The EDGE: ASU heads to Boulder for Pac-12 opener vs. Colorado
Video by Sean Logan | Multimedia
Redshirt senior Taylor Kelly’s numbers throughout the first two games are a little ho-hum, but he’s been cruising to start the season. Kelly broke out the wheels when he had two runs over 40-yards against New Mexico last week, and his ability to throw the long ball seemed to be rounding into form when he hit a 41-yard touchdown strike to sophomore wide receiver Cam Smith. He sat out the fourth quarter the past two games, and it would take ASU to be in trouble against Colorado for Kelly to break that streak on Saturday.
Sophomore Sefo Liufau, who appeared in last year’s ASU-Colorado game as a backup, is now the Buffaloes’s full-time starter. His completion rate is at a decent 61.7 percent and he has only thrown one interception so far. Liufau threw for 18-of-22 but also two interceptions against the Sun Devils’ loaded defense last season, so it will be interesting to see his performance on Saturday with more experience under his belt and a downgraded ASU defense.
How good has D.J. Foster looked so far? After the first two games, the junior checks in with the third-most rushing yards in the nation at 363. The Sun Devils’ rushing attack doesn’t only have Foster — they also possess two freshmen who have already scored touchdowns. Freshman Demario Richard scored his first touchdown against New Mexico and Kalen Ballage already has three scores.
Colorado rotates between Liufau, Christian Powell, Michael Adkins II and Tony Jones on the ground, but none of them have surpassed 100 rushing yards throughout the first two games.
Wide Receivers / Tight Ends
ASU only had 12 completions last week against New Mexico, but that’s largely due to Foster’s monster game on the ground. The Sun Devils were completely content with redshirt junior receiver Jaelen Strong having only three catches, but it’s safe to say Kelly will go back to Strong if the offense needs it. Smith has also emerged as a speedy target.
With Paul Richardson gone, Nelson Spruce has been Liufau’s go-to target and accounts for four of Liufau’s five passing touchdowns. Spruce had a 70-yard touchdown reception against Massachusetts last week and his 10-catch, 145-yard performance for two touchdowns ended up being crucial toward the Buffaloes’ close 41-38 win over the Minutemen.
The Sun Devils have a slight size advantage at offensive line over Colorado. The line has done a decent job holding the line of scrimmage for Foster, Ballage and Richard and also hasn’t put Kelly in much trouble in the pocket recently.
Take note of Colorado’s right side of its offensive line on Saturday. Senior right guard Daniel Munyer is the most experienced out of that group and junior right tackle Stephane Nembot checks in at 6-foot-7, 245 pounds.
Both teams have three sacks each and are giving up over four yards per rush, so it should be interesting to see which defensive line gives up less considering both teams are playing their best opponent to date. The Sun Devils’ run defense against New Mexico’s triple option last week wasn’t stellar, but it held the Lobos to a decent 3.6 yards per rush.
Although senior Juda Parker and junior Josh Tupou gives the Buffaloes experience at defensive end, Colorado also starts two freshmen in Derek McCartney and Christian Shaver, which is similar to ASU’s experience on the line.
This is the strongest position on both teams’ defenses, but the Sun Devils get a slight advantage here for their talent. Redshirt sophomore Salamo Fiso is one of two only starters on ASU’s entire defense and freshman Laiu Moeakiola has fit in well enough at Spur to earn himself captain status on ASU. Freshman D.J. Calhoun only has eight tackles the past two games but has made a couple impressive stops. ASU has some questions coming into Saturday on who to start on the boundary side, but redshirt sophomore Jordan Simone should start at boundary safety.
Sophomore Addison Gillam is the linebacker to watch for Colorado, as he leads the defense in tackles with 22.
Surprisingly, ASU hasn’t recorded an interception yet, but that’s largely due to the fact that neither team they’ve played passed the pall much. Redshirt senior safety Damarious Randall has been the best defensive player so far with a team-high 19 tackles and a forced fumble. Redshirt sophomore Lloyd Carrington has a decent history against Liufau, as Carrington recorded his only pick as a Sun Devil against him in last year’s game.
No one on Colorado has been a bigger playmaker than sophomore safety Tedric Thompson so far. Thompson has 19 tackles for the season and also has both of the Buffaloes’ only interceptions of the season and forced a fumble against
Colorado’s first two weeks haven’t been too fun. The Buffaloes opened with an ugly 31-17 loss to Colorado State on Aug. 29 and barely defeated MAC foe Massachusetts last week. Saturday should be an easy road game for the Sun Devils on the surface, but like last week, a lot of intangibles could factor into the game. Barring any extremes, ASU should win by a distant margin in mile-high elevation.
2014 season in photos
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Josh_Nacion