Instant Analysis: Colorado

Arizona State easily handled Colorado 48-23 to move to 4-2 overall and set up a big game at Utah next week. Here's our quick take analysis immediately after the game.

After an emotional win last week versus UCLA, Arizona State beat up a bad Colorado team to move to 4-2 on the season and 2-1 in the conference. Overall the Sun Devils played well but got a few lucky bounces that resulted in big plays for their offense, while the defense was not nearly as sharp -- particularly in the secondary -- as it was the week before against the Bruins. Sophomore running back Demario Richard and junior Laiu Moeakiola both left the game with injuries and their availability for Utah might be the biggest focal point from this game. Moeakiola appeared to be okay after ASU looked at his left knee but Richard left the field on crutches. 

Offensively ASU had balance against Colorado, gaining 260 yards passing and 231 yards rushing. While it was expected that the Sun Devils would dominate the Buffaloes on the ground, it was not quite as dramatic a difference as many expected. To be fair, ASU did average 5.8 yards per carry on the night but much of that came later on. 

At halftime, ASU had 76 yards rushing on 16 carries. If you take away the fumble recovery by Kohl, ASU had 48 yards and only averaged three yards per carry, which is not very good versus a bad Colorado run defense. Part of this might be due to the ASU offensive line being beat up after a physical game last week versus UCLA, with Christian Westerman having an apparent finger injury. Another factor could be the playcalling, ASU in the first quarter threw 13 times and rushed only seven. Establishing the run earlier in the game might get the offensive line into more of a rhythm and help open up its offense more. 

The ASU interior line has not played to level we expected before the season. It’s a solid group but with three experienced seniors, more was expected. The group might face its toughest task yet next week versus Utah. It is really essential for the offensive line to play well for ASU to have success versus the top tier of the conference. ASU was perfect (8 for 8) in the game on third down when it was five yards or fewer. ASU’s offensive tackles are not elite pass protectors and ASU has been amongst the worst teams in sacks allowed in the Pac-12 the past few years, so keeping ASU in third and short is going to be a key next week and beyond.  

Richard only had eight carries in the game before he left with an injury to his right leg.  He fumbled on the Sun Devils’ first possession, but it was recovered by junior tight end Kody Kohl who advanced the ball 28 yards for ASU’s first touchdown. After that play Richard missed the next 13 plays and it is relatively safe to assume that the coaches were holding him out because he has had multiple fumbles this year.
Sophomore Kalen Ballage got the most carries in the game with 15 but only rushed for 45 yards. Senior D.J. Foster broke a 63 yard run in the fourth quarter, he lead the team in rushing with 80 yards on five carries. Foster, who moved between running back and receiver during the game, also had three receptions for 21 yards and a score.

Senior quarterback Mike Bercovici had a good game. He finished the game 20 for 31 with 260 yards passing and five touchdowns to one interception. He also executed the read-option wel, rushing seven times for 40 yards.  Bercovici had the one interception, which was an unnecessary forced throw on second down with ASU on the verge of being in scoring territory. He's got to throw that ball away. Other than that, his decision making was good but he did have a couple fortunate reps that could have not worked out so well. 

Junior college transfer Tim White continues to make big plays at receiver for ASU, as he finished the game with seven receptions for 144 yards and two scores. His scores came on a 38 yard and a 45 yard reception, the latter of which bounced off a Colorado defender and luckily ended up in his lap. His development from his arrival this summer has been dramatic and the coaching staff, wide receivers coach Delvaughn Alexander in particular, deserve a lot of credit for his performance. 

Senior Devin Lucien had four receptions for 39 yards and his first touchdown as a Sun Devil. It looks like White, Foster, Lucien, Kohl and senior Gary Chambers have established themselves with clear roles in the passing attack. Chambers only had two catches for 24 yards but is a reliable blocker and third down option. ASU doesn’t have the elite playmakers it had last year with Jaelen Strong and Cam Smith but the development of White along with steady play by Lucien, Kohl and Chambers has helped steady the offense since conference play started.

