Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

2012 ASU football preview

Bye week behind us, BuffNation can now look forward to the nationally televised Thursday night affair with Arizona State.  Well, maybe not "look forward to."  Maybe more like "prepare ourselves for."  Let me be plain, not only has CU been struggling to stand upright this season, but they have an abysmal record in weekday games over the last few years.

Primetime, weeknight affairs used to be the realm of second-tier conferences like the WAC and MAC.  Starting in the mid-2000s, however, it became vogue for the big boys to play the ESPN game as well, and many teams from the SEC, Pac-12, and Big XII have been jumping at the chance to air their wares over the exclusive national broadcast ever since.  CU got into the game in 2008, beginning with the epic Thursday night-er with West Virginia (AKA, the game that caused Hawk to blow a scholarship on Aric Goodman.  I hope he enjoyed the free education.).

 (LOL, Josh Smith)

Unfortunately, ever since the prime-time gods have been unkind.  Including post-Thanksgiving affairs with Nebraska and Utah, the Buffs are 2-7 on weekdays since Sept 18th, 2008 (have been outscored 209-303), including an 0-4 mark in 2009 alone.  Highlighting that stretch is the infamous 38-54 loss at Toledo.  Maybe we should just give up the ghost.  ESPN may like to put the Buffs on, but the program would be best served shying away from the night lights.

There is some good news, however.  The defending Pac-12 champion men's basketball team will be receiving their championship rings from El Jefe tomorrow night.  That little ceremony does deserve the primetime spotlight.


The Sun Devils and Buffs meet under the lights tomorrow evening.  Kickoff is set for 7pm.  Parking, traffic: sure to be a mess.  The student section: drunk out of their minds.  Blackout rules: in effect.  I hope everyone thought ahead to take Friday off, 'cause win or lose, shit's about to get real.

If you'd rather stay away from the Madhouse at the foot of the Flatirons, you can watch the action on ESPN.  Radio coverage is back on 850 KOA; Rockies baseball has mercifully been laid to rest for the winter, so no rude interruptions to the broadcast, whether you wanted one or not.

Click below for the preview...

Coaching - 

I have to start here.  Coach Todd Graham is in his first season in Tempe, having left Pitt after only one season as head Panther.  He literally ran away from Pitt in the middle of night, tweeting his departure, and having an assistant email his players.  His reasoning was... less than convincing... He didn't even have the common courtesy to look his players in the eye, and explain the situation to them.
This year's dream job.
Obviously, considering the contentious nature of his departure, people everywhere weren't exactly thrilled.  Fans started rebellions on twitter, the Pitt admin snapped back, and the internet did its sarcastic thing.  The man's name became Mudd about as quickly as he signed on with ASU.

Really, it's sad that this is how he's best remembered.  He actually is a good football coach, and a capable leader of young men.  But to ignore his dereliction of duty to the student-athletes at Pitt would be ignoring the real story.

Sure, coaches move on to better jobs, coaches get fired, life goes on; but not after one season, not after repeated statements regarding family, and requiring loyalty and commitment from his charges.  Football programs are larger than the men who lead them, but those men mean almost everything to the players who sacrifice their bodies every weekend at their behest.  To shirk away from them in the middle of the night is reprehensible.  I can respect his skill as a coach, but I simply cannot respect the man beneath the sweater.

I don't usually root against the individuals away from the field, but Coach Graham deserves a karmic ban-hammer.

When last we met - 

Last year's preview can be found here.

About the only positive BuffNation can take from last year's trip to Tempe was the Banana Stand's romp to dueling Pac-12 titles.  The football game, however, was a classic ass-whuppin'.  48-14 ASU.

ASU raced out to a 24-0 lead before a fumble return for a TD finally got the Buffs on the board.  The CU offense was largely useless early on.  The result of the Buffs' first seven drives: five punts, an interception, and a fumble. Thank God that fumble came along, 'cause, otherwise, the Buffs were going to get shut out in the first half.  Hoo-ray!
The Sun Devils scored early and often.  CU?  Not so much. 
It didn't get much better after that.  Turnovers were a big issue stunting any chance at a comeback; the Buffs coughed it up a total of five times on the day.  Luckily, the ASU offense was so disinterested by the time they came that they only turned them into 10 total points.   The Buff offense did finally find its way into the endzone, but by then, the game was far out of reach.

Senior QB Tyler Hansen threw for 285 yards, a score, and two picks.  Josh Ford and Tony Jones split carries with Speedy sidelined with an injury.  The pair combined for 98 yards rushing on 21 carries.  Much of that was gained late.

Through poor play and a complacent attitude, the Buffs did everything they could to help ASU grab the South title in the USC-free inaugural year of the conference.  The Sun Devils, however would go on to choke down the stretch, costing themselves a shot at Oregon in the championship game, and costing coach Dennis Erickson his job.

As an aside: John Elway thought Brock Osweiler looked so kick-ass awesome stomping on the Buffs non-existent "secondary," that he decided to use a 2nd round pick on him, instead of spending it on more pressing need areas.  As someone who enjoys Broncos-fail, I found that funny.

