Colorado's Defensive Front vs. Arizona State's Running Game
Through two games one glaring deficiency has emerged within Colorado's defensive unit. Thus far, the front seven have been gashed for 266 yards rushing by a CSU squad breaking in an entirely new offensive line and opened up for 372 total yards by the UMass Minutemen, a team that ranked at the bottom of the nation in offensive productivity. This wasn't altogether unpredicted, injuries and inexperience pointed to a rough go in Pac-12 play but these factors have proven to be pivotal without even a down of conference football being played.
Last Saturday in Albuquerque Arizona State racked up 423 yards on the ground against the New Mexico Lobos. Four hundred and twenty three. More ominous yet, senior quarterback Taylor Kelly is 29/47 for 430 yards and 3 touchdowns on the season. He can run, too. In order to keep the Sun Devils within shouting-through-a-bullhorn distance on Saturday this defense is going to have to cover gaps quickly, make the first tackle, force a couple of turnovers, and generally play out of their heads.
Against UMass last weekend CU managed only 4 tackles for a loss, highlighted by freshman Timothy Coleman's big sack late in the 3rd quarter. Against Arizona State they don't necessarily need to be swarming the backfield but they will need to bottle up rushes down the gut by D.J. Foster, who can make one cut to a hole and disappear up the field disgustingly quick. Stopping him for a short gain is the equivalent of a tackle for a loss.
Leading out Foster and company will be an offensive line that returns three full-season starters from last year. Junior Nick Kelly has taken over duties at center while guard Christian Westerman is beginning to live up to the recruiting hype that surrounded him when he decided to go to Tempe. So far the interior of their line has had some substantial success, accumulating 351 yards up the middle on 61 attempts. Josh Tupou and Juda Parker will bear the brunt of the Devils' central push. Those two found sporadic success getting to the ball and clogging up lanes last Saturday in New England but come this Saturday they'll have to contend with larger, more athletic interior blockers on their way to the ball carrier. Holding the Sun Devils to 2 or 3-yard gains will be considered a massive win for this defense.
On the outside, Derek McCartney will have his hands full attempting to get off the left edge on all-conference senior tackle Jamil Douglas. He'll be targeted quite a bit as Foster favored that direction heavily last week amassing 103 yards running to his left. It's likely that ASU will also attempt to overwhelm the right side going at Colorado's revolving door of freshman and sophomore ends. De'Jon Wilson, Jimmie Gilbert, and Christian Shaver are going to have to find a way to get around ASU's veteran linemen and create some semblance of containment or else a repeat of last week's gaudy rushing totals will be very much in play.
Best case scenario
The Buffs limit the number of times that Sun Devil running backs reach the second level through the middle, helping out their linebackers and secondary while keeping the game relatively close. Ultimately, Colorado doesn't have the bodies or the skill yet to consistently generate enough pressure to disrupt and withstand an offense as dynamic as Arizona State's. I think most CU fans will, at the least, be happy to see incremental improvement in defensive execution and a relatively close game going into the second half.