Last night’s blow-out 51-17 win over lowly Colorado gives Arizona State football an impressive 5-1 start to the season. And gives its new head coach rock-star status in a college sports community starved for a winning season after four straight years in the dumps.
But if the Sun Devils start next week’s game against No. 2 Oregon the way they came out against the Buffaloes, that star power will fade quickly. Oregon will be long gone by halftime, on their way to another explosive win in an undefeated season.
The Devils fell all over themselves in the first half in Boulder, getting penalized five times, fumbling a kick-off, and letting the Buffalo defense block a point-after. And then they let Colorado erase a nice advantage the Sun Devils built early by allowing them to score 10 points as the first-half wound down the final minute of play.
They didn’t really come alive until Rashad Ross opened the second half with a 100-yard kick-off return after stepping in for Jamal Miles, who took a seat on the sidelines after fumbling a kick-off in the first half. That run by Ross matched the school record for kick-off returns, making him one of just five players in program history that have gone the full distance.
But ASU’s new boss, Todd Graham, just has to ask his counterpart down the road in Tucson how quickly the wheels can come off a good start. Rich Rodriguez, also a first-year head coach at the University of Arizona trying to prove himself, was run over by Oregon in a 49-0 embarrassment after starting the season 3-0.
The Cats let Oregon get out to a 13-point lead at the half, and then had no way to catch up after the Ducks turned on the afterburners and scored 36 second-half points.
Since that loss, things just haven’t been the same in the Old Pueblo. The Wildcats have lost three straight and went from being a shooting star to just another .500 team struggling to get enough wins to become bowl-eligible – although that possibility is quickly fading. And since all three losses were in conference, hopes for a run at a Pac-12 title are also dwindling.
And now Oregon will bring its brand of high-octane offense to Sun Devil Stadium next week for a game that will be played on a Thursday for the third time this season.
Graham obviously has had one eye on that game with perhaps the best team in the country and has probably been preparing for weeks. But the last two games haven’t helped much to prepare his team on the field of battle. ASU ran up almost 600 yards of offense (a season high) against a Colorado team that has just one win in six games, and before that beat another one-win team as the Devil defense piled up six sacks against California and QB Taylor Kelly shredded the Golden Bear secondary for 292 yards passing.
The redshirt sophomore from Idaho had an even bigger night against Colorado, completing 20-of-28 pass attempts for 308 yards and five touchdowns. Three of those TD receptions went to junior tailback, Marion Grice, a junior college transfer.
And the Devils enjoyed success on the ground as well. Cameron Marshall, the senior running back, averaged 7.5 yards a carry, and D.J. Foster, his freshman partner in the back field from Scottsdale’s Saguaro High School, was producing at a 6.8 yards-per-carry clip. Kelly was even able to add 85 yards rushing to go with his passing contributions.
However, to put that in the proper perspective, Colorado is the worst team in the Pac-12 in passing and scoring defense.
Graham and his staff had a bye week to prepare for Colorado. They don’t have that luxury in getting ready for Oregon.
Unfortunately, the Ducks do. Their last game was Oct. 6, when they stomped on Washington, 52-21, and don’t play tomorrow. It was the fourth time this season the explosive offense has run up at least 50 points on the opponent. The fewest they’ve scored was 42 against – believe it or not – Fresno State.
The fact that ASU will be at home for this one should be some help – especially since the Ducks have only had one road game all season. However, it didn’t seem to make much difference where they played. They ran up 51 points in Seattle against Washington State.
Of course, if the game gets out of hand – as it did for the Wildcats in Eugene – being at home just makes it worse.
And let’s not even think about the fact that it will be on national television.
(Photo: Arizona State Athletics)