While Colorado may not present as daunting a challenge as it perhaps appeared to be when Arizona State initially scheduled the game, coach Dirk Koetter said at his weekly press conference on Monday that the Buffaloes' are playing well defensively and are the Sun Devils' toughest opponent to this point in the season.
"Colorado I looked at briefly on film," Koetter said. "Briefly on their offense and more than briefly on their defense. Colorado is struggling on offense. There is no easy way to sugarcoat that. They're just struggling right now. Since I know their coaching staff well I know they're going to come out of it at some point. Hopefully not this week.
"They're playing very well on defense on the other hand and just glancing at these stats I was watching the film this morning and going 'boy, nobody is running the ball on them' and I look at the stats and I think they're giving up .9 yards a carry right now in 65 rushes and that's impressive in anybody's book. Nobody's really moving the ball up and down the field against them either."
That could present a particular problem for the Sun Devils, considering they've had significantly more success moving the ball through the air as opposed to doing it via the ground game.
"I think in pass protection [the offensive line has] been outstanding, but in run blocking we've been inconsistent," Koetter said. "We make our calls based on identifying the (defensive) front and teams have been mixing up the front on us. We've been having some miscommunication on identifying our front calls. That's just shooting yourself in the foot. If the defense beats you that's one thing, but if you beat yourself by not making the call that's another thing. And Colorado is going to test us on that, they do a real nice job of mixing their fronts."
As two-time defending Big-12 North Division Champions, the Buffaloes have quite a bit of athleticism on film, according to Koetter and while their 0-2 record with losses to Montana State and Colorado State might suggest otherwise, playing this game on the road presents a significant challenge.
"They have good players, good athletes," Koetter said. "Compared to the two first teams we've played, they are the biggest, fastest, strongest team we've played to date. That's always going to concern you. They are going through a transition period with the coaching staff. I know how that is.
"They are going to break out against somebody. We are going on the road for the first time. Those two things are something we must be aware of. We have not played our best on the road in the past. That is something we have pointed toward for this season."
This game presents an added twist due to the relationship Koetter and some members of his staff have with first-year Colorado coach Dan Hawkins and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. Hawkins served as offensive coordinator under Koetter at Boise State and Helfrich was ASU's quarterbacks coach until this year.
"I think I'm going to have to not signal the plays and maybe I'm going to try something new and bring the quarterback over and give him the plays," Koetter said in jest. "I've been thinking about this for five years now 'cuz they might know our signals or something. So maybe I'll bring the quarterback over and whisper the plays to him or something. It feels good to say that. Oh, that's just funny."
In reality, Koetter said that his team will gameplan as it normally does, and that by watching game film, opponents are ordinarily able to get a good read on what to expect from the teams they play against. In this situation, it'll be no different.
"Identifying it and doing something about it on the field -- those are way different things," Koetter said.
Player Availability Update
-Rudy Burgess suffered a concussion in the first half of Saturday's game against Nevada and his status for the Colorado game is uncertain.
"We're one of the few schools in the country that our guys don't just randomly come back from concussions," Koetter said. "They take a baseline concussion test at the first of every year and then when a player gets a concussion he has to get back on the computer and get back to equal or better his baseline scores before the doctors can clear him for contact. So it's not an arbitrary thing. It's a very precise methodology of clearing a guy from a concussion."
-Loren Howard is considered questionable for the Colorado game after some signs of progress following a week of doctor-ordered rest.
"It was run and lift day. He lifted with the team," Koetter said. "He ran on the side and looked good running. He is cleared for anything, even playing, for up to his pain will allow. It's a quad injury, and [the doctors/training staff] were at a point that they couldn't tell if he was re-tearing it or if he damaging scar tissue.
"I would say Loren is close but questionable for Colorado, hopefully probable for Cal."
-Jamaal Lewis' status is still uncertain for this weekend's game, as ASU is still waiting on information and hopes to have more made available about his case sometime this week and perhaps within the next day or two.