A year ago, Arizona State’s Eno Benjamin established himself as one of the top running backs in the country.
This year, the junior hasn’t posted his usual numbers, but the Colorado Buffaloes are well aware of the danger he brings to the table.
“We all have to play disciplined ball because he can jump from this A gap all the way to the backside A gap, B gap,” CU defensive lineman Mustafa Johnson said. “So we all have to run to the ball, fly to the ball and get there and get him down, gang tackle. He’s definitely one of (the best in the Pac-12).”
CU will visit Benjamin and the 24th-ranked Sun Devils on Saturday night (8:10 p.m.; TV: Pac-12 Networks).
In 2018, Benjamin led the Pac-12 in rushing yards (1,642), yards per game (126.31) and rushing touchdowns (16). He averaged 5.47 yards per carry.
This year, Benjamin is averaging just 69.7 yards per game and 3.67 per rush, with one rushing touchdown. Much of that decline has to do with ASU shuffling its offensive line each week and starting a true freshman (Jayden Daniels) at quarterback.
Benjamin still poses a significant threat, however. He’s got the talent to explode for a big game, and he’s also a good receiver, with nine catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns.
On Sept. 6, Benjamin sealed ASU’s 19-6 win against Sacramento State with a 72-yard touchdown reception late in the fourth quarter. Last Saturday, his 1-yard touchdown run with 50 seconds left proved to be the game-winner in an upset of then-No. 18 Michigan State.
“He has made big plays in big moments,” ASU head coach Herm Edwards told Sun Devils media this week. “He scored a touchdown when we needed a touchdown. I get the (lack of yards) yards; I get all that. But, he is dealing with a situation and he has not blinked.”
Benjamin rushed for 120 yards and two touchdowns against the Buffs last year.
CU’s offensive production has been significantly better in the second half of each game this season.
Before halftime, the Buffs have 34 points and 479 yards. After intermission, they’ve scored 75 points and racked up 763 yards.
Offensive coordinator Jay Johnson said it’s important, as always, for the Buffs to try to change that trend.
“We try to (start fast) every game, so this game is no different,” he said.”It’s how we practice each and every day and coming back to work these guys have had a great week so far.”
In particular, the Buffs have had an almost non-existent run game early in games. The last two weeks, they’ve rushed for 17 yards on 27 carries before halftime, but 177 yards on 42 carries after the half.
“We’re one guy away from having huge hits,” Johnson said. “And the guys see that in both of the last two games.”
Working on pocket presence
During CU’s struggles on offense, quarterback Steven Montez has sometimes struggled with his pocket presence, such as fading back to avoid the rush at times instead of stepping up to deliver a throw.
“That’s always a work in progress for anybody that’s played the position,” Johnson said. “That’s probably one of the hardest things for a quarterback to really acquire. And I think he’s made great strides. There’s a few times where he has had some pocket presence that needs to improve. We’re working on it every day and he’s really locked in. I think he’s really, really been focused and I see some really big improvements. But we still have some room to grow and hopefully we get there.”
CU’s captains for this week: Montez, tight end Beau Bisharat and linebacker Davion Taylor. Montez is the first player on the team to be named a captain for a second time this season. … The Buffs will wear gold helmets, white jerseys and white pants on Saturday. … Since the start of the 2012 season, ASU is 37-10 at Sun Devil Stadium. … Benjamin needs seven rushing yards to reach 2,000 for his career.