Recently, however, the injury bug has switched sides, and now resides with the defense. The linebacking corps has been the hardest hit, as they can now claim to be down two starters. Addison Gillam had already been out, a consistent sideline presence since Week 2. He will now be joined for the next few weeks by star Kenneth Olugbode, who left the Oregon game early with a leg injury. With both out, CU will turn to the relatively unheralded pair of Rick Gamboa and Ryan Severson. A trio of defensive linemen - Jase Franke, Leo Jackson III, and Derek McCartney - also missed action in the Oregon game, but are expected to return. The missed plays from five of CU's best in the front-seven no doubt played a role in the Ducks' second half deluge of rushing yards.
The point is that the improved depth that everyone touted in the preseason will be put to the test. If the old mantra in football has always been 'next man up,' then the Buffs will have to hope that the next men are up to the challenge. The schedule certainly doesn't get any easier from here, and, without a BYE week (thanks to the Hawai'i trip and the RMS's inflexibility), the strain will only continue to mount.
Hype Music for the Week: "Sympathy for the Devil" by the Rolling Stones
Kickoff from Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, AZ is set for 8pm tomorrow evening. Dinged up, can the Buffs bounce back from a tough home loss? Tune in to FOX Sports 1 to find out. (The radio call is, of course, on 850 KOA)
Click below for the preview...
When last we met -
Late in the 4th quarter, with the Arizona State offense stuck in neutral and the Buffs knocking at the door of making it a one score game, I turned to a friend and said three defiant words: 'we're gonna win.' Of course, mere seconds later, CU quarterback Sefo Liufau miss-read a guaranteed touchdown opportunity, and threw what was essentially a game-ending interception. While it would take a few more drives to make it final, at that point Arizona State's 38-24 win was all but assured.
|The Buffs very nearly pulled a shocking upset out of thin air. From: the BDC|
There's plenty of positives to take away from that effort, however. Deeper than Colorado out-gaining the vaunted Sun Devils' top-40 offense by 119 yards (545 to 426), however, it was the fight and determination the team showed that impressed me the most. They had as many opportunities to pack up the tents as they did turnovers (six), but they stuck it out, and battled the ranked Sun Devils tooth and nail. Three years ago, this program loses that game by 35+, easy. Yet there the team was with five minutes to go, on the doorstep of making it a seven-point game. That, in and of itself, is progress; a mode that we have seen continue this fall.
|There was a lot of fight in the Buffs last season. From: the AP|
The Sun Devils in 2015 -
Their NCAA stat sheet can be found here.
I really don't know what to make of the Sun Devils this season. I thought I did, having watched their performances over the first few games of the year. Check out this blow-out loss at the hands of Texas A&M; they gave up nine sacks! Or, how 'bout this lackluster performance against FCS Cal Poly? Still not enough of a clue? Take a peek at USC's dismantling of them in Tempe. Through four weeks, there was simply nothing on paper or film to indicate that they were anything more than a bust in the rough-and-tumble Pac-12 South.
|The Sun Devils didn't look very good through the season's opening weeks.|
The rushing numbers are certainly skewed by those two games, and the Sun Devils are not nearly as average as their numbers on the ground (156 yards allowed per game, 7th in the league) might suggest. The Bruins could only muster 62 rushing yards against them, while ASU controlled the line of scrimmage throughout. Overall, in allowed yards per carry (which adjusts for teams who just run all the damn time), they're only allowing about 3.5 yards per touch, which is well in the top-35 nationally. CU has struggled running the ball against 'real' teams this season, and, with Adkins still out, that streak should only continue this weekend. Colorado's outlook is a little better out on the edge, where the Sun Devils are 103rd in passing yards allowed, but, as we saw against Oregon, that can only count for so much if the running game isn't working. Balance is essential, and ASU won't let CU achieve it tomorrow. Their defense is more legit than it seems, which will show over the rest of the season.
|Did the Devils turn their season around in LA last week? From: USA Today|
Wrap it all up, and I think these guys are still clearly a step below the Pac-12's upper echelon (Utah, Stanford,
Star Players -
The narrative usually starts under center, and this week is no different. As mentioned earlier, I look at senior starter Mike Bercovici as a solid step down from the graduated Taylor Kelly. That doesn't not mean the 6-2, 210 lbs California product is not an effective Pac-12 performer, however. The conference's reigning Offensive Player of the Week is a solid dual-threat passer who has amassed 1,464 yards of total offense and 12 touchdowns through five games. While maybe not Kelly, he is still capable of leading his team to wins, and he has a veteran's familiarity with the Sun Devils' system, having made three starts and five other appearances a year ago.
|While not as deadly as Taylor Kelly, Bercovici can still cause some headaches. From: USA Today.|
The receiving corps that remains is lead by senior DJ Foster. Lining up all over the place, and doing his fair share of rock-toting (second in the team in rushing yards, came into the season with over 2,000 career rushing yards), the Scottsdale product is a major part of their attack, averaging about 10 touches per start. You're definitely going to hear his name tomorrow -- he has caught a pass in each of his 44 collegiate games. Also on the edge is graduate transfer Devin Lucien. A former CU recruiting target, the 6-2, 195 lbs Lucien comes to the desert from Pac-12 South rival UCLA, in a weird instance of inter-division movement. He's been banged up this year, though, fighting through a sprained ankle and a hamstring issue. When fully healthy, he's a game-changing weapon.
|DJ Foster pops up everywhere. From: Pac12.com|
The best on defense is junior linebacker Salamo Fiso. He leads the country in solo tackles, and has stopped opponents behind the line of scrimmage 8.5 times on the year. He's a havoc-wreaker, and an elite one, at that. Playing off of fellow 'backers Antonio Longino (playing an end/LB combo called 'devil'), Christian Sam, and Viliami "Laiu" Moeakiola (another hybrid, this time of the safety variety, called a 'spur'), he forms the backbone of a group that is fast, aggressive, and one of the best in the league.
|Fiso has a nose for the ball. From: USA Today.|
In the backfield, Kweishi Brown and Lloyd Carrington start on the edge. The pair of seniors have already combined for seven passes broken up on the year. Senior safety Jordan Simone is another high-impact menace, who has already recorded two interceptions, a sack, and 45 tackles through five games. The meat of the 'D' may be up front, but the defensive backs are also very capable.
I'm solidly on record as being an anti-Todd Graham, so I won't bore you with any more vitriol. His first three seasons in Tempe certainly earned the 50-year old Texan a number of fans in the Grand Canyon State, so I will just have to learn to put up with him. Going 28-12 (19-8) from 2012-2014, he has routinely had the Sun Devils in the top-two of the Pac-12 South, and in desirous bowl games. If winning is the only thing, then he can truly claim to be one of the best coaches in America. The plan and execution seemed to be on such a smooth roll, in fact, that the up-and-down results this year have seemed particularly out of place.
|I look at this, and just see the one finger staring back at me.|
My 2015 record: 4-1. Against the spread: 3-1. Optimistic/pessimistic: CU +2.25 pts/gm
Line as of Tuesday @ 7pm - CU +15, O/U 55 1/2
Yeahhhhhhh, no. Down a few in the linebacking corps, and with an offense still finding their sea legs and health against Pac-12 competition, I don't see much of a chance in this one on the road. Maybe more competitive than what we saw in the desert two years ago, but not by much. We'll certainly see much better next week for homecoming against the UofA.
ASU 35 - CU 17
GO BUFFS! PROVE ME WRONG, AND BEAT THE SUN DEVILS!