David Zalubowski/Associated Press file photo
David Zalubowski/Associated Press file photo
BOULDER – The Colorado Buffaloes are coming off their first bye week since Jon Embree took over the program two years ago. It may not help.
Arizona State also is rested and rejuvenated after its own bye, and the Sun Devils will bring another dynamic offense to Folsom Field along with a pass rush that has been a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks.
The Sun Devils (4-1, 2-0 Pac-12) have three players ranked in the top 40 in the nation in sacks per game in junior tackle Will Sutton, sophomore linebacker Carl Bradford and junior defensive end Junior Onyeali. The three combined for six sacks in their 27-17 win over Cal on Sept. 29.
“That’s a good combination to have when you’re getting that inside pressure along with pressure from the edge,” said Embree, whose Buffaloes (1-4, 1-1) will host the Sun Devils on Thursday night. “They’ll pressure; they’ll bring their linebackers; they’ll bring their corners, occasionally a safety blitz. They have all the different kinds of pressure.”
Buffs’ quarterback Jordan Webb said, “I think the offensive line is really prepared. We’ve got some schemes that will help us. I think I have full faith in our offensive line. I have every game. I think we’ll continue to improve. Getting hit, a lot of that is on my back, too; I have to get rid of the ball quickly.”
The game is on ESPN, giving the Buffs a potential recruiting boost – or a chance to show a national audience just how far they’ve fallen since their heyday.
Colorado is 2-0 on Thursday-night games at Folsom Field, having beaten Stanford in 1990 and West Virginia in 2008, but the Buffs are more than three-touchdown underdogs this week.
Arizona State is averaging 38.4 points per game with Taylor Kelly running new coach Todd Graham’s up-tempo offense, and the Sun Devils’ defense is superb despite a lack of depth at cornerback, leading the Pac-12 in scoring defense (13.6 points), total defense (276.2 yards) and tackles for loss (9.8 per game).
Not exactly the prescription for all that ails the Buffaloes, who got off to another disappointing start this season and are coming off a 42-14 loss to UCLA at home two weeks ago.
At least the Buffaloes caught a break this year; last season, they played 13 consecutive weekends.
“It’s been good for us; we’re excited to get some guys back healthy, allow us to address a few issues, tackling and turnovers,” said Embree, who gave his players a Friday-Saturday furlough. “We did a lot live tackling. To the players it may not have felt like a bye, because we had a lot of live periods within practice, and it was good to do that.”
The Buffaloes could get a big boost if fifth-year free safety Ray Polk can return from an ankle injury he suffered in the opener, leading to an out-of-sync secondary that was burned time and again in the Buffs’ 0-3 start in nonconference games.
“When he went down in the CSU game, I know in my heart if he would have been in there, their two touchdowns don’t happen just because of the communication issue,” Embree said. “That’s how big it is having someone like Ray Polk in the game.”
The Buffs, who are giving up a league-high 39.4 points and 309 yards passing per game, also expect to get linebacker Doug Rippy back from a sprained knee.
The key for the Sun Devils is not to look ahead.
After playing the Buffaloes, the Sun Devils get No. 2 Oregon in another Thursday-night game at home. Then comes UCLA, which has been in and out of the polls, followed by road games against 10th-ranked Oregon State and No. 11 USC.
Considering the Sun Devils lost six of their final seven games last season after a 5-1 start, this week’s game is one they can’t afford to look past.
“I have said this earlier in the year that coming back from adversity is hard; I think handling success is harder,” Graham said. “I think you have to stay hungry, you have stay focused on what you are doing, you have to stay motivated on the opponent that is right in front of you, so those are the things we have talked about.
“I haven’t gotten any sense that our guys are overlooking Colorado.”
The Buffs are looking beyond this game in one sense: “With recruiting and exposure, it’s huge,” Polk said.
“One of the reasons I came here is that I saw it as kind of a ground zero for a program, something you can build off of your hard work and the efforts of your teammates,” Polk said. “It’s kind of a challenge that we extend out to our recruits: Can you come to a place and know that you built something of your own instead of taking something that has been passed down? It’s a program where you can build something and refurbish something to what it once was.”
An upset of the Sun Devils would have immediate implications, too.
“Shoot, we win this game, and we’re tied for first in the Pac-12 South,” Polk said. “It’s huge regardless of what preseason handed us.”
AP College Football Writer John Marshall contributed to this report.