TEMPE, Ariz. – In a football season short on answers and long on disappointment for the Colorado Buffaloes, maybe the most puzzling question concerns their anemic starts.
Games begin and the Buffs don’t – and their early no-show act was repeated here Saturday against No. 23 Arizona State. A 21-point first quarter was cushion enough to allow ASU to hit cruise control and ultimately crush CU 48-14 at Sun Devil Stadium.
Losing its 22nd consecutive true road game, CU dropped to 1-8 overall and 0-5 in the Pac-12 Conference. ASU improved to 6-2 and 4-1, strengthening its hold on the South Division lead.
The Buffs return to Folsom Field Friday night to face Southern California (7 p.m., ESPN).
ASU quarterback Brock Osweiler completed 18-of-28 passes for 307 yards and two touchdowns, with tailback Cameron Marshall adding 114 yards rushing and three TDs on his 15 carries. CU quarterback Tyler Hansen finished 23-of-36 for 321 yards and one TD (two interceptions). Tailback Josh Ford was the Buffs’ leading rusher, gaining 73 yards on 10 carries.
CU got defensive backs Travis Sandersfeld (leg), Ray Polk (concussion) and Vince Ewing (knee) back from injuries on Saturday, and offensive lineman Shawn Daniels (calf) returned to field goal and PAT teams for his first duty this season.
But on the players-lost side of the ledger, add freshman running back Malcolm Creer, whose redshirt was pulled last week against Oregon. He went to the sidelines with a knee injury midway through the second quarter and did not return. Coach Jon Embree said Creer suffered a torn MCL, possibly a torn ACL, and is lost for the season.
Nick Hirschman opened at quarterback, but Hansen (concussion vs. Oregon) replaced him on CU’s third possession. Neither could help generate any early offense; the Buffs managed 54 total first-quarter yards to the Sun Devils’ 222.
Opening play in the Pac-12 South didn’t change any of the Buffs’ old, bad habits. At the end of the first quarter, they trailed 21-0 and by halftime they were down 31-7. In four previous conference games against North Division opponents, intermission found CU trailing by a cumulative score of 111-30.
The Sun Devils scored on three of their first four possessions, two of the touchdowns coming on Osweiler passes (26, 33 yards) and the third on a 19-yard run by Marshall.
ASU, the third CU opponent this month to have an open week before playing the Buffs, fattened its margin to 24-0 on a 38-yard Alex Garoutte field goal with 7:56 left in the second quarter. And at that point, with its offense laboring badly, CU looked in danger of being held scoreless.
The Buffs’ deepest penetration of the first half came on the following series, when they marched to the Sun Devils’ 16-yard line. But at that point, Hansen was intercepted by safety Clint Floyd, killing the threat.
The defense accounted for CU’s only first half points. After Sandersfeld batted an Osweiler backward pass, Josh Moten - making his first start in the secondary - snatched the ball off the ground on the run and ran 16 yards for a touchdown. Will Oliver’s PAT brought the Buffs to within 24-7, but that might have aroused the Devils after they appeared to be nodding off.
ASU needed just three plays and 43 seconds to cover 62 yards and get its final first-half TD. Marshall got it on an 11-yard run, giving him 99 yards on 10 carries and his two scores.
Osweiler finished the half 13-of-18 for 230 yards and his pair of TD tosses, while Hirschman was 3-of-6 for 16 yards and Hansen was 13-of-21 for 159 and the lone pick.
ASU outgained CU 350-180 in total offense in the first half.
The Buffs accepted the second half kickoff but didn’t do anything with it. Hansen’s second interception led to another Garoutte field goal – this one a 46-yarder – and ASU padded its lead to 34-7 with 9:58 left in the third quarter.
On the ensuing possession, CU drove to the ASU 1-yard line, where two runs – one by Hansen, the other by tailback Tony Jones – netted nothing. The Sun Devils celebrated a little too much after the fourth-down stop, drawing a half-yard penalty.
The Buffs forced a punt, then fumbled it and the Sun Devils recovered at the CU 13. Three plays later, Marshall scored his third TD on a 4-yard run, giving him 114 yards on 15 carries and ASU a 41-7 lead.
The third quarter was 28 seconds from ending, and the fourth quarter once again presented little hope for CU. But on the brighter side, the Buffs offense scored for the first time since the fourth quarter of the Washington game (Oct. 15).
With 12:45 remaining, Hansen and Toney Clemons hooked up for a 21-yard TD. Oliver’s extra point made the score 41-14. ASU responded by changing quarterbacks, pulling Osweiler and letting backup Mike Bercovici and No. 3 Taylor Kelly close this one out.
Kelly led a five-play, 51-yard march for the Sun Devils’ final TD, handing off to No. 3 tailback James Morrison for an 8-yard run that put the score at 48-14.
The Buffs kept battling, driving to the Sun Devils 2-yard line in the final 3 minutes. But a lost fumble by Ford snuffed that scoring opportunity and sent CU home with its 34-point loss.