Jabari Ruffin, junior, of USC hits CU defenders on Folsom Field. Nov. 13, 2015. (Will McKay/CU Independent)

Coin Toss: Will ASU’s offense rack up 500 yards against the Buffs?

In this week’s edition of Coin Toss, the CUI’s Kyle Rini and Justin Guerriero debate Arizona State’s chances of putting up 500 yards of total offense against the University of Colorado’s defense this Saturday at Folsom Field.

Kyle Rini: The hype on this Colorado defense is starting to run thin, but even after a rough loss, I still have faith in this unit. I believe they can hold the Sun Devils offense to under 500 yards and I think doing so will be key to a homecoming victory.

I see nothing but red flags for the ASU offense, a unit that came into the season strong but has suffered countless setbacks and challenges. In what I predict will be a low-scoring game, I don’t see the yards piling up on either side for a few reasons.

The Buffs’ defense is allowing 331 yards per game on average, second only to Washington in the Pac-12. Their secondary isn’t perfect, but their containment of deep-pass plays has had a big impact on keeping that stat low. Stopping the run has been a bigger challenge, but only the most notably talented rushers have had huge games against them.

The loss of junior outside linebacker Derek McCartney has definitely made things harder, but junior Christian Shaver and sophomore N.J. Falo seem more than capable of filling in. Put it all together and this defense is still one of the best in the Pac-12 despite its vulnerabilities.

That being said, teams can and have put up 500 yards on the Buffs. I don’t see ASU being one of those teams. Two schools this season have passed that mark: Oregon and USC. Both squads featured a good-but-not-great quarterback, a strong running attack and standout wide receivers. The Sun Devils are lacking in all of those categories.

The team is in the middle of a quarterback crisis with their first three depth chart options being injured. Freshman Dillon Sterling-Cole will get his first start this week after having his first and only career pass intercepted in the end zone against UCLA. Should he go down, ASU will have to put receiver Jack Smith under center. This is not a good situation for the Sun Devils and certainly not one where consistent completions are likely.

The rush attack looked strong early in the season but hasn’t been near as good in conference play, averaging only 106 yards per game. None of the the Sun Devils’ running back committee members have really stood out so far and I don’t expect any of them to now. USC and UCLA both held the Sun Devils to under 80 yards rushing. I have faith Colorado can hold them to at least under 150. Why should anyone believe in this offense, Justin?

Justin Guerriero: I’m certainly not saying that Colorado’s defense is bad. To be honest, is giving up 500 yards to a Pac-12 team really that big of a sin? If Idaho State had put up a number like that, then it’d be a different story.

Let’s not kid ourselves here: The Pac-12 is a competitive conference. ASU’s spread offense currently ranks 47th in the FBS with an average of 434.8 yards per game.

But Kyle, I do feel that I should admit this now. Arizona State’s offense at home and on the road, at least so far, appears to be two different animals. On the road, the team averages 26 points per contest, compared to 46.5 at home in Tempe.

However, I have to call you out right here and now about what you said regarding the Buffaloes’ defense ranking second in total defense within the Pac-12 only behind Washington. The games against Colorado State and Idaho State along with the Buffs’ win over Oregon State have distorted that statistic. At the end of the day, the Buffaloes have played three Pac-12 teams and given up 500+ yards to two of them.

And Kyle, you of all people shouldn’t doubt the abilities of an unproven quarterback starting for the Sun Devils. I feel like the Buffaloes were in a similar position this year. Montez is the kid’s name, I believe. Maybe you’ve heard of him. I’d also add that in his first legitimate performance, against Michigan, he played pretty badly, failing to complete a pass. But look what he was able to accomplish in the weeks following. Against Oregon, Oregon State and USC, despite some mistakes, Montez looked like an old pro. So I hesitate to underestimate Sterling-Cole. Youth and inexperience don’t always correlate with ineffectiveness.