ASU’s defense was not as good as it was last week but outside of freshman safety Kareem Orr the unit as whole played a good game. Orr had multiple mistakes, physical and/or mental, in pass coverage which either directly resulted in scores for Colorado or set them up. 

In total, ASU had 12 tackles-for-loss and eight sacks. It also won the turnover battle 2-1. Colorado was only six for 16 on third down conversions in the game.

Senior Devil backer Antonio Longino might have had his best game as a Sun Devil. He was credited with eight total tackles including two and half sacks (one strip sack) and four and half tackles-for-loss. It was probably the best performance by a Devil backer not named Carl Bradford.

Junior Salamo Fiso only had six tackles on the stat sheet, to go with two tackles-for-loss, but played an outstanding game from our vantage point. Sophomore Christian Sam continued his strong season with six tackles and we didn’t notice any glaring mistakes he made this week.

Senior safety Jordan Simone had a quiet game for him with only six tackles. He badly misplayed a deep ball early in the game which set up a Colorado score. On the play Simone seemed to think the ball was overthrown and allowed the Colorado tight end to catch the ball in front of him. The play was somewhat reminiscent of how USC’s Hayes Pullard played the Jael Mary play last year.

One thing that was a bit interesting with how the defense was called, on Colorado’s drive before halftime, ASU rarely pressured early on in the drive and Colorado moved the ball relatively easily into scoring position, with the drive ended with a field goal ironically enough after a sack on third down by senior cornerback Lloyd Carrington.

The status of Moeakiola for next week is obviously huge for ASU. He was only credited with one tackle this week but he has been a stalwart for ASU when healthy and his replacement sophomore James Johnson is an unproven entity at Spur. 

Starting corners Carrington and senior Kweishi Brown were steady. Colorado star receiver Nelson Spruce had six catches for 77 yards but was not much of a factor in the game. Nickel corner Solomon Means has been mediocre this year and it will be interesting to see what ASU does at field safety and nickel corner when sophomore Armand Perry returns from injury. Perry played a lot of nickel corner last year and was the starting field safety to start this season. Perry could land at either spot and Orr could be at the other. Its also not out of the question to see junior De'Chavon Hayes been practicing at nickel corner. He has been practicing there and was rarely used on offense during this game. Though at the end of this game when ASU was playing its backups, Carrington was still in the game and not Hayes.

The ASU defensive line had a quiet game after playing its best game of the year last week. Senior Demetrius Cherry and freshman Joseph Wicker each only had one tackle. We did not see much of junior Edmond Boateng at defensive end, it appears that Wicker has cemented his first-team spot on the depth chart.

Sophomore Tashon Smallwood had an excellent game and has been playing at a high level. He had four tackles and a sack. He has been pretty consistent this year with his level of play. Junior Viliami Latu is an underrated player; he is arguably the best backup defensive tackle ASU has had since Jeremy Staat in 1996. Latu is a high effort player who makes one or two big plays a game for the defense.

After a rough start to the season ASU’s special teams have bested the opposition’s unit the past two weeks. This week ASU blocked a punt, redshirt freshman Das Tautalatasi blocked and recovered a punt in first quarter at Colorado’s 11-yard line. ASU only came away with a field goal but a big play nonetheless.

Junior kicker Zane Gonzalez put all nine of kickoffs in the endzone for touchbacks, which does make one wonder why ASU burned a couple of redshirt for kickoff coverage. He also converted both of his field goal attempts. It's really hard to imagine why he wasn't doing the kickoffs in past seasons' because ASU is much improved. 

Junior punter Matt Haack coming off conference special teams player of the week honors, only was called upon to punt twice. He placed both inside the 20-yard line.

White had a solid game returning kicks, he had three returns for 82 yards. Hayes only returned one punt for 15 yards. Conversely, ASU game up zero yards on returns, which was due to them not presenting Colorado with a returnable kickoff or punt.

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