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What to watch for: Arizona State vs. Colorado

The Arizona State Sun Devils look to improve their record to 5-1 Thursday evening in Boulder as they take on the 1-4 Colorado Buffaloes in front of a national television audience.

Both teams are coming off of bye weeks, but that’s one of the only things they’ve got in common at this point of the season.

Here are some things to watch out for during Thursday’s Sun Devils-Buffs tilt.

Can Colorado’s offensive line block Will Sutton? – It’s a fair question, since nobody has been able to slow down the Sun Devils’ relentless defensive tackle. Sutton comes into the game with 34 total tackles (2nd on team), 10 tackles for loss (7th in nation) and 6.5 sacks (5th in the nation).

On the flip side, Colorado’s offensive line has been less-than-stellar in protecting their quarterback, Jordan Webb. The Buffs, despite the presence of preseason All-Pac-12 selection David Bakhtiari, have allowed 22 sacks in their first five games, which is the second most in the country — only Cal has allowed more (28).

Is a shut out in the future? – ASU senior linebacker Brandon Magee raised some eyebrows by stating earlier in the week that the Sun Devils want to blank Colorado and make a statement on national television. But will it happen?

The Sun Devils have two shutouts in the last five seasons — both coming in home games against Washington State. ASU beat the Cougars 31-0 in 2008, and then laid a 42-0 beat down on them in 2010. The Sun Devils’ last road shutout came on October 24, 1992 when they whitewashed UCLA 20-0.

Colorado hasn’t been blanked at home since November of 1986, when Oklahoma won in Boulder 28-0.

So while we all appreciate Magee’s bold statement, the reality of it happening is nearly nil. Although it does show the mindset of the Pac-12’s best defensive unit — a far cry from where the defense was just a season ago under head coach Dennis Erickson when they allowed 200 points during a season-ending (and tenure-ending) five game losing streak.

Can ASU hit some big plays? – The Sun Devils’ offense has been very good this season, averaging over 455 yards per game. But one thing has been missing — the big play. Arizona State’s attack has been mostly a sustained one, lacking explosive field position-changing plays. The Sun Devils have run 370 offensive plays this year, and the longest one has been a 52-yard pass and catch from Taylor Kelly to Kevin Ozier which came in the win over Utah.

The running game has also failed to produce big plays. ASU’s longest run from scrimmage was Marion Grice’s 27-yarder against, you guessed it, Northern Arizona. D.J. Foster’s 23-yard run against Utah has been the longest jaunt against an FBS opponent.

That could change against Colorado. The Buffs’ defense is ranked 107th in the nation and has given up a plethora of big plays, most of which came in an ugly 69-14 loss at Fresno State. In that game, the Bulldogs rolled up 516 yards of offense — in the first half! Colorado allowed a 94-yard rushing touchdown and a 97-yard passing touchdown in that contest.

Will Colorado safety Ray Polk play? – Polk, a senior, is the heart and soul of the Colorado defense and since he’s been out with a high ankle sprain, they’ve been, well, heartless and soulless.

“I’m going to try to go. But if it’s not ready, I’m not going to be a liable risk for the team,” Polk said earlier this week.

Polk has also described the injury as “the most annoying injury I’ve had since I’ve been here.

If Polk can go, it would certainly give his Colorado teammates a lift, but it won’t be enough to keep Colorado in the game against a superior Arizona State team.

Prediction: Arizona State 41, Colorado 13