Finally, I think you underestimate the Sun Devils’ offense. I don’t think it’s fair to say that the team “is lacking” in the wide receiver and tailback departments. ASU’s Tim White averages over 70 receiving yards per game and about 11 yards per catch. The Sun Devils’ primary rusher, Demario Richard, does only average 3.9 yards per carry. But come on, add one tenth of a yard to his per-carry average at it’s pretty respectable. He is complemented by Kalen Ballage, who averages 5.1 yards per carry. I’m not going to underestimate ASU’s run game. I’m sure the defense won’t be either.

KR: You’re right, letting a team put up 500 yards isn’t a terrible sin in this conference. In fact, The Buffs still beat Oregon after giving up 508. It’s not a sin I see being committed in this matchup, though. I think this Sun Devils offense will struggle, but even if I’m wrong, passing 500 yards would be an amazing feat. If everything goes right for them, going over 400 yards might be possible, but 500 is a little too lofty.

I’m glad you brought up the location — a packed house at Folsom Field for homecoming will be huge in slowing down the Sun Devils offense. Like you said, this ASU team plays worse outside of Tempe. That added layer makes it even less likely that the Sun Devils put up half a thousand.

I don’t think it’s fair to compare Montez to Sterling-Cole. Montez was recruited to be the starter for this team post-Sefo Liufau and has shined coming off the bench. Sterling-Cole, meanwhile is not second, not third, but fourth-string. It was probably Arizona State’s hope that he would never have to see action. Clearly he hasn’t done anything in camp or preseason to climb any higher on the depth chart. There has to be a reason three quarterbacks were ahead of him.

He proved in his only pass so far that his inexperience can lead to turnovers. Expect the Buffaloes’ ball-hawking secondary to capitalize on his mistakes all night long. I understand your argument that backups can surprise, especially in college, but the further down the depth chart you go, the less likely that is to happen.

In respect to wide receivers, I can acknowledge Tim White, but the rest of the corps has yet to impress. One good receiver does not translate to a good pass attack, especially with the inexperience of Sterling-Cole and the strength of the CU secondary. As for rushers, if you look at their stats in conference play, their averages dip down even further. I think the Buffs still have to respect the potential of these backs but I honestly doubt any of them will tear it up consistently.

JG: Alright, Kyle. I hear you. But It appears that we may just have to agree to disagree. I just can’t seem to unhandcuff Arizona State with the phrase “high octane offense.” I’m from Pittsburgh originally, and an ASU head coach was at the helm of the Pittsburgh Panthers for a bit when I was in high school. If I had a nickel for the amount of times I heard that clown preach about his “high octane offense,” I’d have enough change to legally park in the city limits of Boulder through 2036.

You may very well be right about Sterling-Cole. At the same time, who knows what the guy is capable of. But I think there’s another real root of the problem here. CU’s offense struggles at times to stay on the field. It’s been a problem since day one with head coach Mike MacIntyre. Colorado’s defense is constantly forced to be on the field because of its own offensive woes.

The way I see it, Colorado needs to be sound on offense for ASU not to put up 500 yards. But consistent bad play-calling, penalties and the nature of the Buffs itself threaten to unravel all the good that the team has done so far this year. I’m not moving to DefCon 4 just yet, but if the Buffaloes lose this game, a 1-3 record in the month of October could be all too probable. What happens after that? I hope we never have to answer that question. We shall see what happens, but just because the enemy team has an inexperienced quarterback doesn’t mean that it will perform badly.

Contact CU Independent Sports Staff Writer Kyle Rini at kyle.rini@colorado.edu.

Contact CU Independent Head Sports Editor Justin Guerriero at justin.guerriero@colorado.edu and follow him on Twitter @TheHungry_Hippo.

About Justin Guerriero

Head Sports Editor Justin Guerriero is a city boy from Pittsburgh, PA, who fell in love with the mountains upon touring CU Boulder for the first time prior to his freshman year. He is a diehard Pittsburgh sports fan and primarily covers CU football and basketball at the CUI. Justin is a junior majoring in broadcast production with minors in history and communications. Follow him on Twitter @TheHungry_Hippo

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