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(16) Arizona State (2-0) at Colorado (1-1)
Saturday, September 13, 10 p.m. (ET)
The Sports Network
GAME NOTES: Pac-12 Conference action gets underway for the 16th-ranked Arizona State Sun Devils and the Colorado Buffaloes, as the two teams square off at Folsom Field on Saturday night.
Both squads have only shared the same conference allegiance since 2011 when Colorado moved from the Big 12. Arizona State has won all five previous meetings, three of which have come in league play, including a 54-13 rout last year.
Arizona State has eased its way into the 2014 campaign with wins over Weber State (45-14) and New Mexico (58-23). The Sun Devils have started 2-0 every season since 2006, but they have not moved to 3-0 since 2007.
"We are 2-0 and we got better and we learned tonight," Arizona State head coach Todd Graham said to his team after the win over New Mexico. "Conference championship starts this week. All bets are off in conference play. It's going to be a dog fight every single game."
Colorado won't be fighting to remain perfect in this contest as it lost in the season opener to rival Colorado State, 31-17. The Buffaloes did manage to grab a win in week two, surviving a trip to Foxborough to face Massachusetts with a 41-38 win.
The Sun Devils have been met with very little defensive resistance in the first two weeks. They have scored a total of 103 points and they have already accumulated 1,191 yards of total offense. With a 7.8 yards per play average, it is clear they will continue to be one of the many offensive powers in the Pac-12.
Taylor Kelly has not been asked to do all that much so far, as Arizona State has generally had games in hand far before the final whistle. Still the Sun Devils' signal caller has shown flashes of the ability that makes him such a threat. He has thrown for 430 yards and three scores on 61.7 percent completions, while racking up 98 yards and an additional touchdown on the ground. Expect him to be even more productive in this contest.
Kelly and the offense as a whole benefit from the exceptional talent at the skill positions. Running back D.J. Foster is flourishing now that he is the featured back. He has rushed for 363 yards and four touchdowns already, including a 216-yard effort against New Mexico. Foster's reach extends beyond the running game, however, as he also has seven receptions for 80 yards.
Of course, Foster is not the primary target in the passing game. That role belongs to wideout Jaelen Strong, who has gotten off to a fast start, with a team-best 13 receptions for 189 yards and a touchdown. He is the only player on the team with 10 receptions or 100 yards. Cameron Smith (five receptions, 91 yards, TD) was utilized more against New Mexico, securing four passes for 77 yards and a score.
While the offense has had no trouble moving the chains, the Arizona State defense has been equally successful in slowing the opposing side. Obviously the level of competition has not been the type that the Sun Devils will see the rest of this season, but they have still let up only 645 yards, while forcing three turnovers and recording three sacks in the first two games.
Damarious Randall (16 tackles. 3.0 TFL) has set the tone for the defensive unit, while Laiu Moeakiola (13 tackles, 1.0 sack) has been a difficult player to stop up front as well.
Colorado is not nearly the offensive force that Arizona State is, as the Buffaloes have managed to pick up only 849 yards of total offense in their first two games. Their average of 279.5 yards per game is easily the worst in the Pac-12, although there is still time to improve.
Sefo Liufau is Kelly's counterpart in this contest. Liufau started as a freshman last season and he has shown some progress this year with five touchdown passes against only one interception. He still avoids throwing down field much, averaging just 6.9 yards per attempt, but he has tallied 559 yards and completed 61.7 percent of his pass attempts. It is worth nothing that he has run for 60 yards as well.
Liufau was lucky enough to throw to Paul Richardson last season. With Richardson now in the NFL, Nelson Spruce has graduated to the top option on the depth chart. The returns have been favorable so far, with Spruce racking up 249 yards and four touchdowns on 17 receptions. Each of those totals leads the team. Shay Fields (14 receptions, 139 yards, TD) is the only other player with more than five catches.
When it comes to running the football, the Buffs have not been able to get much going, with their top two rushers (Christian Powell and Michael Adkins II) each averaging less than four yards per carry.
Despite being outscored over the first two games (69-58), CU has actually gained more yards than it has allowed (849-772). However, the Buffaloes are still in the bottom half of the Pac-12 when it comes to total defense, while sitting dead last in points allowed.
"The last two games, on defense, we had one senior, one junior, and nine freshmen and sophomores," Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre told CUBuffs.com. "You see them keep growing up as you watch the games and yeah, they're going to watch mistakes, but they'll keep growing up and keep getting better."
Addison Gillam is easily the most important player for Colorado on the defensive side of the ball. The middle linebacker leads the team in tackles (22) and tackles for loss (4.0). In fact, the rest of the team only has four TFL combined.
Although MacIntyre may be optimistic about how his team, especially his defense, is improving, the Buffaloes will have their hands full against the Sun Devils. Kelly, Foster and Strong are a devastating offensive trio, and they will really challenge just how quickly Colorado is maturing.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Arizona State 44, Colorado 20
09/10 10:52:51 ET