Now that ASU football’s tough four-game stretch is in the past, the Sun Devils (3-2, 1-1 Pac-12) have seven games remaining in the regular season — all of which are against Pac-12 opponents.
ASU no longer has to face elite non-conference foes like Wisconsin and Notre Dame, but it doesn’t get much easier from here for coach Todd Graham and his Sun Devils.
“There is not anybody in the Pac-12 that can’t beat anyone,” Graham said. “There is great parity in this league. The danger is not taking a team seriously.”
That theme especially applies to the Sun Devils’ next opponent, Pac-12 South foe Colorado. The Buffaloes (2-2, 0-2 Pac-12) come to Tempe before the Sun Devils play host to No. 16 Washington.
Graham knows this isn’t the same team that needed a last-minute touchdown to beat Washington State and avoid going winless last season.
“We’ve been looking at film for four weeks, and there’s not anyone that’s not saying, ‘Man, these guys are good,’” he said. “Obviously, the caliber of teams we have been playing and where (CU is at) right now is a little different. Guys think that this will not be as big a challenge, and you can’t do that. You have got to bring it, because they can definitely beat you.”
Redshirt senior defensive back Osahon Irabor said Colorado can’t be taken lightly.
“We’re very focused,” Irabor said. “We understand we (might be tempted) to slip away. Guys are out in practice working hard and motivated, and we want to come out and put on a good performance on Saturday, so we’re practicing hard to make that happen.”
The Buffaloes rank 11th in the Pac-12 in both total offense and total defense, only averaging 402.2 yards per game and giving up 482.5 yards per game.
Despite Colorado’s subpar numbers compared to the rest of the conference, Graham knows the Buffaloes are different defensively and are making positive progress under first-year coach Mike MacIntyre.
“They are playing a lot better defensively,” Graham said. “Their defensive coordinator (Kent Baer) has done a great job with their defense and varying what they’re doing and being sound in what they’re doing. That was probably their biggest weakness last year … their defense. “
The last time these two met was last year in Boulder, Colo. Graham recalled it as being “a little stressful” going into halftime with a mere 20-17 lead. It took former ASU wide receiver Rashad Ross’s 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown at the start of the second half for the Sun Devils to pull away and trounce the Buffaloes 51-17.
One player who was missing for Colorado was junior wide receiver Paul Richardson, who missed the entire 2012 season because of a torn ligament in his knee.
Now that he’s back, Richardson is second in the Pac-12 in receiving yards per game with 155.2. He has five receiving touchdowns for the season, including an 82-yard reception, his first catch of the season against Colorado State.
Richardson is a formidable challenge for the ASU secondary that allowed Notre Dame to complete key passes that led to the Sun Devils’ defeat last week.
“We haven’t played him since he’s been there, so every year he’s been hurt,” senior safety Alden Darby said. “I know him from high school, and for all I know, he’s one of the best receivers in the country. We have to bring our ‘A’ game and scheme around him.”
Both teams are now at the point of the season where every game matters heading into conference play.
With a win, the Sun Devils could move forward following a disappointing loss to Notre Dame. The Buffaloes are also hungry for a win over a major Pac-12 contender and to turn around a season that’s already spiraling into turmoil.
Every game ahead matters for ASU’s goal of winning its first conference title under Graham, and there is very little room for mistakes.
But Graham believes the Sun Devils are ready to contend and he wants to take it one game at a time.
“I think our guys know we can win this thing,” he said. “To do it, it is a single elimination tournament now. You control your own destiny, and all you have to do is go win every week.”
- ASU sophomore nose tackle Jaxon Hood (leg) will play after missing the last two games.
- Freshman safety Marcus Ball will not play Saturday and will miss his sixth game. Graham said Ball probably won’t use his redshirt, despite not playing the first half of the regular season.
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