Arizona State hits road, faces Pac-12’s last undefeated in Colorado
After two road losses in a row, Arizona State, fueled by running back Eno Benjamin’s record-setting performance, routed Oregon State 52-24. The sophomore back ran the ball 30 times for 312 yards and three touchdowns.
This performance set the ASU single-game rushing record previously set by Ben Malone and was the first time a Sun Devil exceeded 300 rushing yards.
On the defensive end, however, the Sun Devils had trouble stopping Oregon State’s run game. Much like Benjamin, running back Jermar Jefferson also had a night to remember, rushing for 254 yards and two touchdowns.
This week, Arizona State heads to Boulder for a road game against No. 21 Colorado. Led by quarterback Steven Montez and receiver Laviska Shenault Jr., the Buffaloes have an explosive offense that is ranked second in the Pac-12 in points and total yards per game.
What: Arizona State at Colorado
When: 1 p.m.
Radio: 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Will ASU’s running game replicate its success?
Against Oregon State, ASU’s run game fired on all cylinders.
The team combined for 396 yards on the ground between Benjamin, quarterback Manny Wilkins and others. This success was a result of Benjamin’s ability to find the holes and the offensive line’s ability to create protection for the backs.
Colorado’s defense is one of the best in the conference, for it is second in the Pac-12 in points allowed per game. However, if the defense has a weakness, it’s probably the unit’s ability to stop the run. A week ago, UCLA running back Josh Kelley ran for 124 yards on more than 10 yards per carry against Colorado.
Is Colorado as good as its record?
After Stanford, Oregon and Utah all fell in Week 5, Colorado enters Saturday as the Pac-12’s lone undefeated team.
However, little is known about how good the Buffaloes actually are because of their easy non-conference schedule. Colorado’s first four opponents, Colorado State, Nebraska, New Hampshire and UCLA, have a combined record of 1-16 thus far.
That being said, Colorado’s offense has been explosive in its wins, and only one of those games (at Nebraska) was close. More will be known about Colorado’s legitimacy after Week 6.
N’Keal Harry vs. Laviska Shenault Jr.
Colorado has a variety of offensive weapons from Montez to running back Travon McMillan, but so far this season, wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. has been the offense’s catalyst.
Shenault Jr. leads the Pac-12 in receiving yards with 581, which is also the fifth-most in the nation. He has scored one receiving touchdown in each of Colorado’s four games, and he has also found the end zone twice on the ground.
With five touchdowns and more than 400 yards this year, ASU’s N’Keal Harry is also one of the top receivers in the country. While they obviously won’t line up against each other, there is plenty of hype surrounding the battle of the elite receivers.
On Monday’s Doug and Wolf Show on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station, ASU head coach Herm Edwards said the matchup will be intriguing because of the receivers’ similarities.
“They’re both similar,” Edwards said. “They’re big, height-wise and good runners when they get the ball in their hands. It’s one of those games that you anticipate that both of them respect each other, both of them want to play well.”
Key Sun Devils
QB Manny Wilkins
In the postgame press conference, Wilkins revealed he was under the weather against Oregon State and received an IV at halftime. Even so, he threw three touchdown passes and zero interceptions in the win.
Colorado’s pass defense is solid, allowing less than 200 passing yards per game, so Wilkins and the Sun Devils will likely utilize what they do best — short passes.
C Cohl Cabral
According to offensive line coach Dave Christensen, Cohl Cabral struggled a couple weeks ago against San Diego State. But against Oregon State, Cabral was a factor for ASU’s rushing explosion, creating massive holes for Benjamin, Wilkins and others to run through.
Benjamin is expected to be relied on heavily Saturday, so Cabral and the rest of the line’s success protecting the backs could determine the offense’s effectiveness.
QB Steven Montez
One thing ASU hasn’t faced in its first five games is a true dual-threat quarterback — it will get a taste of that Saturday. On the ground, Montez has rushed for three touchdowns this season, the second-most on the team.
Standing 6-foot-5, Montez is incredibly mobile for his size, and if ASU’s defense struggles to tackle as they did against Oregon State, he might have a field day.
“He’s a big man that can run,” Edwards said. “You don’t realize how big he is until you watch him on tape and he’s hard to tackle.”
K James Stefanou
At 31 years old, Colorado kicker James Stefanou is the oldest player in college football. He is also one of the best kickers in the nation.
Stefanou is a perfect 20-for-20 on extra points and has nailed five of his seven attempts this year. Both of his misses came against a rowdy crowd at Nebraska.