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Friday Fast Five: Keys For Buffs vs. ASU

Oct 28, 2022

BOULDER — This much is guaranteed Saturday at Folsom Field: an interim head coach will pick up a victory.

The question, of course, is whether it will be Colorado's Mike Sanford — who is 1-1 at the Buffs' helm this year after taking over for Karl Dorrell — or Arizona State's Shaun Aguano, who is 1-3 after taking the reins from Herm Edwards.

Sanford opened his head coaching stint at Colorado with a win over Cal before the Buffs fell last weekend to Oregon State. Under Aguano, ASU lost to Utah and USC before beating Washington, then lost last weekend to Stanford.

Now, both the Buffs (1-6 overall, 1-3 Pac-12) and Sun Devils (2-5, 1-3) are aiming to salvage something from their seasons down the stretch.

Immediately at stake Saturday is a step up out of the Pac-12 basement. Six teams — half of the conference — are currently mired at the bottom of the standings with just one league victory. 

The Buffs would like to part company with at least some of that group.

The keys for Colorado:

1. Stop the Sun Devils' run game. Arizona State has rushed for more than 150 yards in one of four Pac-12 games — against Washington, which also happens to be ASU's only Pac-12 win.

Otherwise, the Sun Devils have struggled to put together a consistent rushing attack in conference play. They had just 6 yards on the ground in a loss to Utah, 88 in a loss to USC and 128 in last weekend's 15-14 loss to Stanford.

In particular, the Buffs need to keep ASU running back Xazavian Valladay in check. Valladay ran for 111 yards in the win over Washington and also had a touchdown reception. It will be up to Buffs D-linemen Na'im Rodman, Jalen Sami and Terrance Lang to provide that first line of defense.

Speaking of a run game … 

2. Move the ball on the ground. This isn't as much a matter of the Buffs putting up huge rushing numbers as it is simply producing some consistent gains on first and second down. If the Buffs can do that, it will put them in some third-and-manageable situations and greatly increase their chances of moving the sticks.

CU is just 28-for-95 (29 percent) on third-down conversion attempts this year. But on third-and-5 or less, the Buffs have a 50 percent conversion rate (17-for-34). 

Colorado has had some bright moments from running backs Anthony Hankerson and Jayle Stacks in the last couple of weeks. If they can get moving against ASU, the Buffs can give themselves more of those third-and-short situations, keep the chains moving and wear out the ASU defense at altitude.

3. Make ASU's quarterback uncomfortable from the start. The Buffaloes aren't 100 percent sure who they'll see at quarterback.

It could be regular ASU starter Emory Jones, whose struggles last week at Stanford (the Sun Devils didn't score in the second half) left some fans wanting a change. Or, it could be backup Trenton Bourguet, who came off the bench to replace an injured Jones against Washington and led the Sun Devils to a wild 45-38 win over then-No. 21 UW. 

Whoever starts, Colorado needs to make him uncomfortable from the get-go. In their three Pac-12 losses, the Sun Devils have yielded 14 quarterback sacks.

Colorado needs to add to that number.

4. Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. The Buffs didn't give themselves a chance last week against a good Oregon State team, committing four turnovers — three of which the Beavers turned into touchdowns.

Colorado can't give ASU those kinds of opportunities and CU's defense needs to produce a couple of takeaways.

Arizona State's quarterbacks have thrown five interceptions this year and the Sun Devils have lost four fumbles. ASU's defense, meanwhile, has produced eight interceptions, but no fumble recoveries.

In what has a good chance of becoming a defensive battle, those momentum-shifting moments could be the difference, especially late in the game. The Buffs have to make sure they're on the right side of those shifts.

5. Start fast, finish strong. Colorado has produced just 10 points in the first quarter and 13 in the third period in seven games.

It means the Buffs have been playing from behind nearly every week, and their opponents have all too often put the game away with big third quarters.

What is expected to be a big Homecoming crowd should give the Buffs a boost — and they can't afford to waste the opportunity.

Colorado's offense has moved the ball well on occasion, but has struggled to get in gear early. This is a week in which CU has to come out of the gate strong, put the Sun Devils on their heels and play from a position of strength for 60 minutes.