TEMPE, Ariz. — In Todd Graham’s first 40 games as head coach at Arizona State, his Sun Devils took his “high octane” mantra to heart, averaging 9.5 points in the first quarter of games.
Early in 2015, the Devils stumbled in the first 15 minutes of contests. Against Texas A&M, Cal Poly, New Mexico and USC, ASU scored a total of seven points in the first quarter.
Saturday night, ASU looked like Graham’s first three Arizona State teams as they put up 17 first-quarter points en route to a 48-23 thrashing of Colorado in front of a sparse crowd of 44,157 at Sun Devil Stadium.
On ASU’s first drive, Demario Richard carried for one yard on a second down and then fumbled the football. Tight end Kody Kohl was in the right place at the right time, scooping up the loose pigskin and running 28 yards for a touchdown to put the Devils up less than four minutes into the game.
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The defense got into the act early, too. Freshman Kareem Orr picked off a Sefo Liufau pass and returned it to the Colorado 15-yard line — a play that set up a touchdown pass from Mike Bercovici to Kohl from four yards out.
The Sun Devils were off and running to their highest point total of the season.
“It’s about four quarters, but if if we can get a rhythm in a game — and really what I mean is get a lead — when we’re leading at halftime, we’ve got a pretty good record,” Graham said.
“It’s really important we start fast. Obviously, I think we’re a team that plays well from ahead.”
Graham isn’t totally right. The Sun Devils don’t have a pretty good record when leading at halftime under his watch. They have a great record in those circumstances.
After leading 24-10 over the Buffaloes Saturday night, ASU’s mark is now 27-1 in games they lead at the half.
The fourth-year head coach was also happy that it wasn’t just his offense getting off to a quick start. All three phases contributed to Arizona State’s early success.
“What you saw today, too — blocking a punt, getting takeaways — that’s something that in the early games, we didn’t get a lot of those,” he said. “Part of that was playing triple-option teams and you don’t get a lot of opportunities like that. But setting up scores and things like that is big for us.
“There’s a reason why we attack and do those things, because we have to generate those type of short fields and things like that for our offense.”
With a little over two minutes to go in the opening quarter, redshirt freshman Dasmond Tautalatasi busted through and blocked a punt from Colorado’s Alex Kinney. For good measure, Tautalatasi recovered it and advanced the ball to the Buffs’ 11-yard line. The Sun Devils couldn’t punch it in, but Zane Gonzalez booted a 38-yard field goal to put ASU up 17-7.
Arizona State is now 16-4 under Graham when they score 10 or more points in the opening quarter.
“That is critical for us, to get a fast start,” Graham said.
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