Written by Paul Fritz
Boulder, CO – The Colorado Buffs held their ground at Folsom Field on Saturday, where they defeated the Arizona State Sun Devils by a score of 28-21. While there has been much discussion around the quality of Colorado’s opponents thus far, the Buffs showed up with nothing but answers to prove why they are not only a legitimate Pac-12 contender, but one of the more exciting teams in the nation.
There has been samples of back and forth battles for Colorado so far this year, but tonight against Arizona State certainly lasted the longest as well as having the most lead changes. The Sun Devils reached the end-zone on their first drive of the game, with Eno Benjamin running it in for the touchdown. The Buffs answered quickly when Steven Montez took advantage of a free play initiated by a defensive offsides which allowed him to connect down the field 39-yards into the red-zone. Laviska Shenault Jr. completed the drive with a 1-yard touchdown, tying it up at 7.
Benjamin proved to be the biggest challenge for the Colorado defense, as he led the Sun Devils down the field once again, capping the drive off with a rushing touchdown to give them back the lead. Colorado also had to persevere for much of the game without their high-performing linebacker, Nate Landman, who was disqualified from the game for targeting in the 1st half. CU head coach, Mike MacIntyre, insists there wasn’t much concern on that front as Drew Lewis has much experience in that same position.
Colorado were able to sneak another touchdown in before the half to tie that game at 14, once again with Montez passing their way down the field and eventually capping the drive with a Shenault Jr. touchdown on a short pass.
The 2nd half started similarly to the start of the game for Arizona State as senior quarterback Manny Wilkins connected with receiver Frank Darby on a 40-yard bomb, who caught in the end-zone despite being under double coverage. On the very next drive, Colorado showed resiliency yet again with Montez hitting Shenault Jr for 30 yards and his 3rd touchdown of the game.
Colorado’s defense really began to shine at this point, making five consecutive stops against the Sun Devil offense. Coach MacIntyre gives credit to the adjustment the defense made in their tackling, aiming low instead of high where the ball-handler can potentially spin off of the hit. This was highlighted on a couple of crucial 3rd down plays with the ball in Arizona State’s hands.
Eventually, the Buffs found magic on one more drive where Montez threw a deep 51-yard pass that hit K.D. Nixon perfectly in stride, putting them directly on the goal line. Who else but Shenault Jr. then walked it into the end-zone to put the Buffs ahead 28-21. Shenault Jr. finished the night with a pair of both rushing and receiving touchdowns and had a total of 140 all-purpose yards.
On the connection with Montez, Shenault Jr. said, “It started with offseason, coming and working at it every day. And honestly it’s different from last year. We just have a better mindset, a winning mindset. A dog mindset.” Nixon added, “As soon as we lost to Utah (last year), that next week, me and Montez and Laviska were in the lab. Getting extra work. It’s a blessing being that next week like we’re getting it right. So seeing all this pay-off, it’s like, there’s no surprise.”
The Buffs controlled the final 8 minutes of the game in possession and continued to gain 1st downs, which helped them run down the clock and close the game out. Running back Trayvon McMillian was the reliable one on this front as he continued to beat tackles and have positive gains.
On his team’s comradery, coach MacIntyre said, “This team I really like. I like being around them, I like going to practice, I like hanging out with them. They have that unique ability to be focused, but also be loose and you don’t find that all the time… And I give credit to our strength staff, to our coaches for instilling that in them. I give credit to our seniors and our senior captains. This is not a selfish group. They really are a group that will do anything they need to do to help each other win.”
The Buffs have made a concrete statement with their resilient victory over Arizona State and they are eager to continue to shock the rest of the Pac-12 with their ability. They will have another big test next Saturday in the Coliseum where they take on the USC Trojans. The Sun Devils will head back home to rest on their bye-week, but will pick it back up against 14th ranked Stanford on Thursday, October 18th.