The Colorado Buffaloes (5-4, 2-4 Pac-12) will hear the word “under” a lot from this point on. As 4.5-point underdogs against the Arizona State Sun Devils (4-4, 3-2 Pac-12), the Buffs hope to change their perception on a national scale of being underrated and underestimated. A perfect opportunity arises this week in Tempe, a place Colorado has never picked up a win going back to 2006.
The Buffaloes needed to bounce back following the worst performance of coach Mike MacIntyre’s tenure two weeks ago against Washington State and did just that at home with a 44-28 win over California. What has been viewed as a down season could be turned into the Buffs going bowling for a second consecutive season. One win is all it would take for CU to be eligible with three games left in the season.
Colorado beat Arizona State at home last year, 40-16, behind Phillip Lindsay’s 219 rushing yards and three touchdowns. The first-ever victory for the Buffs over the Sun Devils was the first of a six game winning streak to finish out the regular season.
As for Arizona State, the road to the postseason is got much longer following the 48-17 loss to USC, dropping to a .500 record on the season along with two of the next four away from the desert. Coach Todd Graham is fighting to save his job in the last month of the season and is in danger of the Sun Devils suffering a second straight losing season.
ASU’s offense hasn’t put up huge numbers, but are consistent in red zone attempts with only one unsuccessful trip inside the 20 this season (24-25, .960%). Manny Wilkins isn’t the typical quarterback offensive coordinator Billy Napier has built his system around in the past, but the two have forged a different path to clean up Wilkins’ past mistakes along with retooling the offense with a running-heavy style.
Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage have complemented Wilkins’ with longer drives and help alleviate the stress on the passing game. Colorado’s defensive front has been picked apart by outstanding running offense this season, giving up an average of 179.1 yards per game. A similar outcome could happen against Richard and Ballage, who have combined for 757 yards and ten touchdowns.
An intriguing head-to-head matchup will be the Sun Devils top receiver K’Neal Harry against Isaiah Oliver. The two are respectfully regarded among the best on either side of the ball in the nation. Harry averages 13.2 yards per catch with a total of 713 yards and three touchdowns. Oliver returns to the lineup after missing last week with a leg injury. He continues to shut down his opponents this season with 20 tackles, 9 pass deflections and two interceptions. Opponents have tested Oliver 53 times in eight games and he’s allowed 22 only completions, and almost exclusively.
Colorado’s offense played superb last week with Steven Montez going 20-of-26 for 347 yards and four total touchdown (three passing, one rushing). The key for Montez will be consistency with drives down the field. He’s been accurate in his first season as a full-time starter with a current streak of 134 pass attempts without an interception, the third longest in CU history. It’s only the fourth time a Buffaloes’ quarterback and running back tandem has thrown for 2000+ yards and rushed for 1,000+ in a season. (Montez, 2,509 and Lindsay, 1,234).
Colorado travels to Arizona State on Saturday, Nov. 4 for a 7 pm MT kickoff. The Sun Devils will be wearing alternative “Brotherhood” camouflage uniforms honoring the nation’s armed forces. The collaboration with the Pat Tillman Foundation and Adidas features “the names of ASU players and coaches, past and present, who have served or are serving in the U.S. military.”