Unfortunately for Colorado, they were the punching bag for a frustrated Sun Devil defense and an offense trying to get back on track, as ASU routed the Buffaloes 54-13 to start its stretch of seven games Pac-12 opponents to close out the year.
Arizona State Head Coach told his team before the game that if they won the coin toss, he wanted to receive the opening kickoff in an effort to get his offense on the field and start putting points on the board as quickly as possible. It didn't take long for them to follow his command, as the Sun Devils opened the game on a five play, 84 yard scoring drive that included a 69 yard Taylor Kelly touchdown pass to Jaelen Strong to set the tone early.
Behind the steady play of Kelly and running back Marion Grice, the Arizona State offense left the Buffaloes in the dust, outscoring Colorado 25-0 in the first quarter and quickly putting to rest any thought of Sun Devil letdown. ASU's 25 point first quarter output was the most by a Sun Devil team since they scored 28 against Stanford in 2002, a span of 139 games, and exactly what Graham had designed.
“A lot of people talk about how after five games we’re going to have a letdown, but I feel good about the maturity of our team," he said afterwards. ”They came out and we dominated all three phases. One of the things we’re doing when those twos are in there is we’re coaching them hard because that’s the future.”
The Sun Devils scored on their first five possessions of the game, including a pair of Grice runs in the first quarter and a Kelly touchdown pass to defensive end/fullback Davon Coleman to start the second, which was set up by a 47 yard completion to sophomore Cameron Smith.
Overall, Kelly completed 9-19 passes for 233 and two touchdowns in the win, taking full advantage of a Colorado pass defense that entered the game ranked 121st in the nation (326.8). It also marked the first time this season that Kelly did not thrown for 300 or more yards.
Grice, who started the day as the leading scorer in the nation (15.6), collected 92 yards on 13 carries to go along with the two scores. The senior also had two receptions for 46 yards.
For the season, Grice has recorded 15 total touchdowns; 10 rushing and five receiving.
Despite only playing its starters for the first half, Arizona State (4-2, 2-1) still managed to total 532 yards of offense and 29 first touchdowns, while playing turnover-free. Afterwards though, Graham remained frustrated with his team's inability to convert favorable field position into touchdowns, as the Sun Devils settled for three Zane Gonzalez field goals on the night.
"Colorado is in a rebuilding stage,” he remarked. “Coach MacIntyre is doing a good job with his guys. Obviously we should dominate them, but there are lots of corrections too. We should have scored touchdowns down there—we had the ball first and goal on the five, we’ve got to punch the thing in. There are lots of things we can do to get better."
“When we looked at the film, obviously the people we were playing were very, very good. I think we played two of the best offensive lines in the country in Stanford and Notre Dame. They were two of the best I’ve played against in a while. When we looked at the film, I talked to the guys about being mature enough to handle that."
Defensively, Arizona State limited Colorado (2-3, 0-3) to just 268 yards of offense while forcing three turnovers of their own, including interceptions by Damarious Randall, Robert Nelson, and Lloyd Carrington.
Rashad Wadood led the Sun Devils with seven solo tackles while playing the entire second half. ASU, which entered the weekend 76th in the country in tackles for a loss (5.6), showed off its aggressive form from last season with seven on the night to go along with three sacks.
The Sun Devil defense was also able to keep Colorado wide receiver Paul Richardson in check for most of the night, as the junior finished with just four catches for 39 yards.
Arizona State returns to Sun Devil Stadium next Saturday when they play host to Washington (4-2, 1-2), in what figures to be a pivotal game in the Pac-12 divisional races.
After a 4-0 start to the season, the Huskies will enter next week's contest against Arizona State on a two game losing streak to north division foes. The Sun Devils will look to keep pace with UCLA (5-0, 2-0), who maintained its perfect conference and overall record on Saturday with a win over Cal.
"After the game, there was nothing but talk of Washington," concluded Graham. "We have a heck of a football team coming in here next week and we have six ball games (remaining). We checked that one off tonight—that’s 2-0 in the Pac-12 South, 2-1 overall. Our guys are focused on Washington. I’m really proud of our guys and how they played. I thought we had a very strong performance.”
“I think our guys are maturing. This is a special group of seniors. We have a special group of leaders. We have a good chance. We just have to get better every week. We played a great football team coming in here, lost two very tough games back to back. I think it’ll be a big challenge for us. Obviously, it’s a must win.”