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September 15, 2006

Colorado preview

No. 22 Arizona State will go on the road for the first time this season for a game at the University of Colorado on Folsom Field on Saturday. The Sun Devils (2-0) will be looking to remain undefeated as they prepare to head into Pac-10 play next week. TBS will televise the game, which is scheduled to start at 5 p.m. MST locally, 4 p.m. Arizona-time.

This will be the first-ever meeting between ASU and Colorado. Under first-year coach Dan Hawkins, the Buffaloes started the season 0-2 with losses to Division I-AA Montana State and geographical rival Colorado State.

Colorado has lost six straight games dating back to the middle of last season, the longest losing streak at the school in more than a quarter-century.

Hawkins was ASU coach Dirk Koetter's defensive coordinator at Boise State, and he succeeded Koetter as that school's head coach for five seasons before accepting the job at Colorado.

The Buffaloes' first-year offensive coordinator is Mark Helfrich. He coached under Koetter for the last eight seasons, at Boise State and later ASU, before accepting his current job under Hawkins this off-season.

Koetter admitted earlier in the week that this was a game he'd prefer not to play if he didn't have to, but he emotionally crossed that bridge a long time ago and said that he would prepare his team for this game just like he would for any other game.

Colorado will likely have more of an understanding of what ASU is trying to accomplish offensively because of Helfrich, but Koetter said that "Identifying it and doing something about it on the field -- those are way different things."

In his 100th game as head coach, Koetter will be attempting to guide his team to the second 3-0 start in the last three seasons, at the expense of his friends on the opposite sideline, who have been struggling to turn things around with their program, especially on the offensive side of the ball.

"Since I know their coaching staff well I know they're going to come out of it at some point," Koetter said. "Hopefully not this week."

The Buffaloes figure to start mobile quarterback Bernard Jackson, a player who brings an added dimension to the position due to his athleticism and ability to move out of the pocket. Under the previous coaching staff, Jackson was moved around and played at quarterback, running back, wide receiver and as a return specialist.

Jackson is a dynamic athlete who came into the Colorado State game and promptly guided the offense on a nice scoring drive, largely due to his versatility and ability to run with the ball either by design or when plays break down.

The problem Colorado has is that Jackson is relatively unproved as a passer (8-of-13 for 70 yards) and until he and his teammates demonstrate that he can move the ball via the air, they'll see defenses that stack up against the run and aggressively blitz. And that's what we expect from the Sun Devils in this contest.

ASU leads the nation with 13 sacks through two games and is tied at the top in tackles for loss. Linebackers Derron Ware and Robert James have provided excellent pursuit of the quarterback blitzing from the edge or up the middle and the Sun Devils' have been relatively competent with the play of their front four.

We expect them to attempt to pressure Colorado relentlessly, stacking the box with eight or nine guys consistently and putting their corners on islands until Jackson proves that he can beat the team by making plays downfield to receivers working isolated in space.

Sophomore Patrick Williams leads the team with seven catches for 88 yards through two games, but he and his position-mates will have to be a lot more productive in this game if they want to have any chance at coming away with a victory.

The Colorado run-game does not appear to be too imposing either, as the team is averaging just 90 yards per game on the ground via a trio of backs. Leading rusher Mel Holiday, a senior, has just 59 yards in the two games played thus far. The most talented player in the backfield is probably Hugh Charles, a 5-foot-8, 185-pounder that accounted for over 1,000 yards of offense last season, but has been limited thus far due to an arm injury.

Overall, The Buffaloes rank last in the Big-12 in scoring offense, averaging 10 points per game; last in passing offense, averaging just 90.5 yards per game; 11th in rushing offense, averaging just 90.5 yards per game; last in total offense, averaging just 181.0 yards per game, a full 95 yards per game fewer than the team in 11th place in the statistic, Kansas State.

While the offensive side of the ball has been a complete frustration for Colorado and its fans through two games, the defense has had some nice achievements that he can be proud of, in particular, its efforts against the run.

Colorado's two opponents have carried the ball a total of 69 times for 65 yards (0.9 yards per carry), which is good enough for first in the Big-12 conference in the category. They are giving up just 32.5 yards per game on the ground.

Senior defensive end Abraham Wright was almost unblockable last week and put up a three sack performance. Sophomore nose tackle Brandon Nicolas is a run stuffer who has already collected 10 tackles.

The strength of the front seven may be at linebacker where two of the team's top defensive playmakers reside: Senior MIKE Thaddaeus Washington junior WILL Jordon Dizon. They have contributed 23 and 25 tackles respectively through two games this season and both are on the Dick Butkus Award Watch List.

Colorado will need a strong pass rush to help mask some of the deficiencies in their secondary. The team has given up 471 net passing yards in two games and with an offense as potent as the one ASU often puts on the field, that could be a real problem unless the Buffaloes are able to consistently pressure Rudy Carpenter.

On special teams, the Buffaloes feature one of the truly great placekickers in the country in senior Mason Crosby, a near-consensus preseason first-team All-American who completed 21 of 28 attempts last season and has connected on 9-of-14 on field goals of 50 yards or longer in his career.


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