Opponent's season so far -

There's been a lot of good so far in the Sun Devil's 4-1 start.  In the four wins, they've won by an average of 32 points, crushing the likes of Northern Arizona, Illinois, and Utah in the process.  They've been powered by a strong offense, and a terrifyingly stingy defense.
ASU has looked real good at times this season.
Two weeks ago (they also enjoyed a bye last week), ASU played through a close game at Cal, using a late touchdown to re-gain a 10-point lead, and put the game away.  The red zone offense was a little shaky, as the Devils had to settle for field goal attempts on four drives.  However, they brutalized the Cal passing game, holding the Golden Bears and QB Zach Maynard to 126 yards on 32% passing.

Their lone loss, at newly-minted SEC cellar-dwellar Mizzou, makes for interesting fare.  Four turnovers, some piss-poor 1st half offense (27 yards before a late 2nd quarter TD drive), and a miserable time converting on 3rd down (2-12) helped the Tigers slash out a 17-point lead in the 3rd quarter.  A pair of 4th quarter touchdowns made it interesting, but the comeback was foiled by a 4th down failure on the Tiger three yard line.
It was a tough night for Sparky in Columbia
It's been a pretty good start to the season so far for the Fightin' Todd Grahams, but it'll be interesting to see how it all translates when playing against the best in the Pac-12 conference.  Their next four: vs Oregon, vs UCLA, @ Oregon St, and @ USC.

Offense & Defense - 

NCAA Statistical report can be found here.

On offense, they're running a high-tempo style, incorporating the read-option look that's become so popular in recent years.  Despite it being a new system, they've run it pretty well.  They're averaging near 175 rushing yards and 283 passing yards per contest. This translates into over 38 points per game.

In the SEC, this ASU offense would be seen as prolific.  In the Pac-12, however, it's merely middle of the pack.  In fact, their 456 yards of combined offense per game are only good enough for 5th in the Pac-12, and many schools, including rival Arizona and the omnipresent Oregon juggernaut, possess vastly superior units.

That's why their work on defense is so inspiring.  They rank best-in-the-conference, and top-10 nationally, in  five major defensive categories.  Total defense (only 276 yards per game), pass defense (only 137 yards/game),  pass efficiency defense (90.25), sacks (nearly 4.5 per game), and tackles for loss (almost 10 per game) are all eye-poppingly strong numbers.  This is one of the best crews in the country, and probably the best in the west so far this season.  Watching them try to wrangle Oregon next week will be a sight to see.

Their primary focus is getting after the quarterback, forcing bad throws if they don't get him on the ground, and limit explosive plays on the edge.  To date, this has worked extremely well.  The Sun Devils have only allowed four passing touchdowns.  By comparison, CU has already given up 15.  Heaven help the poor CU offense this week.

Star players - 

Sophomore QB Taylor Kelly won the starting job in fall camp, beating out three others in a hotly competitive race.  He's has proven the decision correct by efficiently revving the ASU offense each week.  So far, he's averaged over 285 yards of combined yardage each game, while completing over 67% of his passes with a 9-2 TD-INT ratio.
Kelly has cemented his starter status.
Carries out of the backfield are mostly split over a three-headed committee, with SR Cameron Marshall, JR Marion Grice, and Fr DJ Foster sharing the load.  The trio has combined for 578 yards and 11 scores so far.  The primary receiving threat is JR Chris Coyle.

JR DT Will Sutton is scary good on the defensive line. So far on the season, he's recorded 34 tackles, 10 of them for loss, and 6.5 sacks.  Of Sutton, Coach Embree said this week, "I love the kid's motor and the passion. We're going to have to find answers for him. (-link)"  Expect a huge night from Sutton.
Good luck with that.
Also on defense, JR DE Junior Onyeali (Yet another Mullen product who escaped the Centennial State) and SO LB Carl Bradford each have four sacks this season, and can cause headaches.

Predicition - 

The simple truth is that the Buffs are long-shots to play the Sun Devils close Thursday night.  Arizona State opened as a 23-point favorite, and I wouldn't be surprised if that number goes up by kickoff.  They may not be as strong as the Oregon's and USC's of the conference, but they are more than strong enough to push around the free-falling Buffs.

If there is any encouragement to be found, however, it's that the team will have had 11 full days to rest and recuperate.  Injuries and exhaustion were starting to pile up after week five, and the bye week came at a perfect time.  Maybe, combined with the powers of the blackout, that can be enough to buck trends and surprise the Sun Devils.  Weird shit can happen at night.


Naw, that defense is too good. CU will be lucky to find the endzone more than once, and the ASU O is capable of putting up at least 35+.  Ill give the points, and pick the Sun Devls to cover the spread.

ASU 45 - CU 10


1 comment:

Aaron Jordan said...

Two things:

1) I saw Aric Goodman near Libby before the game, and his face still pisses me off. I think he is the poster boy this era of Buffs Football. I can't wait to put that memory behind us.

2) Regardless of the loss, for most of the game (especially the first half) we seemed to be playing with effort finally. We cared about winning, our heads were in the game, and we didn't seem afraid of the other team. I care about that more than wins/losses, and I was glad to finally see us with our heads in the game.