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October 30, 2011Arizona State thought it got healthy during its bye week.
Turns out, playing a severely depleted team in rebuilding mode was as much a mental and ego boost as last week was one for the body.
The Sun Devils scored touchdowns on three of their first four drives, going a combined 217 yards in their first 19 plays, putting up 21 quick points in what turned out to be a 48-14 rout of Colorado.
The win assured ASU of its first bowl appearance in three seasons and kept it a game ahead of UCLA -- which also won Saturday -- in the Pac-12 South race. The Sun Devils improved to 6-2 overall and 4-1 in league play while the Buffaloes fell to 1-8 (0-5).
Quarterback Brock Osweiler took advantage of numerous mismatches outside, including those with hybrid junior split-back/slot-back back Jamal Miles, who was often matched up against a safety in man-coverage in the early stages of the game -- a curious defensive strategy for a 30 point underdog.
Osweiler's first touchdown pass of the game went to Miles, who got his inside shoulder in front of the safety on a post route, resulting in a 25-yard strike.
"That play with Jamal was something we had worked on all week," Osweiler said. "It was kind of an option for me to choose who I was going to send to the middle of the field. By the defense's leverage I gave Jamal that call and he did a great job of getting on that safety's toes and crossing his face and made a great catch."
ASU scored its second touchdown when the Buffs ran an outside loop blitz with its middle linebacker, giving running back Cameron Marshall room to stroll in from 19 yards.
There were similar open field opportunities throughout the game, both on running and passing plays.
Desperate to mount any kind of defense against the Sun Devils, the Buffs charged forward like Pickett's infantry.
It blew up in their faces.
"We picked it up both on the pass end and the run game, that's how we had some of those big runs, " ASU coach Dennis Erickson said. "You are going to see something all the time. We knew we were going to see different things; we are going to see different things from now on defensively."
But while its first two scoring drives showed as much weakness from the Buffs defense as it did prowess from the Sun Devils, its third was concluded on a play that required considerable skill.
On first and 10 at the Buffs 33-yard line, Osweiler called "all verticals," sending all of the receivers sprinting in a straight line down the field -- the kind of play the ASU offense has been less than proficient in executing this year -- to some, a sign of a lack of downfield speed.
With almost no margin of space between sophomore receiver Kevin Ozier and the defender, Osweiler squeezed in the proverbial strawberry through the straw for a 33 yard touchdown.
But perhaps of more importance moving forward than the execution of the play, was the fact that it was caught by a player who'll likely be counted to on as a big contributor next year and perhaps down the stretch.
ASU's defense, facing a unit that didn't scored a point on offense in its most recent contest, when it at least had its starting quarterback from the outset, was held to 33 yards on its first four drives.
By the time the Buffs put together a respectable drive -- 4 plays and 37 yards which ended on a fumble -- ASU had already registered what must have seemed like an inconceivably large point total (24) for CU to overcome.
While it was difficult to distinguish when the competitive portion of the game began or ended, the Sun Devils scored a fourth touchdown on a three play 62-yard drive, set up by a 51-yard slant and run by senior receivr Aaron Pflugrad, to go up 31-7 at halftime, ostensibly putting another mark in ASU's ever-growing win column before the fourth quarter began.
Osweiler finished 18-28 for 307 yards, with much of the damage done by his receivers after the catch.
The Sun Devils finished with 207 yards on the ground, with many of the players crediting the offensive line for averaging over six yards per carry.
Marshall had 114 yards on 15 carries, and Erickson noted in his press-conference that it was the real "Marshall" standing up and walking through the bowels of Sun Devil Stadium instead of the one bogged down getting treatment, healthy again after nursing a sprained ankle much of the year. But it was difficult to gauge given the running lanes provided by the Sun Devils' offensive line.
"Finally you see Cameron Marshall pretty healthy and it is a different game when he is healthy for us offensively because the things that he can do, running the football," Erickson said. "They were giving us the run, they were doing a lot of different things to stop some of the passing things we were doing."
Erickson had plenty of superlatives for the defense as well, as it created five turnovers and had two fourth down stops, including a goal line stand in the third quarter -- junior linebacker Vontaze Burfict led perhaps the best three play sequence of the season. Three stops from the one yard line.
With an impotent offense, the Buffs scored their touchdown on a dropped ASU lateral pass -- giving the nearly-silenced critics of the swing pass some fodder for the next week.
There were also penalties -- 11 for 106 yards.
The Sun Devils used the second half to play some of their younger reserves, including Anthony Jones, Ronald Kennedy Jr., Matthew Tucker, Rashad Wadood, Carl Bradford, Kody Koebensky, Jamil Douglas, Joita Te'i, James Morrison, Mike Bercovici, Taylor Kelly and Marcus Washington, among others.
Morrison had a touchdown run late in the game.