Going into halftime, all the momentum was with Colorado (1-5, 1-2 Pac-12) who scored ten points in the last 24 seconds of the half, in large part thanks to a Jamal Miles kickoff return fumble.
The Buffaloes entered their locker room trailing just 20-17.
At that point ASU (5-1, 3-0) aside from that costly turnover, had already committed five penalties, and despite dominating the host offensively (303-166 in total yards) in the first half had only a slim lead to show for it.
What a difference a half can make.
The second stanza saw ASU replace Miles with Rashad Ross, and his kickoff return to open that period went for a 100-yard score. It ultimately was the knockout punch that the Buffaloes could never recover from. Colorado failed to score in the second half, while ASU exploded for 31 points during that same time.
The running backs continue to prove that they are the most talented unit on offense, and once again their performance was instrumental in victory as they collected 159 yards on the ground. They were led by Cameron Marshall’s 13 carries and 98 yards, as the senior scored the last points on Thursday night.
Ironically enough, most of the backs’ damage was done via the passing game. Marion Grice posted 101 yards receiving and three touchdowns to lead this group, and D.J. Foster added a team-high six receptions and 71 yards, including one touchdown of his own.
Quarterback Taylor Kelly was once again a model of efficiency completing 20 out of 28 passes for 308 yards and passed for a career-high five touchdowns. He also had a net 67 yards rushing, just what you would expect from a true dual-threat quarterback.
On the other hand, the impressive receiving numbers by the running backs, as well as 68 yards receiving by the tight ends, signified a paltry 94 yards receiving by the wide receivers. As we all recall this is a group that was sluggish at best to begin the year, but in ASU’s last two games showed signs of perhaps elevating their contributions. Tonight in Boulder, sans Richard Smith’s four catches for 51 yards and a touchdown, the wide receivers unit was by and large a non-factor in Thursday’s night commanding win.
It’s an aspect that simply has to be rectified immediately as a tougher schedule looms large in the next four weeks. It’s almost amazing to see Kelly perform at such a high level with marginal wide receiver support yet this has the makings of a ticking time bomb and something that can severely hamper ASU’s offensive production the rest of the year.
The ASU defense had another dominating performance. True, at times Colorado seemed to move the ball at will against the Sun Devils, but the fact that the Buffaloes were able to manage just 89 yards of offense, and again no points, in the second half speaks volumes as to prowess of this side of the ball.
Once again the usual suspects made their mark, such as Brandon Magee’s nine total tackles and two sacks, Will Sutton’s three tackles for loss and two sacks and Alden Darby who recorded his first career sack and also had two tackles for loss. The eight pass breakups recorded by the entire defense hampered Colorado’s passing game in a major way.
All in all, the ASU defense did what was expected of them and that was overwhelm an inferior opponent.
Stop me if you heard this before, but ASU’s special teams struggled tonight. Perhaps Ross’ kickoff return for a touchdown negates Miles’ turnover, but the Sun Devils’ punt return teams continue to do poorly in their blocking assignments forcing Miles (who has already looked shaky as a returner all year) to fair catch punt after punt.
After Alex Garoutte missed three field goals in ASU’s last game (versus Cal) the sophomore gave way to walk-on Jon Mora against Colorado. Mora’s low trajectory point after kick was blocked and the staff proceeded to let Garoutte re-assume those duties and he did so with 100 percent success.
The Sun Devils passed on many opportunities for makeable filed goals, undoubtedly a testament of lack of confidence in the kicking game. Yet, Mora did later convert ASU’s lone field goal attempt from 38 yards.
Needless to say that rotating kickers early in the game is a less than a desirable situation, and the team’s kicking situation remains murky. One cannot help but feel that this situation will come to haunt the Sun Devils down the road. It always seems to do.
The final score definitely implies that ASU had their way with Colorado, but that is a statement that much better reflects the last 30 minutes than the first 30 ones. Losing the turnover battle is just one more imperfection that perhaps goes unnoticed in such a lopsided victory, yet a factor Head Coach Todd Graham will lament about.
The much anticipated home matchup with #2 Oregon is now less than a week away. The level of anticipation for this game is guaranteed to stay at a lofty level all the way until kickoff, as ASU hosts the proverbial statement game.
The laundry list of areas or improvement isn’t lengthy, but if these shortcomings aren’t effectively addressed before the contest with the Ducks, this is one game that could be decided much too early and much to the chagrin of the anticipated sellout crowd at Sun Devil Stadium.
The games against Colorado and Oregon couldn’t be more different in nature for ASU. But the keys for victory are probably mutual to both matchups. A dominating second half will separate you from Colorado en route to victory. The same may not get you a win over Oregon if the first half woes rear their ugly head once again.