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Day after thoughts: Defensive adjustments propel No. 21 Colorado to win

The Buffaloes are now 5-0 for the first time in 20 years

NCAA Football: Arizona State at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Behind some defensive adjustments and timely stops in the second half, in addition to the play of Heisman-contender Laviska Shenault, the Buffaloes defeated the Sun Devils 28-21 Saturday afternoon. With the win, Colorado (5-0, 2-0 Pac-12) is now 5-0 for the 25th time in school history and first since 1998.

Here are my three biggest takeaways from the Buffaloes big win:

1. Second half adjustments against the run, defensive stops key Buffaloes win

Herm Edwards’ game plan against Colorado was evident right from the start. Run the ball. A week after setting a school-record with 312 rushing yards against Oregon State, it looked like Arizona State sophomore Eno Benjamin was going to have another big performance Saturday in Boulder. Benjamin had his way with the Buffaloes defense in the first half, rushing for 97 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. Despite losing leading-tackler Nate Landman to a “questionable” targeting call in the 2nd quarter, D.J. Eliot’s unit adjusted to shut down the run in the second half, holding the ASU sophomore to 23 yards on just eight carries.

“The running back [Eno] Benjamin, I was a little nervous, in the first half we had a hard time tackling him.” CU head coach Mike MacIntyre said following the game. “In the second half, our guys adjusted. I thought the D-line and the front seven play in the second half was pretty amazing.”

In addition to the adjustments made against Benjamin, the Buffaloes came up with five consecutive defensive stops in the second half to preserve the victory. No stop was bigger than the play Delrick Abrams Jr. made early in the 4th quarter. Trailing 28-21 and facing a 4th-and-goal from the Buffaloes 3-yard line, Edwards - obviously playing to win the game - chose to go for the seven points. ASU quarterback Manny Wilkins dropped back and threw a fade in the corner of the end zone for his 6’8 sophomore wideout Curtis Hodges. Abrams Jr., a 6’3 junior-college transfer, played Hodges and the ball brilliantly, breaking up the pass.

Outside linebacker Drew Lewis also deserves a shout out. The senior from Sammamish, Wash., who moved back to inside linebacker after Landman was ejected, led the Buffs with 10 total tackles.

2. It’s time to start the ‘Laviska for Heisman’ campaign

Enough is enough. Buffaloes wide receiver Laviska Shenault has taken the college football world by storm and it’s time to start including him in discussions about the sport’s ultimate individual prize, the Heisman Trophy. He entered Saturday’s game leading the FBS in receptions per game (9.5) and receiving yards per game (145.3). He also ranked 5th in receiving yards (581) despite playing one or two less games than those ranked ahead of him. Against Arizona State, the Buffaloes sophomore had 13 receptions for 127 yards and ALL four touchdowns (2 rec, 2 rush). In five games, he now has 51 receptions for 708 yards and 10 total touchdowns (4 rushing, 6 receiving). And while his numbers are what stands out, there aren’t enough adjectives to describe how important Shenault is to this Buffaloes team. Without hesitation, through six weeks, he should be among the front-runners for this year’s Heisman Trophy.

3. McMillian might just be the unsung hero of this Buffaloes team

While Shenault has been the Buffaloes MVP through the first five games, Travon McMillian has been the team’s unsung hero. After losing Phillip Lindsay to graduation, the running back position was a concern for the Buffaloes entering 2018. McMillian has certainly filled the void. The grad-transfer from Virginia Tech had 30 carries for 136 yards against Arizona State. In three years with the Hokies, McMillian produced five 100-plus yard games. In his first year with the Buffaloes, he has already rushed for 100-or-more yards four separate times. More importantly, with opposing defenses having to keep an eye on McMillian, it’ll open up more opportunities for Steven Montez to get the ball in the hands of his playmaker, Shenault.

NEXT UP: October 13 at USC (3-2, 2-1 Pac-12)

The Colorado Buffaloes travel to Los Angles to try and do something they’ve never done before, beat the USC Trojans. Colorado is 0-12 all-time against the Men of Troy in a series that dates back to 1927. After narrow victories over Washington State (39-36) and Arizona (24-20) to improve to 3-2 on the season, USC is coming off a bye week. Defeat the Trojans, and the Buffaloes will be one step closer to a trip back to Santa Clara, Calif. for the Pac-12 Championship game. Lose, and the Pac-12 South Division gets very interesting.