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October 13, 2013
It only took Arizona State a minute and a half to take control.
On the fifth play of the game Saturday, sophomore wide receiver Jaelen Strong caught a pass on a slant route and cut up field for a 69-yard touchdown. Strong's catch was the beginning ASU's 54-13 beat down on Colorado at Sun Devil Stadium.
Sun Devil coach Todd Graham said Monday the season had become a single elimination tournament to win the Pac-12 South. ASU did what it was expected to do against an undersized and out matched Colorado team Saturday to move on to the next round in Graham's metaphorical playoffs.
The Sun Devils are now 4-2 overall and 2-1 in Pac-12 play, while Colorado is 2-3 overall and 0-3 in the league.
"We dominated a team that we should dominate," Graham said. "Obviously they're rebuilding their program. We really probably dominated them as bad as they have been dominated this year. Really proud of our guys, the maturity that they showed coming in. Nothing I could be not pleased with tonight. We walked into the locker room and said congrats and let's get focused on Washington."
Strong only needed three catches to have 109 yards. It was his fifth straight game with over 100 yards receiving but he gained those yards from a different spot.
ASU fans have gotten used to Strong catching back shoulder fades down the sideline lining up at the boundary receiver position from junior quarterback Taylor Kelly.
Strong still caught a fade route, but on his touchdown grab and one other catch Strong lined up from the slot. Besides junior cornerback Greg Henderson, the Colorado secondary could not compete with Strong. ASU used the mismatch to its advantage and Strong got another slant for 23 yards which led to a 17-yard touchdown run by Kelly.
"A little bit of it was mismatches but we've been doing that kind of a lot this year putting him in the slot with the certain formation, just get him lined up with the safety or linebacker was one of our key things moving on in our game time adjustments," Kelly said. "We did a very good job of lining him up in different areas and feeding the rock to our other athletes."
Coming into the game, Strong's production was not a concern for ASU.
The team had struggled on defending the run, pressuring the quarterback and running the ball on offense.
All three facets of the game looked improved against Colorado.
That's the problem.
The ASU defense stopped the Colorado rushing attack and held it to only 99 yards the entire game, even with the starters on the sidelines for the second half.
The success has to be taken lightly because the Buffaloes only averaged 3.1 yards per carry and did not have a rushing touchdown heading into the game.
Graham knew the caliber of Colorado's run offense but he still took something away from the defense's performance.
"In the last three or four weeks we've played some really good offensive lines, Notre Dame and Stanford in particular, and some really good running teams," Graham said. "So we put the (Colorado) film on, on Sunday, it was dramatically different. I just wanted to see how they would handle that. They practiced well. They prepared well. I think it helps you mature as a team."
The numbers against the run could be attributed to the success ASU had blitzing.
The ASU defense threw everything at Colorado. And the Colorado offense couldn't handle it.
The defense spent most of the night in the Colorado back field and registered seven total tackles for loss for 16 negative yards.
"We brought it from just about everywhere early just because I wanted to get those guys moving and flying around," Graham said. "That's what we want. We got to get 11 guys playing consistently and I thought we did that tonight against an opponent that we should be able to do that with."
Senior Devil backer Carl Bradford needed this game.
He said before the game he was not happy with his individual production this season and that he'd been frustrated by opponents' scheming to avoid being sacked.
Before the game he had only recorded five TFLs and two sacks. He padded them against Colorado and added 2.5 TFLs and 1.5 sacks.
"It was a big confidence booster," Bradford said. "Beginning of the year I kind of slacked off on my sacks and stuff like that. So this game I tried to come out and take full advantage of the opponent and I think I did that very well this game."
The sacks were exciting. Strong's touchdown grab was as well.
But it was senior running back Marion Grice's ho-hum medium gains up the middle that laid the foundation for the ASU offense.
The ASU run offense is most successful when the offensive line can establish the power run play through the "A" gap.
The ASU offensive line had the upper hand against Colorado defensive tackles senior Nate Bonsu and sophomore Josh Tupou.
On the Sun Devils' second offensive series they ran the exact same power play four out of the five plays on the drive which ended with an 8-yard touchdown run by senior running back Grice. He finished the game with 88 yards on 13 carries with two rushing touchdowns to bring his season total to 15.
One of the plays Grice scored on was, of course, on the power play.
"You'll notice there's a common denominator, every win that you see that we have we are efficient running the football," Graham said. (We) ran the ball hard. Did a good job taking care of the football. It looked like you wanted it to look."
The focus now shifts to No. 16 Washington, which visits next weekend.
The Huskies are a two loss team like ASU but their losses came to then-No. 5 ranked Stanford and No. 2 Oregon. Even in the Huskies' 42-24 loss to the Ducks Saturday, the Huskies were only down by one touchdown through three quarters.
Graham said there is no denying the importance of continuing the win streak in his playoff bracket, especially with the game being played at Sun Devil Stadium.
"Our guys know we got a heck of a football team coming in here next week," Graham said. "We got six games left and we talked about a seven step process and we can check that one off and go to the next one. The plan is, if you want to be conference champions you have to be undefeated at home and you also got to figure out how to win on the road because it's a single elimination tournament right now."
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