CU opponent glance
Opponent: Arizona State Sun Devils
Game time: 2 p.m. Saturday at Folsom Field in Boulder
Coach: Herman Edwards, 1st season (3-2)
This season: 3-2, 1-1 Pac-12
Last week: Defeated Oregon State, 52-24
Key players: RB Eno Benjamin, So. (98 att., 595 yards, 5 TD; 21 rec., 154 yards, 2 TD); WR N’Keal Harry, Jr. (31 rec., 419 yards, 5 TD); S Jalen Harvey, Sr. (30 tackles, 1 TFL); LB Malik Lawal, Jr. (15 tackles, 2.5 sacks); LB Merlin Robertson, Fr. (30 tackles, 3 sacks, 4 TFL); PK Brandon Ruiz, So. (6-for-6 FG, 20-for-20 PAT); QB Manny Wilkins, Sr. (108-for-170, 1,224 yards, 10 TD, 1 INT; rushing: 34 att., 143 yards, 2 TD); WR Kyle Williams, Jr. (18 rec., 210 yards, 1 TD)
Notable: ASU has an 8-1 all-time record against the Buffs, with the only CU win coming in 2016 in Boulder. … The Sun Devils snapped a two-game losing streak with its win against Oregon State on Saturday. … Benjamin has rushed for over 100 yards three times this season, including a school-record 312 yards in the win against Oregon State. He had three touchdowns in that game. … The Sun Devils knocked off then-No. 15 Michigan State, 16-13, in Week 2, and stood toe-to-toe with then-No. 10 Washington on the road in Week 4, losing 27-20.
In getting off to a perfect start during the first month of the season, the Colorado football team has displayed its firepower on offense.
Laviska Shenault leads the country in receiving, quarterback Steven Montez leads the nation in completion percentage, and Travon McMillian is one of the top running backs in the Pac-12.
Meanwhile, the Colorado defense has been stellar in its own right, helping the 21st-ranked Buffaloes to a 4-0 record (1-0 Pac-12).
In particular, coordinator D.J. Eliot and his staff have been exceptional at making halftime adjustments. Unlike last year, the Buffs have been better on defense as games go along.
“We know our guys really well and we have a really good unit,” said Eliot, in his second season with the Buffs. “It’s not necessarily the coaching as it the playing. The big thing is that those guys step up to the challenge and they play together and they never quit and they never point fingers. That allows us to make adjustments and execute in the second half.”
On Sept. 22, the Buffs built a 35-0 lead before giving up a late touchdown to the New Hampshire offense. Aside from that game, however, the Buffs have been stingier on defense after intermission.
In victories against Colorado State, Nebraska and UCLA, the Buffs gave up an average of 14.7 points in the first half, and just 4.3 in the second half. Yards per play in those games decreased nearly a full yard, from 5.5 in the first half to 4.6 in the second.
CU trailed at the half against Nebraska and held a 14-13 lead at the break against UCLA. Stepping up on defense proved critical in both games.
Nebraska had 21 points and 329 yards (243 rushing) in the first half against the Buffs, but just seven points and 236 yards (86 rushing) after the break.
UCLA had 13 points and 191 yards in the first two quarters on Friday, but just three points and 98 yards in the final two quarters. In the final 25 minutes — after UCLA took a 16-13 lead — the Bruins had just 47 yards and no points.
“We just made some adjustments on the sideline,” senior safety Evan Worthington said. “We had to stop the run on the edge and it just came down to that and a little bit of route concepts. That was about it.”
Eliot gave credit to the players, who were exceptional after the half against the Bruins.
“(UCLA) did some new things in the first half, which everybody is going to do against us,” Eliot said. “The key is just adjusting to that, and our kids did. Our players adjusted to the plays they were running, and then they were able to execute better in the second half and finish plays and helped us play better defense.”
Making those adjustments for the second half was a problem for CU a year ago. The Buffs were often worn down after intermission in 2017, especially against big, powerful running backs.
UCLA’s Joshua Kelley is a powerful back, at 5-foot-11, 204 pounds, and after a 44-yard run on the second play of the third quarter, he was up to 113 yards on six carries. He had 11 yards on his final six carries.
“We kind of settled in on some calls with it, the kids understood what was going on,” head coach Mike MacIntyre said of adjusting to Kelley. “He’s a good, hard runner. We corrected a few things there and the guys got a feel for it.”
MacIntyre said having Eliot and most of the staff on board for a second year has helped CU’s ability to make in-game adjustments on defense. But, it’s also a product of a different approach in the offseason.
MacIntyre installed the entire defense in spring and early in fall camp. That overloaded the players early, but it is paying off now.
“When we get in a situation and (the opposition) changes some things, we can go to it, because we’ve practiced and done it enough,” he said. “That’s helped us have a little bit more in our arsenal.”
CU was unable to do that with a new defensive staff last year. With the return of Eliot and other assistants, along with several veterans coming back, the Buffs had a more productive offseason of preparation. That has led to better execution through the first four games.
“Our kids have really been able to handle that,” MacIntyre said. “Coaches have done a good job of being able to teach that and understand that. That, to me, has helped us.”