator that the Sun Devil offense could be in for a busy day Saturday.

On an individual scale, the Buffaloes have allowed 371 rushing yards between the two games, a statistic undoubtedly intriguing to D.J. Foster, Demario Richard, Kalen Ballage and Deantre Lewis as well as quarterback Taylor Kelly.

With only three total sacks recorded in the season’s first games, it appears as though Colorado provides little press up front, potentially paving the way for Kelly to find throwing rhythm after two performances to start the year that are below the passing par of last year’s Second-Team All-Pac-12 quarterback.

In all, as has been the case the first two weeks of the year, ASU’s skill talent, offensive line prowess and experience at quarterback figures to prove too powerful for Colorado’s defense to limit to any distinct degree.

Colorado Special Teams Summary

At kicker, last year’s Honorable Mention All-Pac-12 selection Will Oliver handles field goals, extra points and kickoffs, while fellow senior Darragh O’Neill is Colorado’s punter. So far this season, O’Neill has a net average of 40.5 yards on his 11 punts, while Oliver has connected on 3-of-4 field goals with a long of 47.

Nelson Spruce is listed as the top punt returner with Phillip Lindsay and Ryan Severson on kickoff returns. Spruce averages 7.4 yards on five punt returns with a long of 14, while Lindsay averages 21.8 yards and Severson 20.5 on kick returns.

Final Analysis

A once nationally prominent program in the 1990s, Colorado has plummeted of late and has completely failed to competitively adapt to life in the Pac-12 Conference. Mike MacIntyre appears to be making some incremental improvements within the program; unfortunately those are measured in inches compared to the miles of advancement the league as a whole has made on a competitive scale recently.

A program that played in four Orange and Fiesta Bowls between the 1989 and ’94 seasons, Colorado has won just four Pac-12 Conference games since entering the league in 2011 and was winless within the South division in both 2012 and ‘13. Through two weeks of the 2014 season, the Buffaloes haven’t shown the traits necessary to rise above the Pac-12 South cellar and possibly the bottom rung of the conference as a whole.

Colorado has surely lacked any measure of luster to start its 2014 season, as the Buffaloes opened with a loss against in-state rival Colorado State before having to rally from an 11-point deficit against Massachusetts—who first played a full FBS schedule in 2012 after elevating from the FCS level—a week ago.

Against the Sun Devils, Colorado is notably outmatched in just about every department and is a team generally devoid of top-level talent, save for the performances thus far at receiver by Nelson Spruce and linebacker by Addison Gillam.

With a bye week on the horizon for ASU, there is no reason the Devils should fall into the “trap game” scenario Saturday by looking ahead to a highly anticipated showdown with UCLA next on the schedule. As with the first two games of the season, Saturday should result in Arizona State putting forth a 40-plus point scoring effort with at least a three-to-four touchdown margin of victory.

Familiar Faces

• Colorado Defensive Line Coach Jim Jeffcoat lettered at ASU as a defensive lineman from 1979-82 and was inducted into ASU’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1994. A Third-Team All-American and First-Team All-Pac-10 member in 1982, Jeffcoat was the Defensive Most Valuable Players in the Sun Devils’ victory over Oklahoma in the 1983 Fiesta Bowl

• Colorado Defensive Coordinator Kent Baer was on Bruce Snyder’s staff at ASU from 1992-94

• ASU RB Kalen Ballage (Falcon High School), S Ezekiel Bishop (Denver East High School) and OL Sam Jones (Highlands Ranch ThunderRidge High School) are Colorado natives

• Colorado QB Jordan Gehrke is an Arizona native and attended Scottsdale’s Notre Dame Prep, as did ASU TE Grant Martinez

• Colorado CB Greg Henderson attended Norco (Calif.) High School, as did ASU RB Deantre Lewis

• Colorado DB Marques Mosley and TB Christian Powell attended Upland (Calif.) High School, as did ASU S James Johnson

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