Following ASU football’s 54-13 win over Colorado at home Saturday, redshirt senior linebacker Carl Bradford said the coaches told the Sun Devils (4-2, 2-1 Pac-12) before the game to “step on their throat.”
ASU coach Todd Graham told the media that’s not what he really said, but the Sun Devils still didn’t do anything short of blowing out the Buffaloes (2-3, 0-3 Pac-12).
“We probably dominated (the Buffaloes) as bad as they’ve been dominated this year,” Graham said. “There’s nothing that I’m not pleased of.”
To Graham and the players, it was a nice change of pace compared to the past four weeks against much tougher competition. It was the Sun Devils’ first wire-to-wire victory since their season opener against Sacramento State on Sept. 5.
Graham said he didn’t know how his players would respond against an easier opponent after losing to Notre Dame last week, but ASU’s preparation and its performance against Colorado left Graham satisfied.
“I think they were a little bitter from the mistakes we’ve made the week before because we felt like we’ve really played poorly in one half,” Graham said. “We thought we should’ve won. (It shows) maturity more than anything.”
On the Sun Devils’ first drive of the game, ASU struck first with redshirt junior quarterback Taylor Kelly’s 69-yard touchdown pass to redshirt sophomore wide receiver Jaelen Strong.
After forcing the Buffaloes to go three-and-out on the next possession, senior running back Marion Grice gave the Sun Devils an 8-yard touchdown run. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Mike Bercovici then hit Strong in the back corner of an endzone for the two-point conversion to give ASU a 15-0 lead before the 10-minute mark.
Colorado still couldn’t get anything going offensively. Buffaloes’ junior quarterback Connor Wood threw an interception to redshirt sophomore Lloyd Carrington and was pulled after Colorado’s second offensive drive, with true freshman Sefo Liufau replacing him.
The points kept on coming for ASU while the defense held on. Freshman kicker Zane Gonzalez converted a 26-yard field goal and Grice followed it up with a 1-yard touchdown run. The Sun Devils ended the first 15 minutes with a 25-0 lead, the most they’ve scored in the first quarter since 2002 against Stanford.
Colorado’s only meaningful touchdown was on Liufau’s 10-yard pass to sophomore wide receiver Nelson Spruce. The Buffaloes failed to convert on their two-point conversion when junior punter Darragh O’Neill’s pass threw an incomplete pass.
From there, the Sun Devils’ lead kept growing.
Redshirt senior defensive end Davon Coleman got a 1-yard touchdown reception, which was the first of his career. On the following defensive drive, Coleman and Bradford hurried Liufau in the endzone and forced intentional grounding, resulting in a safety.
“Davon is the one I’m really proud of,” Graham said. “He’s had the two best weeks since I’ve been here. … Davon is a very talented individual, a guy that could do that at the next level.”
Later in the second quarter, Gonzalez made two more field goals, one that went for a career-long 41 yards and another for 20, and Kelly scored on a 17-yard run that put the Sun Devils up 47-6 at halftime.
ASU’s starters didn’t play after that point.
“That was something I’ve never done before in a football game,” Graham said. “Our guys were really sore from the games we’ve played so we wanted to try and get in as much rest as we could with them. We were coaching the second team pretty hard because that’s our future.”
There were only two more scoring plays in the second half. On ASU’s longest drive under Graham’s tenure that lasted 7:04 in the third quarter, redshirt senior running back R.J. Robinson scored his first career touchdown on a 1-yard rush. Redshirt junior safety Damarious Randall and redshirt senior defensive back Robert Nelson each came up with an interception. Freshman linebacker Viliami Latu recovered a fumble in his first action on defense this season.
Colorado senior running back Christian Powell had an 8-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter as the last scoring play of the game.
The Sun Devils finished with 532 yards of total offense, with 276 from the ground. Kelly finished 9-for-19 passing for 233 yards and two touchdowns. Strong finished the game with 109 receiving yards and a touchdown.
“It’s great for our team to build confidence,” Kelly said. “We competed well this week and we didn’t take Colorado lightly. … We handled our business tonight.”
ASU’s defense held Colorado to just 99 rushing yards, only the second time the Sun Devils have held an opponent under 100 yards on the ground this season. They also locked down on Colorado junior wide receiver Paul Richardson, who ranked second in the Pac-12 in receiving yards coming into the game. Richardson finished the game with just four catches for 39 yards, all that were made in the second half.
“With our one-defense, Richardson didn’t have a catch,” Graham said.
ASU wasted no time after the game to focus on its next opponent in No. 16 Washington, a tough Pac-12 team that lost to No. 5 Stanford and No. 2 Oregon in back-to-back weeks.
“We’re singing the fight song, and (redshirt senior defensive tackle) Will (Sutton) walks up behind me and says, ‘Coach, we’ve got to go to work on Washington. It’s going to be a big deal,’” Graham said. “That hadn’t happened before. They usually celebrate the win. These guys are thinking ahead. They’re mature. I think they showed a lot of maturity tonight.”
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