Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Matthew Stockman / Getty Images North America
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Game at a Glance
Matchup: Arizona State Sun Devils (3-2, 1-1 Pac-12) at No. 21 Colorado Buffaloes (4-0, 1-0)
Kickoff: 2:10 p.m. MT
Where: Folsom Field in Boulder. Capacity: 50,183. Turf: Grass.
TV: Pac-12 Network
Radio: KOA (850 AM & 94.1 FM)
Odds: CU by 3
Coaches: Colorado — Mike MacIntyre, 6th season (29-38; 45-59 career); ASU — Herm Edwards, 1st season (3-2)
Series: ASU leads 8-1, including 3-1 in Boulder
Arizona State head football coach Herm Edwards came up as a player at a time when running the football was the way to go on offense.
He played with Wilbert Montgomery in Philadelphia. He coached Curtis Martin with the New York Jets and Larry Johnson with the Kansas City Chiefs.
“I grew up in an era where running the football was important,” Edwards said this week during his weekly press conference with ASU media. “I just feel that when you run the ball, there’s some toughness about you; it travels well, along with defense.
“I just like running. It’s fun to watch when you knock people down and you run it. Some people don’t like it because it’s boring.”
It may be boring, but on Saturday the run game will be a major factor when Edwards brings his Sun Devils (3-2, 1-1 Pac-12) to Folsom Field to take on the 21st-ranked Colorado Buffaloes (4-0, 1-0).
Colorado and ASU each features one of the best receivers in the country, with CU’s Laviska Shenault and the Sun Devils’ N’Keal Harry. Both are dynamic athletes and they’ll certainly have an impact on Saturday’s matchup.
Both teams, however, figure to emphasize running the ball and stopping the run.
“That’s critical,” CU defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. “They have good backs, they have a good (offensive line), they have a pro mentality. You’ve got to be able to buckle down and make them earn their yards. Our kids are practicing well and excited for the challenge.”
Eliot and the Buffs are all too familiar with ASU’s ability to dominate the run game. While this is Edwards’ first season with the Sun Devils, ASU has had a history of running all over the Buffs.
Last year, ASU rushed for 381 yards in a 41-30 comeback victory. From 2011-15, the Sun Devils had at least 207 yards on the ground in all five matchups, winning each one by at least 14 points.
CU feels it is better equipped to handle the run this year, with its defensive line playing well.
“It’s going to be one of the better O-lines we’ve seen thus far,” senior nose tackle Javier Edwards said, “but we just have to keep doing what we do: coming off the ball and let them know even though you guys are tough right now, we’re not scared of you. We’re not going to back down from the challenge.”
ASU’s run game is led by sophomore Eno Benjamin, who rushed for a school-record 314 yards in a 52-24 win against Oregon State last week.
“He’s an excellent player,” CU head coach Mike MacIntyre said. “We’re going to have to tackle him well. We have to fit up the run correctly. If you get out of the wrong gap or get pushed in the wrong gap, he has the vision. He has great vision. When he gets in the secondary, he has tremendous speed.”
Stopping the ASU run game, MacIntyre said, “is going to be a huge key in being able to win the football game.”
CU’s ability to run the ball is key, as well.
Although Shenault leads the country in receiving and quarterback Steven Montez leads the nation in completion percentage, the Buffs need Travon McMillian and their backs to find success.
“You have to be able to run the ball a little bit on them,” MacIntyre said. “They know that. If they get you in a total one-dimensional passing game, that’s when they feast on you. We’re going to have to be able to run the football and make some plays there to be able to allow us to throw it.”
With two of the most experienced quarterbacks in the Pac-12 going head-to-head — Montez and ASU’s Manny Wilkins — there will be plenty of passing, as well.
In recent years, though, this matchup has often come down to the tougher team. Two years ago, that was CU. Last year, it was ASU.
“It has been a physical game (with ASU),” MacIntyre said. “The last couple of years have gone right down to the wire and it’s been a physical football game.
“It’s going to be a tough battle for sure.”