1) Avoid the Notre Dame Hangover
Some people might call tonight’s contest with Colorado a “trap” game. Coming off the pageantry and attention given to them when playing Notre Dame in Dallas, combined with a looming date with No. 15 Washington, the Sun Devils might be inclined to take the Buffaloes lightly. ASU head coach Todd Graham and the seniors/captains of this team cannot let that happen.
This Devils squad has a lot to prove, and as such, should still be plenty hungry.
Arizona State has to be smart enough to realize that the quality your opponent is has nothing to do with you. It’s crucial to play to the best of your ability, period, no matter who you are lined up against.
Coinciding with the mental approach to this game by the Sun Devils is the attitude of the Buffaloes. Right now, Colorado is playing inspired football. They are still not a very good football team, but they don’t know it yet. They believe in their new coach and in each other.
Watching Colorado’s last two games — both blowout losses — they are not hanging their heads and just “playing it out.” Most of the time, if you observe a losing program, you can see their mentality. Some losing teams take the field knowing they are bad and are going to get beat. Other such teams relish acting the part of the spoiler and kick it into another gear. That seems to be the way Colorado is playing. They are embracing the role of the underdog and overachieving.
The bottom line: if ASU comes out playing sloppy, disinterested football, they could get beat. The coaches know this, and presumably the older players do, too. That leadership needs to sound off and ensure the Sun Devils bring their A game.
2) Fix the Defense
It was interesting to hear coach Graham talk about ending ASU’s linebacker shuffle. He is going to keep his players in one position and just coach them up and let them figure it out. This is probably a better strategy than moving players from one position to another. Hopefully, it will fix the alignment issues and the poor pursuit angles.
And one would assume the Sun Devils worked on tackling this week — open field tackling, especially.
3) Be on Guard for Trickery
Colorado has displayed its willingness to use some trick plays recently. Reverse passes, halfback passes, unexpected onside kicks, fake punts, etc. Again, the Buffs have the underdog mentality and are throwing caution to the wind. ASU has to be aware of, and mentally prepared for this fact. Read your keys and do your job.
4) Improve in the Red Zone
This might become a weekly theme, but it’s true. Arizona State has done very well moving the ball down the field this season, but punching it into the end zone has been a problem.
Offensive Coordinator Mike Norvell must figure out a way to score more touchdowns in goal line situations. Whether it’s different personnel, different plays, different packages or all of the above, the Sun Devils cannot continue their current trend of settling for field goals.
5) Control Colorado’s Best Players
This might sound rather silly, but when playing an inferior team, you can usually shut them down by neutralizing their best player on the field. Now, everybody does this every week. The problem is, if you are playing a good team, they have other players who will step up and seize the opportunity. An inferior team typically doesn’t have the ability to do so.
So, without vastly overcompensating, if ASU can pay special attention to WR Paul Richardson and take him out of the equation, Colorado will struggle to move the ball and score.
On the Buffalo defense, LB Addison Gilliam is absolutely tearing it up. On every offensive snap, ASU had better know exactly who is blocking him. And whoever has that assignment must use great technique and determination.