On Saturday night, the Colorado Buffaloes strolled in to Tempe, Arizona to get a critical win over the Arizona State Sun Devils. It was weird and it was physical, but the Buffs were tough as hell to beat the Devils.
The Buffs got off to a great start as they took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Colorado has struggled early in each of their three previous games, so it was a surprise to see them move the ball effortlessly against a Sun Devils defense that had allowed 21 points total in three games. Alex Fontenot was first on the board with a one-yard rushing touchdown, then Tony Brown joined him on a 29-yard catch on a deep ball from Steven Montez.
Arizona State got back into the game with a 53-yard catch by Brandon Aiyuk to make the game 14-7. KD Nixon fumbled on the ensuing kickoff, which gave ASU a short field. Eno Benjamin leveled the game at 14 with a touchdown. But instead of collapsing as many pessimistic CU fans thought, the Buffs answered back with another touchdown pass to Tony Brown, who stepped up big time after Laviska Shenault was injured.
As the game progressed, the Devils moved the ball easier and easier, all because of injuries sustained in the Buffaloes defense. Mustafa Johnson was lost in the first quarter (due to a dirty cut block that appeared to be a hit job), then Delrick Abrams, Mikial Onu and Chris Miller all suffered injuries. The loss to Johnson was especially harmful as CU was unable to pressure Jayden Daniels despite ASU’s vastly inexperienced offensive line. ASU scored again via Benjamin’s short yardage acumen, although CU retook the lead with a field goal just before the half.
The first half was weird in a chaotic fun way, but the second half was weird in a “let’s take turns wasting big plays” way. Both defenses figured each out, but not enough to prevent the occasional lapse. After an ASU field goal tied it up at 24-24, CU got on the board with Montez’s third long touchdown pass to Brown. But that lead lasted for all of two minutes before Daniels found Frank Darby for a 39-yard touchdown. (If there was a theme to the night, it was that Montez was sharp and has very skilled receivers, and Arizona State is a whole lot faster than CU’s defense.)
The next time CU had the ball — now entering the fourth quarter — they wasted a long Nixon catch-and-run. Still tied at 31-31, the Devils marched down the field and looked ready to take control, but Daniels forced the ball into tight coverage and Derrion Rakestraw jumped it for an interception. The Buffs promptly went three-and-out, which was followed by an ASU three-and-out, because football is very fun.
Once Colorado got the ball back, they began to run the ball and churn the clock. Fontenot and Jaren Mangham moved the chains and Montez found Nixon for a huge third down conversion. Then on 3rd-and-6 at the 27-yard-line, Montez’s pass to Maurice Bell sailed high. James Stefanou hit the field goal to go ahead 34-31.
There was still two minutes and Arizona State had all their timeouts left, so was there plenty of time left for a game-tying or game-winning score. Daniels’ first two passes sailed high, then Carson Wells, bless his heart, crashed the pocked and got the sack. Then on fourth down the pressure got to Daniels again and he short armed the pass for an incompletion. The Buffs still had 1:39 to burn, they were able to seal the win, even if it did get really weird at the end.
Colorado moves to 3-1 on the season. This was a tough game due to all the injuries sustained, but this is a huge win and they have a bye week to rest and refocus. The Buffs have shown the resolve that they haven’t displayed since 2016, which bodes well as they move further into the conference schedule.